Counteroffers

So you have finally worked out and accepted the offer. If you are leaving the ranks of the unemployed or underemployed (or never employed), it is an easy decision. Yet many of you may be working full-time in your field while completing your degree. Or you may have gone back to school to complete a higher degree. Or you may have an internship which has extended into full-time work.

So if you are currently employed and are ready to move on to your new employer, the time has come to tell your boss that you are leaving. And guess what? Now is probably not a good time for you to be leaving. In most cases, when you decide it's time to go is not the time your company wants you to leave. So what happens? Your employer may try to make a counteroffer in an attempt to keep you from leaving.

Remember this: companies concerned with the best interests of the employees rarely make counteroffers. Only those companies that place corporate interests ahead of personal interests are likely to make counteroffers.

Why do counteroffers happen? Simple. Because while you have been planning to leave, the company has probably not been planning for you to leave. In most multitask jobs, you will almost always find yourself in the middle of a project or assignment that is important to the company and to your boss. It never looks good for a boss to have someone leave, unless the boss is the one who decided it would happen. Your leaving may "reflect poorly" upon your boss.

Picture the scene: you have just "broken the news" to your boss that you will be leaving. What does she think about? Your happiness about your new position and new employer? Or does she think about your current job, how difficult it will be to fill, and how she cannot afford to lose you right now. And so she breaks into the "I didn't realize you were unhappy here" speech and begins probing to find the reason you are leaving. More money? Higher position? More perks? Then guess what? We will offer you the same or better position if you will stay! Wow! Great! Right? Wrong! Remember this—unless you are a true gambler (the kind who likes playing the odds ten-to-one against winning) you should not accept a counteroffer. Why? Because counteroffers are almost always temporary! It is a temporary "solution" provided by your boss so that she can remain in control. It buys her time. Time to get your project finished. Time to get you to tell others in the company about all those key areas that only you know. Time to find someone to replace you. Time to train someone to replace you. And time for your boss to decide when you will leave the company. Don't buy it. Ever.

Why do people accept counteroffers? Usually for simple comfort. To go to work for someone else we have to step outside our comfort zone. The counteroffer gives us the benefits of the new offer with the comfort of staying right where we are. But there are several fallacies in that line of thinking. First, the reasons for leaving still exist—some of those reasons may be temporarily altered by the counteroffer, but they are still there. Second, it should not have taken an outside offer to prompt the change. Third, and most important, by giving in to the counteroffer, you lose control over your destiny and hand it over to someone else.

Some will say, "Oh, but they're giving me $10,000 more per year—I was only making $30,000 before. They really want me to stay because I'm so valuable and important to the company." But remember—$10,000 more per year is only $2,500 more out of your boss's budget if she can find someone to replace you within three months, when you may be either demoted or fired ("you're too expensive for us to keep"). "They wouldn't do that to me. They love me." Oh yes, they would. And no, they don't. This has nothing to do with love or any other emotion. It is strictly business. At the first mention of cutbacks, your head is already clearly marked for the chopping block. The money spent to retain you temporarily is worth not having to train someone from scratch.

Some bosses even play the "We were about ready to promote you/increase your salary/give you a company car" game in matching your offer, like it was going to happen all along. Don't believe it.

If you think no one values you in your work, wait until you say you are leaving.

Here is the real zinger. If you do accept a counteroffer and then do leave at a later time (probably just a few months later), you no longer have that great job offer in hand. You might even be out on the streets. "They wouldn't do that to me!" Oh yes they would! Just by virtue of the fact that you have "gone looking," you are no longer considered to be "loyal to the team." You are expendable from the very moment you accept their counteroffer!

So what is the best course of action if and when a counteroffer is made? Simple. Just smile and say, "Boss, I'm flattered that you consider me important and would like to keep me as part of the team. But I've made up my mind, I've made my commitment and I'll be leaving in two weeks. Please tell me what I can do to make the transition as smooth as possible."

Some companies may even resort to such bullying tactics as getting the boss's boss or even the boss's boss's boss to try to talk to you. Don't give in. Remain calm and professional. When they know you are unshakable, they will back down.

Some companies, when they see you won't accept the counteroffer, may try to pressure you into staying far beyond your planned departure date. For example: "You can't leave now, we're in the middle of…" or something to that effect. They may try to make you feel guilty: "You're leaving us at our greatest moment of need." Or they will play on the "training the new person" theme: "You need to give us time to replace you, and then train the new person." They will try to stall for time by asking you to stay longer than planned. It's your life, but my strong recommendation is never to ask your new employer to make a change to accommodate your old employer. Your loyalties are now with your new employer. The general industry standard is two weeks' notice, so you should in no way feel obligated to go beyond that. By changing your start date, you run the risk of putting your new job in jeopardy and artificially delaying your career. If you are even considering delaying your start date, talk to your new employer first. If there is any hesitation on their part, stick to the planned start date. Many companies have set start dates due to classes and training, so don't jeopardize your new job on account of the old one.

Remember, under no circumstances should you give in to a counteroffer, no matter how tempting it may seem. And only under extreme circumstances should you consider altering the "terms of departure," and only after first checking with your new employer.