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: 2051

Comment by Sandra McCartt on November 18, 2011 at 2:42pm
@amber I agree it's been my experience that most candidates don't start looking until they feel that they have exhausted their options. Most of the counter offers I have seen were a bigger surprise to the candidate than they were to me.

Perhaps it's a different economic time but I have seen more companies making counters that are being accepted. Not good but sometimes nobody really knew until somebody said, "I'm getting a divorce because you won't pick up your dirty socks."

Some things can be corrected, some things can't and sometimes it takes a nuclear option. As Bill said, when you look, get an offer and go back with it, you better be ready to take it. Some folks simply won't pick up their socks or think it's a dumb reason to blow up the camp.
Comment by Elise Reynolds on November 18, 2011 at 3:56pm

I think Sandra is making a good point. 

I just think people should be honest and work to keep expectations in place.  Other than that I don't think just because you go on an interview you have to accept that offer. 

If Nicky had gone through a exhastive process and gotten everyone's hopes up and said she was going to accept the offer and then just used it for the counter offer then that would be abusive.

But if she just went on an interview, not so much. 

Like many recruiters, my clients expect me to find rare talent.  My clients expect to do a try to woo and court the best candidates.  Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.


Another ending to the Nicky story MIGHT have been -

 Nicky frustrated at the lack of solidifying her promised promotion decided to look into other opportunities.  She did not really want to leave her current company but she just did not feel she was being treated fairly.  She went to interview with XYZ company and even though she did not want to leave her current company she was Wowed with the company and fell in love with the job they described.  She left that interview instead of feeling ambivalent felt really energized.  She wanted that job!  Even though it was sad to say goodbye to all the freinds she had made with her current employer she just could not let this opportunity pass. 

Comment by Amos on November 18, 2011 at 4:18pm

I like that alternative ending too.@Elise


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