Yes, Sometimes You CAN Accept That Counter-Offer

Are you a recruiter? Do you work? Have you ever been on the internet? I'm assuming you fall into at least one of those 3 categories. If you answered yes, I will also assume at some point you have had discussions about counter-offers. Perhaps you have received a counter-offer. Maybe you have read one of the 1,000s of posts on LinkedIn or Forbes.com screaming "NEVER ACCEPT COUNTER-OFFERS!!! WHAT ARE YOU, A MORON??" I am here to tell you that, much like in the rest of your life, there are no absolutes. There are times when *take a deep breath* you can accept a counter-offer. Go a head...let that sink in for a bit.

"But Adam," you may ask, "my recruiter told me to never ever ever take a counter-offer, and they had so many convincing reasons!" I am not saying that your recruiter is wrong...just consider the source. Recruiters receive extensive training in how to best manage their candidates: What to say to get candidates interested in jobs, what to say to get candidates to send them their resume, what to say to manage a candidate's salary expectations, and (most importantly) what to say to lock down that acceptance and to ensure the candidate shows up day 1 at their client. Early on, the recruiters are taught to plant the seed "you wouldn't accept a counter-offer, right?" If a candidate accepts a counter-offer, the recruiter has essentially wasted a lot of time and effort, as well as the client's time and effort. Make no mistake about it, it stinks for the recruiter...and the client certainly holds the recruiter responsible. So recruiters use their training, i.e. Jedi mind tricks, to make sure candidates will not accept a counter-offer. They list several reasons, all of which CAN be true. I am not here to argue that the reasons are invalid. I am here to argue that the reasons aren't absolute.

Rule # 1 of business: You do what is best for yourself. It holds true for employees and it holds true for employers. Companies will do what is best for them, and employees will do what is in their best interests. If an employee has accepted an offer with a new employer, it is because the employee feels this will benefit them. So when their current employer offers a counter-offer, the employee has to evaluate if the counter-offer also benefits them. Some examples:

  • Raise/PTO - If a candidate accepts a new role because they are looking for a raise, recruiters argue a counter-offer should be ignored because "If the company thought you were worth that much, why weren't you paid that in the first place?" Good question. Did the employee actually ask for a raise and get turned down? Did the employee explain why they felt they deserved more money? Because the employee ASKED the new company for X amount of dollars and received it. If the employee didn't ask their current company for X amount of dollars, it makes complete sense to stay and accept the counter-offer for more money.
  • Increased Responsibility/Growth - Again, if the employee has not addressed the concerns with their current employer, it makes complete sense to stay and accept a counter-offer for a promotion.
  • Commute - If the commute is just killing the employee, has the employee discussed with the current employer options, ie working from home, shifted work hours to avoid traffic, etc.?

Do you sense a pattern? Open lines of communication. Lets say you are sitting in your cube, being a good employee, and all of a sudden you get a phone call from a recruiter. They are networking/recruiting for a position that makes $12,000 more than you currently do. Who doesn't want $12,000 more in their annual budget. So you send your resume. Great, they want to interview you! You shoot over at lunch (not in a suit because you don't want to attract attention) and meet the company. It goes great and they offer you $10,000 more salary (If a recruiter is involved you have to assume the money initially offered will be a little high. That's a recruiter joke. Sort of.). You think about it and decide to accept the offer. You go to give notice and your current employer asks where you are going, what you will be doing, what the offer is, etc.. You tell them you will be making $10,000 more in salary. Your boss looks at you and says, "Ok. What if we give you a $10,000 raise, would you stay?" The recruiter will scream "NO, DON'T DO IT!" Really the recruiter means "NO, MY FEE!"

There is no logical reason why that should be an automatic decline. If I walked up to you right now and said "Hi. You know that job you do right now? I'm going to give you $10,000 more to keep doing it." To me, that seems like a no-brainer. Yes, recruiting is sales, on the client-side. I have always believed that recruiting should NOT be sales on the candidate-side. You are trying to help the candidate. If you are trying to sell them on a job, on an offer, on whatever, you are doing them a disservice. They shouldn't have to be sold if it is something that they want. Think about it...who has to be sold on something they WANT to do? Ironically, this is one of the sales tactics, I mean arguments, that recruiters use against accepting a counter-offer. They will say "Your employer is insulting your intelligence. They are telling you what is better for you, as if you don't know what is better for you. Oh the arrogance! How dare they!?!" Meanwhile, that is all the recruiter is doing to the candidate...they are telling the candidate what is best for them. It just so happens what is best for the candidate has a commission involved.

Some other arguments against accepting counter-offers:

  • Where is the money coming from in the counter-offer? Some recruiters argue it's your next raise early. Who cares?
  • As soon as you give notice, even if you accept the counter-offer, your employer will wring their hands, twirl their mustache, and laugh manically as they will immediately start looking for a new person at a lower salary than the counter-offer. Ok, this is where the fear comes in. Recruiters love the fear-based arguments. "They will search for a new person. They know you are disloyal. You will be the first one out if there are job cuts." They try to instill fear. Have I seen these things happen? Yes. Do you run the risk of these things happening if you accept the counter-offer? Yes. But there are risks all around. Who is to say this new job is going to work out? If your new employer has layoffs, you could be the first one out. Given the recruiter's guarantee, the employer could be quick to pull the trigger and fire you...if they are unsure, they won't want to pay the fee. I have seen more counter-offers end successfully than not. Usually because what the offers do is act as a catalyst for conversation and change.
  • Your loyalty will always be in question. Ok this one just makes me sick. If your employer demands loyalty, just leave anyway. Its a job. They pay you for the job you perform. If you do the job well, your reward is your salary, and continued employment. I have never seen a situation where there is a model employee doing their job well and the employer was like "You know what? Johnson really does a great job...but how loyal is he?" Its work. Not the Mafia. No blood oaths here.
  • You won't get a promotion because you weren't loyal. Let's look at the logic of this one. You accepted a counter-offer, but because you were willing to leave once, you will be denied a promotion. That is illogical. If you were willing to demonstrate a willingness to leave, why would you stay at a job if you were passed up for a promotion? You would just leave. Not sure an employer would punish you by paying you a higher salary for a year and then force you to look for another job again. Good thinking recruiters...may want to go back to the drawing board with that one.
  • The reasons you were looking for a new job will never go away. Oh really? The candidate wanted more money, and they got more money. Or the candidate wanted hours at home, or a promotion. Yes recruiter, I guess those things will never change. It's so hard feeding that insatiable beast. Of course if its atmosphere or something else that can't change, no reason to stick around for more money. But those other situations seem pretty open and shut.
  • I once read that counter-offers were a blow to one's pride. I have heard the words "bribe" and "bought" used. I don't know about you, but if I got a $10,000 raise and someone said to me "You were bought," my response would be "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. I was counting my $10,000." I guess getting what you wanted would be an insult to someone...I just haven't found that person yet.

As a candidate, you have an obligation to do what is best for you. Whether it's accept a new role, accept a counter-offer, or do nothing at all. Do not be talked into anything. There are no absolutes in life, and the next time a recruiter tries to talk you out of a counter-offer, listen to them, but don't take it as a forgone conclusion that they are right.

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