Evaluating Counter-Offers (and you thought the hard part was over)

As an executive recruiter, I regularly see existing employers using counter-offers to win back an employee who has turned in his/her resignation. Of course, my client and I would prefer that the candidate take the offer, but I also have a significant responsibility to my candidate to ensure they are making the best decision for their career and their family. The last thing either party needs is to get 6 months in and have the candidate decide they made a bad decision. Here are a couple of things to consider for my client and for the candidate when faced with this situation:

Lessons for the Client (hiring company):

Lesson 1: Provide the best possible offer you can.
• In my experience, about 50% of candidates will receive a counter-offer (or at least the option to get one) from their current employer. By the time we get to that stage, I have had several conversations about a potential counter offer, and the candidate should have his/her mind made up and should be prepared to close off those discussions. With that said, be sure that your offer is the best it can be both financially and otherwise. The candidate should understand the long-term benefits, growth opportunities, culture, people, etc. The more that the offer and employment opportunity meets the candidate’s objectives, the less chance there is of that person even considering a counter. Frankly, most decisions to move are not about money, but the financial negotiation is the last stop on the trip, and often the tool the current employer uses to react.

Lesson 2: Put the right expiration date in your offer letter.
• Clearly, you want the candidate to have enough time to make a decision, and it is fine to allow them some time. However, consider carefully how much time you allow. Normally, a week is more than a sufficient amount of time. If you are far enough along in the process to offer the position to the candidate, they ought to be far enough along to make the decision.

Lessons for the Candidate:

Lesson 1: Remember why you were open to a new opportunity.
• There is usually a reason why you have made a decision to pursue an opportunity at a new company. In many cases, that reason doesn’t change just because your existing company makes a counter offer. Prior to accepting a counter-offer, carefully consider the reasons you were open to a move. Is the situation likely to change if you stay at your existing company? If you accept the counter-offer, will you be viewed as a potentially disloyal employee moving forward? Bottom line, there is often a lot of praise, meetings, and discussion about why you should not leave and how things are going to change. However, consider 2 things: 1) Why should you have to get to the point of leaving before issues are addressed? 2) Once the smoke clears, you are at the same company, working at the same desk and with the same people. Consider carefully whether additional compensation makes it worth it to stay.

Lesson 2: Know what drives your happiness and your family’s happiness.
• In addition to evaluating factors that will drive your own happiness at work like job content, relationship with your supervisor and co-workers and, of course, your compensation, you also need to consider factors like location, travel requirements, typical work week, and flexibility of the company. If it is more important to you to be able to coach your child’s soccer team than to be the highest achieving employee on your team, make sure you are in a position to do that.

Just to add some fuel to the fire, research has shown that employees who accept counter-offers usually resign within 6-12 months after accepting the counter offer. With that said, I have seen candidates who accept counter-offers and have continued success at their existing company.