Volume 92: Counteroffers are a Bad Idea

Counteroffers are almost* always a bad idea. RO2

If you get to the point that you’re leaving a company, generally there’s something the company hasn’t done for you, or something they have done that you’re not a fan of.

You haven’t been given the opportunity to advance, but another company is offering you that chance.

You haven’t been given the support from a staffing standpoint to run your department effectively, and another company is offering you the ability to build your team, or at least work with a fully staffed one.

You’ve worked 35 days straight, with no end in sight, but another company is offering you a more respectful schedule.

Maybe you’ve been asking for the money to complete a big project, and another company takes a more proactive approach to upgrades and updates.

Maybe it’s all about the money in your pocket, and someone else is offering you much more.

Whatever the case is, taking a counteroffer is almost always a bad idea and here’s why: You’ve been asking for whatever it is for weeks, months, or even years by now. The answer has always been, “not now” or “just wait until [arbitrary event or date]” and it never happens.

Suddenly, you come in and tell them you’re leaving the company. They want to keep you. Maybe they genuinely like you as a person and want to keep you around, but more glaringly, hiring is a pain in the butt, and they’re going to be in a tight spot until they can get someone else in your role.

Of course, they’re going to say whatever they can to keep you: “Oh, this timing sure is weird. I was just about to come tell you we approved your project (or promotion, or whatever)”. We call this the hidden promotion, and it’s total crap.

Look at it this way: your neighbor has been coming to you for weeks to let him borrow your riding lawnmower because he’s got a bad back and can’t push his anymore. His request is reasonable, but for some reason or another, you can’t let him use it. Insurance, timing, risk of damage, maybe you just don’t like the guy, whatever it is. You tell him, “not today.”

The next day, your neighbor comes over with a pistol and tells you he’s taking your lawnmower. You tell him you were just about to call him and tell him he could borrow it today! (You weren’t.) But ultimately, you’re probably letting him drive it away, it’s not worth getting shot over a lawnmower after all, and at the end of the day he brings it back. He might have even washed it for you. It all worked out.

But are you ever really going to trust that neighbor again?  He pointed a gun at you! Of course, you’re never going to trust him, and you’re probably going to arm yourself in case he ever tries it again. (And all of this assumes your first call wasn’t to the police, but that doesn’t work in the metaphor.)

I do realize how absurd this metaphor is, but this is what you’re doing if you accept a counteroffer.

You’re walking into management’s office with a metaphorical pistol. Even if they give you everything you’ve ever asked for, plus a foot rub and company car, they’re never going to trust you again. No matter how much they like you and value you, you’ve now broken their trust. They might even go so far as to find their own new person on their own and find a reason to let you go when they do.

Roughly 90 percent of the time (not an exaggeration, we keep records) when someone calls me to tell me they’ve accepted a counteroffer, I get a call two weeks or a month later: “hey, is that offer still on the table? Things aren’t really working out here.” And almost without exception, the answer is no. The role might still be open, but it’s certainly not open to you anymore.

So, my team and I tend to talk about this a lot with contacts in the industry. But we don’t wait until an offer has been tendered and the person is getting ready to put in their notice. We talk about counteroffers all the way back during the first contact with a new person a lot of the time, or at the point we’re submitting them to an opportunity.

Why do we talk about counter offers in the first contact with a new person or during the submission process? Well before a counteroffer is even a concern? It’s not because we don’t trust people, it’s because they are almost never a good idea, and we want to talk about that up front.

Basically, I know how it looks if I wait until you’ve accepted an offer to tell you how bad it is to take a counteroffer. You’re going to assume, “this guy is just trying to save a buck! He doesn’t care about me!” But the reality, as Teresa spent a couple of articles laying out last month, is that I’m not in it to make a quick dollar and run away. One convenient placement from you not accepting a counteroffer isn’t as important to me as building long-term relationships and being a resource for many years to come.

So, I bring it up early in the process to avoid this image and genuinely try to help you make the best decision.

Accepting a counteroffer is almost* always a bad idea for candidates, but they’re also a terrible idea for clients to offer as well. Why don’t we talk about that in the next edition of Outside the Box?

Stay Strong.

*Almost because I’m not infallible, and it certainly works out for some very rare people. In the same way some married couples are able to stay together happily after infidelity. It can happen, the statistics are just against you that it will be you that it works out for.

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