Why Counter Offers Are Good (except for headhunters)

As headhunters were taught early that counter offers are bad and we need to make sure we explain to our candidates the pitfalls of excepting them. Obviously the time we put into a search can never be replaced or compensated for if one is on a contingent assignment. It might hurt our wallets more then our pride when they are excepted -  not all counter offers are bad, and some are really great for our candidates careers and livelihoods.


Have you been promised a promotion or salary increase?  Have you been told that the fresh challenge you’ve been craving – and worked hard for – is just around the corner?  More importantly, is it now six months or a year since those opportunities were outlined – but they have yet to materialize?

Many employees find themselves in a situation where their company has repeatedly promised to take care of them, however after months of waiting, it can begin to feel like they’re just paying lip service to the idea.

If this is you, it’s time to consider a high risk-strategy that some career-minded individuals are reaping the rewards from.  It’s not for everybody – but worth considering if you are determined to progress your career and want to give the process a kick start.  Do you want to live with the frustration of waiting to see if promises come to fruition – or are you willing to do something about it?

Leverage Can Work

If you’re good at your job and you know – or think – you are valued, there’s one sure-fire way to find out.  Get yourself an offer.  Prepare your resume, apply for opportunities outside your current company and get some leverage.   What’s the worst that can happen?  If you end up with a great offer on the table from a competitor to present to your boss, it’s crunch time.  Either they step up and increase your responsibilities or fulfill that promised pay rise – or they don’t.  If they don’t, you’ve got a good opportunity to pursue.  If they do, mission accomplished!  It’s win, win.

More often than not, its medium sized businesses where this strategy works best.  Small companies may not be in a position to boost your role; and large organizations often don’t have as much riding on individual responsibilities, unless you’re already on the management team.   Busy – and bottom-line focused – executives will overlook successful individuals over for promotion time and time again.  Whether you’re flying under the radar, too good at your current job to move on, or need progression but don’t have anywhere to go,  you need a catalyst for change if you don’t want to stay stuck in a rut.

(True story)  Nicky Hoffman decided to take this approach last year – and has never looked back.  A sales manager at a successful engineering firm, she had long been promised a senior account manager role.  She knew she could procure another position, had established a huge book of business and was confident that her clients loved her:   “One year after the promotion had been broached; I knew I had to speak to my employer yet again, but it had got to the point where it was unprofessional to keep bringing it up.  I felt I had to take control of the situation.”  Nicky soon found out if she really was a valued employee, as she had hoped.   She secured an offer with a competitor, re-approached her company and the very same day she found herself in front of the CEO accepting the role of senior account manager, along with a 45% increase.  “They knew that if they lost me, it could have been a big problem.  Some clients would have been unhappy, some may have followed me to the competitor, plus it would have been hard to replace me – or swallow the cost of retraining – in the industry I’m in.”  By proactively seeking some leverage, Nicky helped her company realize they’d dropped the ball.  She didn’t complain, so she was still viewed as a team player; instead she succeeded in strengthening the respect of her peers for making a strategic move.

It’s true, the majority of those electing to use a counter offer find it doesn’t come to fruition.    But it’s a guaranteed way to establish your true worth – and that’s as good a reason as any to give it a try.

Have you successfully procured a counter offer and ended up with a promotion or pay raise? Or did job-seeking help you realize it was time to leave?

Views: 2018

Comment by pam claughton on November 18, 2011 at 12:01pm

Doesn't say much for the company if they'll only promote people when they threaten to leave. I also agree with the others that it's absolutely selfish of her to act the way she did and to use another company's sincere interest, wasting their time in the process, simply to get a raise. It's almost always better to leave. It worked out for her, but it's a lame way to get ahead.

Comment by bill josephson on November 18, 2011 at 12:09pm

She got more than a raise.  She got career advancement.   This is the way of the world, self-interest.  She wanted to stay if her situation could be made whole.  She didn't know if it could.  It would be ideal if she could just go to her boss, have a heart to heart conversation, work things out, and fix the situation.


In today's world her company may have shown her the door for being a malcontent and she'd be out of a job having to pay her bills with no income--poor position to be in looking for your next job.  So the time to fix the problem is with an offer.  Candidates like her are prepared to leave accepting the offer if their situations can't be fixed.  They don't know if their environment is repairable, or not. 


And often they assume the situation can't be fixed, receive an offer giving notice, only to find out the company resolves the situation in the person's best interests.


