Counter-offers: In a word—€¦ foolish

December 2012 » Columns » SEARCH SAVVY
Jeremy Clarke

I'll be very transparent with you: Nothing is more frustrating to a recruiter than to have a candidate accept a counter-offer from his or her current employer. It takes a lot of work to develop a candidate – to identify, qualify, and present a person for an opportunity with another firm. Significant time, money, resources, and personal effort go into this painstaking process, which can take six months or longer from start to finish. So, for strictly selfish reasons, it's very frustrating when a candidate is lost to a counter-offer.

I wanted to be forthcoming with this admission to earn your trust regarding the objectivity of my next statement: Accepting a counter-offer is foolish and naïve. To qualify this statement, think through the dynamics. What really are the nuances to be considered when considering a counter-offer? Here are two obvious ones:

Firstly, it's important to ask what prompted you to explore an outside opportunity to begin with. Perhaps it had something to do with certain conditions of your present employment – salary was too low, stress was too high, hours were too long, promotions were too scant, resources were too scarce. Whatever it was, have those conditions changed now that you've accepted your employer's appeal to stay? At this point someone may say, "Yes, as a matter of fact, my discontent with my previous salary was removed by virtue of my employer's counter-offer. I no longer harbor that concern."

Fair enough, but consider the ramifications of that. For starters, the other unsatisfactory conditions of your employment remain unchanged, they've just been rendered a little more tolerable between now and the time when you become discontented with your salary again. Besides, doesn't it intrigue you at all that the increase in your salary was awarded in reaction to your announcement of impending resignation? What does that say about your employer's commitment to more equitable pay (assuming your present salary is beneath equity)? What does it say about your employer's commitment to improving working conditions? Are you prepared to threaten resignation every time you need to see improvement in salary and working conditions? Apparently the threat of resignation is your employer's trigger to enhancing these policies.

Secondly, just know that by threatening resignation and accepting a counter-offer you've been officially branded. Let me stress the word "threaten." The moment you accept a counter-offer you have just conceded to everyone that your intent to resign was really just a threat – it was really just coercion. It was just intimidation to gain compliance because you rescinded your resignation once certain conditions were met, once you got what you wanted. That's the very definition of coercion, and now you're left with the fallout of that. Now, you're a bit of an unknown at the firm, a bit of a risk. Once, you were the star engineer – a man or woman with a great future ahead of you. However, now your loyalty is in question, and progression opportunities aren't usually entrusted to "loyalty risks." Congratulations, you've won their money but lost their hearts and their confidence.

There are probably a dozen equally valid and striking reasons for not accepting a counter-offer. The best firms are diligent to meticulously examine their compensation and benefits policies for fairness and equity. Further, they are equally diligent to communicate their compensation philosophies and policies to their employees. The point: The most credible firms will not even humor the incredibility of a counter-offer because they know they've done their homework. They know they've set forth the best possible policies and philosophy they can regarding pay and benefits, and they know they've done their best to educate their employees on the matter. Because that's true, they'll accept your resignation with a clear conscience.

If you threaten resignation to leverage more salary and your employer doesn't counter, you may know for certain that you have made a very big mistake because the integrity of your firm has made their clear conscience the final courtroom in the matter.

Jeremy Clarke is director, Executive Search Consulting for ZweigWhite. He can be contacted at 479-582-5700 or at

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