How to handle a counter offer

How should a job seeker handle a counter offer?

The dilemma of what to do when presented with a counter offer is age old. Perhaps having felt unhappy or undervalued in your current role, you made the decision to look elsewhere. You landed a great position, but when handing in your resignation you are made an offer by your current employer that makes you hesitate. What do you do now? Although this scenario is all too familiar, no two sets of circumstances are identical. There is not always a right answer.

Man considering counter offer

How to avoid the dilemma

A counter offer can present an unwanted dilemma, especially if your job hunting began as an impulsive decision. Before you find yourself in such a situation step back. Think hard about why you are dissatisfied before returning to the job market. A discussion with a reputable and experienced recruitment consultant  or a trusted mentor or friend may help you pinpoint and evaluate your grievances and dissatisfaction with your current position. Browsing job boards may also help you get a feel for the market and whether there are better roles available. However, beware that the grass on the other side of the fence can always look greener!

Having established what is most important to you in your role and from an employer, you may be able to address these issues without a move:

  • Consider approaching your boss or mentor to express your interest in long-term career planning. Discuss where they see your career going and what opportunities may be available for your development.
  • Raise any dissatisfaction you have in a constructive way. For example, if a lack of training opportunities is frustrating, ask whether there may be any opportunities to improve a specific skill or workshops you can attend. You may be surprised by the productive nature of such a conversation which doesn’t require hinting that you are considering a departure.
  • Think about whether your firm genuinely has a track record of helping its consultants to achieve their career and development potential. HR teams and your boss may talk a good game when it comes to personal and career development but is there evidence that’s the case?

Once you have a clearer picture of your future at the firm, you can be surer of whether a move is needed for you to achieve your career goals and confront your frustrations. Confident that a move is right for you, you need not fear the dilemma of a counter offer.

How to make the most of a counter offer

Have you already reached the point of a counter offer which has piqued your interest? Consider the following in order to make the most of it:

  1. Make sure you know your worth. Contact recruitment firms and look on job boards to establish salary expectations. In doing so, you will be in a stronger negotiating position. However you do not want to oversell yourself. This could put you in a worse position down the line. If potential employers are put off by your price tag you may find yourself unable to justify your salary and therefore be frustrated by the lack of future career opportunities. Or you may be overpriced in your current role and vulnerable to future redundancy or to being on the bench.
  2. Think about how valuable you are to the firm. Are you a strong performer, frequently getting outstanding reports on appraisals? Are you an irreplaceable specialist in your field? If after honest self-evaluation the answers here are no, you may not only be in a weak position but might also wish to view the counter offer with suspicion.
  3. Discuss more than just money. If it is a lack of  interesting work, career development, training opportunities or mentoring support that you are dissatisfied with, raise it. Do not make your decision based solely on a tempting salary.
  4. Ensure your thought process is pragmatic and systematic.  It is time to divorce emotion and think about the facts.

Some caveats

Although there is not always a clear answer there are a number of very real downsides to accepting a counter offer. At Prism, we believe the following points should be given serious thought before doing so:

  1.  Think seriously about why it took your resignation for your company to respond. Do you believe you are a valuable asset and feel your employer overlooks your worth? Perhaps you would be better off in a company more proactive in recognising and rewarding achievements.
  2. A harsh truth is that sometimes firms make counter offers in order to buy themselves time. Having revealed yourself as a flight risk, they may make steps to replace you with someone else in due course.
  3. Having threatened to leave, things are unlikely to be the same. You may find tensions not only with your bosses who may perceive a breach of trust but also with colleagues. They may consider your enhanced package as disloyalty rewarded. Although you might not feel your decision to leave is personal, your boss may not agree. Entrepreneur James Caan says “You also have to accept the possibility that you’ll never feel a part of the ‘inner circle’ again and it may be tough to overcome the stigma with colleagues who might resent the new deal you have negotiated for yourself.”
  4. Depending on what stage of the recruitment process you have reached with your prospective employer, be wary of letting them down. Think long and hard about whether the counter offer is worth the harm you could do to your career and the strength of your contacts. We often advise candidates that networking can be one of the most useful means of finding a new role so do not underestimate the potential negative power of word of mouth too.
  5. As Helen Pedder of ClearSky Business, a specialist in supporting small and medium businesses, explains, “More than 60% of UK-based employees who accept a counter offer end up leaving the organisation in question within six months anyway”. A counter offer may sound wonderful at the time but once the dust has settled, you may find nothing has changed. A year later, you may be as frustrated as before, having missed out on a great opportunity.

You may feel that just one of these outweighs the merits of a counter offer from your current employer.

Remember…

Whatever you decide, make sure that you act gracefully. If you wish to leave, there is no harm in expressing appreciation of your company’s attempts to retain you. This is important even if you suspect their offer is primarily the result of a desire for convenience. Equally, if you receive an offer you cannot refuse from your current employer, remember that the way you turn down a prospective employer may leave a lasting and influential impression.