How to handle a counteroffer

I’d like to start by saying I fully admit it’s kind of funny to be reading a blog post written by a recruiter about counteroffers. It’s comical, of course, and only natural that a recruiter would be biased—especially if we’ve made you a job offer. Conflict of interest aside, though, I’ve seen a lot of counteroffers in my career as a recruiter and even have my own story to share. What I’d like to offer you is some advice on considerations to make if you find yourself in a counter-offer situation.

If you are reading this, it probably means you just resigned from your current position and received a counteroffer. You may not know what to do because you weren’t expecting this—maybe it’s even throwing a bit of a wrench into your plans. After all, deciding whether to turn down more money or a promotion can be tough. Despite all of this—congratulations! It’s clear you are an awesome team member and your employer doesn’t want to see you leave.

My counter-offer story

It was time for me to leave a job I had been working at for, well, too long. I’d made up my mind and knew I was ready to quit—but I was nervous as hell. I’d never quit a job before. What was I going to say to my boss? My face was, undoubtedly, a lovely shade of red. I took a deep breath and marched into my boss’s office. The temperature felt like 100 degrees in the room. Everything was a blur. To this day, I have no idea what my exact words were, but I told him I was giving my two weeks notice. He stared at me in stunned silence for a bit. After a few moments, he responded with something to the effect of “No, you can’t leave—we’ll figure something out.” It was that simple. He just didn’t accept my resignation, a bold move on his part.

By the next day, I had a call set up with someone from HR. Now, keep in mind, I had given my notice for many reasons—80 hour work weeks, unsupported career goals, and a generally unhealthy corporate culture. My counteroffer was a new flexible work schedule that took into account a crazy commute and a guaranteed 40 hour work week. To be honest, without another job offer in hand, this sounded like a reasonable offer. Looking back, I think my fear of uncertainty persuaded me to stay.

In reality, my new schedule was pretty sweet but my job pretty much stayed the same. I was still unhappy with the work I did day to day and after another six months, I ended up leaving for good. To be honest, I feel like staying was a mistake because I remained unhappy for most of the same reasons as when I gave my notice.

What the research says—or doesn’t say?

I hear recruiters quote statistics all the time about people leaving after accepting a counteroffer, but can’t find any real studies to actually back this up. To be honest, I’m not sure they really exist. But based on my own experience in recruiting, 12 years overall, the majority of people leave their job within (about) a year of accepting a counteroffer. In the long run, happiness from more money or a more favorable title is often short lived.

Five questions to consider

I’ve put together five questions you can ask yourself before you make a decision on a counteroffer.

1. Why did you decide to leave in the first place?

If you were looking for more responsibility or a new tech stack, will more money alleviate these needs? Great companies often don’t need to offer counteroffers because folks are happy and well compensated already.

2. What are your prospects?

I know the grass is often greener on the other side, but do you have another opportunity that you are excited about? Is the new opportunity just an escape from your current situation or is it a real opportunity that will fulfill you? Is it challenging? Does it have a great company culture?

3. Is the counteroffer just buying your company time?

Not to scare you, but figure out why your company is offering you the counteroffer—is it just so they have time to find a replacement for you? This does happen—so be careful!

4. Why didn’t your company offer the salary increase/promotion/new schedule before?

Is the threat of resignation the only way to be heard?

5. Do you see yourself staying at the company long term after accepting the counteroffer?

Think hard about this one and really consider what your life would look like if you accept the counteroffer and stay.

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