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The argument for – and against – accepting a counter offer

Earlier this month, we published a guest comment by a recruiter who offered a litany of reasons why you should never take a counter offer. Our readers pushed back, noting that most recruiters don’t get paid their fee if you accept a counter offer from your current company. Point taken.

Still, just because an argument comes from a potentially biased voice doesn’t necessarily make it untrue. Accepting a counter offer is in fact a perilous move. In an effort to gain more insight, we reached out to a group of career coaches, people with experience advising on counter offers who don’t have any real stake in the game. They get paid no matter what.

The short of it is there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all about identifying your goals while eliciting tells from your current employer. You also must understand the risks, of which there are many.

You’ll Need Thick Skin

If you accept a counter offer, recognize that you may need to be strong enough to counteract the stigma that often goes along with quitting a job yet never actually leaving. Here are a few potential fallouts from accepting a counter offer, courtesy of Charles Moldenhauer, founder of New York-based Executive Transitioning, a career coaching firm that works with C-level executives and senior managers.

  • Your company now sees you are not a “safe” employee as you are looking elsewhere and want to leave.
  • You are viewed as a “traitor” and may not get consideration for a move up or for a training program.
  • You have started something among other employees. They now want increases in compensation and are now job searching. You created unrest.
  • Your boss and others around you have never received offers and don’t view you as so special. Envy develops and your once warm relationships turn lukewarm.
  • Your only interest is in your own pocketbook and you lack integrity.

One commenter to our previous article offers their take. “All eyes will be on you, if you need to take off for a doctor’s appointment they will assume you are interviewing again,” they wrote. “You will also be the first on the chopping block. They counter you – then look for your replacement…”

When Accepting a Counter May be Appropriate

Career coaches agree: if you want to accept a counter offer without feeling the ramifications mentioned above, you’ll need a terrific, trusting relationship with your boss and other parts of management.

Jane Cranston, a New York-based career coach who works with Wall Street executives, once accepted a counter offer after a taking a new position, due solely to her relationship with management. “I told my boss, with whom I had an excellent relationship and who had mentored me. His first reaction was ‘I refuse to accept your resignation,’” she said. Her boss blamed the situation on himself for not putting her in for a review. “I knew he was sincere and would not hold it against me because it was really his mistake,” Cranston said. They countered and she stayed.

Read your boss’ reaction. Are they sincere or desperate?

“If you are in a strong position with very tight connections with your boss and management, accepting the counter offer could be the right decision,” added Moldenhauer. But even if you deem your work relationships strong enough to support such a move, know that money cannot be your only end goal.

“You need to get them to make a commitment to you for the longer term,” Moldenhauer said. This should include training and, more importantly, a promotion. If you only accept additional compensation, you have given away your leverage and received little information about how the company views you in their long term plans – you only discovered that they are better off with you not leaving tomorrow. Being granted more responsibilities is a tell-tale sign you are viewed as a true asset, not an occupied seat.


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The argument against accepting a counter offer

Career advice from Goldman Sachs’ global head of recruiting, who’s here to answer your questions

How to Go About It

If you accepted a new position but are open to sticking around, time your conversation appropriately so that your current employer feels positive about your relationship, rather than as if they are being threatened.

“The time to ask for the raise is before you accept the other offer,” Cranston said. “Tell your supervisor that you were approached by a competitor, the conversation went well and that they are putting together an offer.  Say you really don't want to leave BUT they are talking better title, more money, equity etc.” Having that honest conversation can take the edge off and make it clear that you are not quitting on the company – you’re simply facing a career predicament.

When making the final decision, assess your relationship with your boss and colleagues while weighing the pros and cons of the each position, concentrating on what’s most important for you.

“If flex time and a short commute top your list, then go for that job. But if compensation and the advancement are more important, pick that one,” said Jean Baur, career coach and author of The Essential Job Interview Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Every Job Seeker. “Your job is to manage your career, and selecting the position that's best for you--whether it's new or staying with your current company--is your top priority.”

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • st
    13 April 2016

    Very useful these days. All executive search sites say is career suicide but I really think every situation is different. It can also be very different for every person depending on its career stage, life stage, talent apraisal, etc.

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