Never Accept a Counteroffer|
It's nice to be wooed back, but don't expect to stay long
by Paul Hawkinson
The success of any job interview will depend on your ability to discern the employer's
needs and empathize with the interviewer. Ask questions that verify your understanding
of what the interviewer says to you, without expressing an opinion.
A tax accountant with a Chicago based public accounting firm accepted a top
corporate position at a local manufacturer that paid $15,000 more than he currently
earned. But the accountant changed his mind after his firm's senior partner made
him a counteroffer.
The partner dangled a plethora of incentives, including the promise of a partnership
in the near future. Three months later, after the tax season ended, the accountant
A manufacturing manager with a medium sized metal products company in
Albuquerque, NM, accepted a new position that included a higher salary and better
benefits. But he decided to stay put after his company agreed to match the offer and
told him of great things on the horizon. However, he wasn't told that the firm might
be merging with another. Six months after the executive decided to stay, he was
merged out of his job. Following nine months of unemployment, he landed a lower
Ask any executive recruiter and you'll hear dozens of heartbreaking stories like
these involving counteroffers. Unfortunately, more executives seem to be getting
and accepting them because of the inconsistent economy. Companies are operating
with reduced staffs and any defections from the ranks create problems for those who
remain. It's much easier for employers to sweeten the pot to keep executives from
deserting than to conduct grueling and expensive searches for replacements.
Mathew Henry, the 17th century writer, said "Many a dangerous temptation comes
to us in fine gay colours that are but skin deep." The same can be said for
counteroffers, those magnetic enticements designed to lure you back into the nest
after you've decided itıs time to fly away.
But in good times or bad, the dictum remains constant. Counteroffers should never
be accepted - EVER! Those few rare instances where accepting one is beneficial
occur about as frequently as being struck by lightning.
THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE
A counteroffer is an inducement from your current employer to get you to stay after
you've announced your intention to take another job. It doesn't include instances
when you receive an offer but don't tell your boss, or when you tell your employer
about an offer you never intended to take in a classic "they want me but I'm staying
with you" ploy.
These are merely positioning tactics that can reinforce your worth by letting your
boss know you have other options. Mention of a true counteroffer, however, carries
an actual threat to quit. Interviews with employers who make counteroffers, and
employees who accept them, have shown that accepting a counteroffer - tempting as
it may be - is tantamount to career suicide. Consider the problem in its proper
WHAT REALLY GOES THROUGH A BOSS'S MIND WHEN SOMEONE QUITS?
"This couldn't be happening at a worse time."
"He's one of my best people. If I let him quit now, it will wreak havoc on the morale
of the department."
"I've already got one opening in my department. I don't need another right now."
"This will probably screw up the entire vacation schedule."
"I'm working as hard as I can and I don't need to do his work too."
"If I lose another good employee, the company might decide to 'lose' me too."
"My review is coming up and this will make me look bad."
"Maybe I can keep him on until I find a suitable replacement."
"My word, we're working with a skeleton crew already. If I lose this one, we'll all be
working around the clock just to stay even."
WHAT WILL THE BOSS SAY TO KEEP YOU IN THE NEST?
"I'm really shocked. I thought you were as happy with us as we are with you. Let's
discuss it before you make your final decision."
"Aw gee. I've been meaning to tell you about the great plans we have for you, but
it's been confidential until now."
"The VP has you in mind for some exciting and expanding responsibilities."
"Your raise was scheduled to go into effect next quarter, but we'll make it effective
"You're going to work for who?"
"How can you do this in the middle of a major project? We were really counting on
you." (They're always in the middle of one.)
JUST A STALL TACTIC
Let's face it. When someone quits, it's a direct reflection on the boss. Unless you're
really incompetent or a destructive thorn in his side, the boss might look bad for
allowing you to go. It's an implied insult to his management skills. His gut reaction is
to do what has to be done to keep you from leaving until he's ready. That's human
Unfortunately, it's also human nature to want to stay - unless your work life is abject
misery. Career change, like all ventures into the unknown, is tough. That's why
bosses know they can usually keep you around by pressing the right buttons. Before
you succumb to a tempting counteroffer, consider these universal truths.
Any situation is suspect if an employee must receive an outside offer before the
present employer will suggest a raise, promotion or better working conditions.
No matter what the company says when making its counteroffer, you'll always be a
fidelity risk. Having once demonstrated your lack of loyalty, (for whatever reason),
you will lose your status as a team player and your place in the inner circle.
Counteroffers are usually nothing more than stall devices to give your employer time
to replace you. Your reasons for wanting to leave still exist. They'll just be slightly
more tolerable in the short term because of the raise, promotion or promises made to
Counteroffers are only made in response to a threat to quit. Will you have to solicit
an offer and threaten to quit every time you deserve better working conditions?
By accepting a counteroffer, you have committed the unprofessional and unethical
sin of breaking your commitment to the prospective employer making the offer.
Decent and well managed companies don't make counteroffers - EVER! Their
policies are fair and equitable. They will never be subjected to counteroffer
coercion, which they perceive as blackmail.
If the urge to accept a counteroffer hits you, keep on cleaning out your desk as you
count your blessings. And, if you decide to stay, hire a lawyer to put your newly won
promises in the form of a long term no cut contract.
Mr. Hawkinson is publisher of The Fordyce Letter, a St. Louis based monthly
newsletter for placement specialists. He is a former executive recruiter, personnel
manager, and consultant.
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