As recruiters we have to be prepared for anything.  In good faith a candidate could be ready to leave the company only to find out the company doesn't want them to leave.  You have to expect a candidate, company, family member, neighbor, and anyone to act in their own interests or you're going to continuously be blindsided and disappointed going forward.

Comment by pam claughton on November 18, 2011 at 12:09pm

She really is the exception too. I'm in my 18th year now and have never yet seen a successful counter-offer situation. Just recently in fact, we had a candidate accept a great job, then decline after receiving a counter-offer. A main reason she was looking was because she was tired of working from home 100%. Her company, which is california based, then flattered her by saying they'd been thinking of opening a NH office and she could work there. Knowing that companies often will promise whatever it takes not to lose someone, and then don't always follow though, the promise is a 'band-aid' to cure the problem of someone leaving....well, we were skeptical. She was thrillled though and stayed.


She called us two months later, miserable, because nothing has changed and the plans for the local office were 'put on hold'.  

Comment by bill josephson on November 18, 2011 at 12:12pm

4 of 6 of my candidates accepting counter offers were with their companies 2 years later.  I just tried one last week taking a counter in 2007--she's still there.

Comment by Stephanie on November 18, 2011 at 12:20pm

@Amos- I don't know you or your occupation, but you sure as hell can't be a recruiter! You are actually condoning, no encouraging!, Nickey and alike to act unethically, to blindside clients for their own self-interest.  I sure hope (if you are in fact a recruiter) that the content of this blog never reaches any of your clients, because if I were them I'll never trust you to work for me again.

Comment by Amos on November 18, 2011 at 12:26pm

 every company is different and every situation is different. We cant all work for Google. (not yet at least )

Nothing lame about taking control of your own situation. Everyone gets used in business sometimes. it is what it is. Its not better to leave - its better to get another opportunity/offer. Would you hire someone in this economy who says  i left on my own accord because the vision of the business wasn't aligned with mine anymore - but what they really mean is they wouldn't promote me, so i quit. probably not presenting too many of those candidates to your clients. Pam i had a candidate get an offer of 60K more then their current comp and they declined ( they worked in govt - so job security was an issue). I also had a friend ( he worked for a tier 1) call me to ask if he should take 60K more (+ shares) to go to a tiny start up with an over hyped business model. I told him to stay put. He called me 6 months after to say how misleading the company was and he needed out asap. Now 3 years later hes back to where he should be.

Comment by bill josephson on November 18, 2011 at 12:30pm

Stephanie, I disagree.  I don't think Amos condones the behavior.  I think he acknowledges it as a recruiter's life's reality.  The clients Amos, and most all of us, work for do the exact same things with their employees they desire to retain.  Sure, if someone is no longer wanted they're gone.  But they'll fight for those they seek to retain knowing their "pressure points" better than the person, themselves, know.


Amos is reminding us the truth about counter offers.  They happen.  People don't necessarily intend them to happen.  Not every candidate we work with really necessarily wants to leave their employer no matter what they tell us.  We need be aware of this.  The people they want to keep, they will keep for as long as they're wanted by their employer.


There are times we're advertently and inadvertently used for a candidate's benefit at their present company--that's the life of a recruiter.


Comment by pam claughton on November 18, 2011 at 12:31pm

Amos, I wasn't adocating leaving without something. I meant leaving for something better, taking a good offer, not using it to stay where you are.

Comment by Amos on November 18, 2011 at 12:41pm

@Stephanie Im not a recruiter, Im a headhunter. Im condoning Leverage - and im condoning " if there a will theres a way" thats it.  If we are are good at what we do then headhunting the best talent and getting their resume is really only 10% of the work. The other 90% is making sure you sell the candidate the career opportunity they dont have time to read about on job boards.Long term etc..I get it..

But just to clarify Nicky was not in the position where she was headhunted - she was gainfully employed in a company that was dealing with other priorities - big difference.

I hope my clients read this and understand that if they have a person internally they promised a raise to last year  - that person might be pissed off by now - and counter offers might be part of a new retention strategy in 2012!

@Stephanie - what advice would you give her?


Comment by Amos on November 18, 2011 at 12:48pm

@Stephanie - She had the CEO in her office the same day with the management team reassuring her the new plan and $ to match and exceed her new offer - not something she took for granted, they really were going to promote her - but people get busy especially in small to mid sized companies.BUT I wouldn't encourage Nicky or anyone in her situation to put their career on hold and wait and wait.


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