Counteroffers Suck. Are You and Your Candidate Prepared?

Today, I came across one of my favorite recruiting articles of all time .  It is a hard copy of an article written before the internet by the legendary Paul Hawkinson (Former publisher for the Fordyce LetterFordyce is now owned by our friends at ERE Media).  The article addressed why candidates should not accept a counteroffers (a topic first–at the time).  The article made such an impact on me, my style of recruiting and career, I kept a copy of it.  After all these years, I read it again and still think it is still dead on.  Our profession may have changed, but an individual taking on something unknown is scary for anyone, especially now.

What I realized from this article was that a counteroffer is not a good idea for anyone, including the recruiter, candidate, current boss, future boss, current company, new company, fellow candidates, fellow employees, etc.  I had run into counteroffers early on in my career and knew it wasn’t fun, so it made me think about how I could avoid this situation at all cost in the future.  I understood that the candidate was about to go through a very stressful experience, especially if they “liked” their boss, company, coworkers, even the work.  Prepping my candidates on how to handle a counteroffer quickly helped me closed the deal and improve the candidate experience (well, we didn’t call it that yet).

As the market gets stronger, everyone will be fighting for top talent like never before.  Therefore, I think it is time for recruiters to again put on their consultative hats and prepared their candidates for the possibility of a counteroffer.  After all, there isn’t much worse for a recruiter than spending months finding, courting and closing a great candidate, only to lose them to their current employer.  Heads up everyone, I think this scenario is heating up (if you are not already dealing with this right now).

So, I started to address this topic with every candidate during the offer process (at all levels).  I’d tell them that “50% of candidates that accepted counteroffers left within the first year.”  Boy did that get their attention.  I continued to build a relationship with the candidate and even became their career coach during the process.  I think my best advice was to tell the candidate to expect the counteroffer and never give his boss the opportunity to talk him out of it.  We would role play the conversation together:  “Please don’t try to talk me out of it Jim, there is nothing you can do or say that will make me change my mind.  Thank you for everything, but I am going to take this opportunity.”  I don’t know how many candidates I “saved” over the years, but preparing candidates for the counteroffer seemed to work.

Here is the famous article.  It is written towards the candidate’s perspective, but think about it from your point of view.  Take some of Paul’s “universal truths” and put them into your own process, vocabulary, and prepare yourself and your candidates for the fun to begin:

Counteroffer Acceptance: Road to Career Ruin
by: Paul Hawkinson

Mathew Henry, the 17th-century writer said, “Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colors 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 it’s time to fly away. The litany of horror stories I have come across in my years as an executive recruiter, consultant and publisher, provides a litmus test that clearly indicates counteroffers should never be accepted. EVER!

I define a counter offer simply as an inducement from your current employer to get you to stay after you’ve announced your intention to take another job. We’re not talking about those instances when you receive and offer but don’t tell your boss. Nor are we discussing offers that you never intended to take, yet tell your employer about anyway as a “they-want-me-but- I’m-staying-with you” ploy.

These are merely astute positioning tactics you may choose to use to 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 as tempting as they may be, acceptance may cause career suicide. During the past 20 years, I have seen only isolated incidents in which an accepted counteroffer has benefited the employee. Consider the problem in its proper perspective.

What really goes through a boss’s mind when someone quits

  • “This couldn’t be happening at a worse time.”
  • “This is one of my best people. If I let him quit now, it’ll 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 on until I find a suitable replacement.”
  • “I’m really shocked. I thought you were as happy with us as we were 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 immediately.”
  • “You’re going to work for who?”
  • 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 by “allowing” you to go. His gut reaction is to do what has to be done to keep you from leaving until he’s ready. That’s human nature.

What will the boss say to keep you in the nest?  Some of these are common.

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 in which an employee is forced to get an outside offer before the present employer will suggest a raise, promotion or better working conditions, is suspect.
  • No matter what the company says when making its counteroffer, you will always be considered 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.
  • Conditions are just made a bit more tolerable short term because of the raise, promotion or promises made to keep you.
  • 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?

Decent and well-managed companies don’t make counteroffers. EVER! Their policies are fair and equitable. They will not be subjected to “counteroffer coercion” or what they perceive as blackmail.  If the urge to accept a counteroffer hits you, keep on cleaning out your desk as you count your blessings.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. So true Diana….and although its been almost 20 years, I will recall you making me role play the counter offer scenario when you recruited me. It worked!

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