Enterprise Software

Evaluate counteroffers carefully before you decide to stay or go

Once you've gone through the process of searching for and landing a new position, getting a counteroffer from your employer can present a serious dilemma. Staying put might seem attractive, but experts warn that this option may be a bad career move.


The stress associated with searching for, and hopefully landing, a new job is well documented. But the stress factor can easily increase tenfold when, after you’ve made and announced your decision to leave, your boss asks you to reconsider and extends a counteroffer.

At first glance, the job dilemma doesn’t sound too bad. It’s a nice ego boost to have people competing for your talent and skills. But before you decide to stay with your employer or move on to newer pastures, career coaches and hiring experts advise IT managers to seriously think through their options.

The first thing to do
“The reason you wanted to leave in the first place is usually a good one,” said Tony Lee, editor-in-chief of CareerJournal.com. “Once somebody says he or she is leaving, it’s clear the person doesn’t believe in that company anymore. He or she is unlikely going to grow to be a long-term employee. It’s a signal that there’s something wrong.”

Career counselors agree that IT managers should first and foremost examine why they began searching for, and eventually accepted, a new position rather than staying put.

If your company’s counteroffer significantly addresses and resolves the issues that spurred you to look elsewhere, by all means consider it. But do so with your eyes wide open.

Recruiters say that, as a rule of thumb, employees who accept counteroffers are generally gone within six months to a year—either voluntarily or through termination. That’s because the nature of counteroffers tends to leave bad feelings and a tainted relationship between the employee and the company. After all, the employee did make the initial decision to leave, and then the boss was prompted to react and could eventually feel like he or she was blackmailed into giving the staffer more money or a promotion—however well deserved the boss believes it to be. Also, while you may be glad to have the extra change in your pocket or a nice new office, eventually you’ll wonder why you had to go through the stress of saying you were leaving before you were given what you deserved all along.

Take the experiences of Gary Peck, a former cruise industry IT manager who has both accepted counteroffers to stay, and, as a manager, presented counteroffers to staff he didn’t want to lose. While both situations worked out for him, he believes that counteroffers rarely work.

“In most cases, I didn’t make counteroffers. The employees become ‘marked’ and the real reasons they had for wanting to leave [eventually] become known,” said Peck.

The counteroffer trend
Experts are divided on how often counteroffers are made in today’s job market. Several believe that in the current economy, counteroffers are much less frequent now than they were a few years ago due to the larger pool of candidates boasting similar skill and experience levels.

Others argue that today’s economy is more hospitable to counteroffers. Already operating at reduced staffs and dwindling budgets, supervisors are often faced with the choice of making a counteroffer to an IT manager or losing a position due to the vacancy. In addition, the costs of a counteroffer (a raise, or more benefit enticements) are typically less than the time, money, and effort required in a search/recruiting effort to find a replacement. Also, just as importantly, staff turnover rates are used to judge management capability and an IT manager’s departure can reflect poorly on a supervisor and the department.

Decide on your response before a counteroffer is made
Experts advise that job seekers evaluate the possibility and decide ahead of time what their response will be if a counteroffer is made following a resignation announcement. Considering the offer when it’s made often leads to a poor decision because you don’t always have the necessary time to consider all the issues, according to experts. Regardless of the economy, counteroffers will always be a possibility for employees with specific skills that a company knows it can’t afford to lose.

“The more valuable you are, the more likely you are to receive a counteroffer because of how much harder it will be to replace you,” said Andrea Kay, a career coach and consultant based in Cincinnati, OH,, who has many IT managers among her clients. “So, before going in, you should know how valuable you are and how difficult you are to replace.”

But, she warned, it’s not just technical skills that make you valuable. Other skills, such as leadership ability, project management skills, and your ability to keep clients happy are all part of the equation. And the intangibles—including your personality, people skills, and how likable you are—play a significant role as well.

“Don’t forget about the other skills that really show your full value. Employers know it when you have it. Or when you don’t,” she added.

And there are some companies that refuse to extend counteroffers as a general principal, regardless of how valuable an employee is. It’s good advice to confer with your HR representative on your company’s policy before giving notice so you can be prepared either way. Doing your homework is a good way to ensure you’ll make the right decision about a counteroffer.

Questions you need to answer
In evaluating a counteroffer, IT managers need to reflect and seriously examine the reasons they wanted to leave in the first place, according to Kay.

“The odds are if the issue that was driving you to look in the first place doesn’t change significantly with a counteroffer, it’s going to come back to haunt you,” said Kay. “Eventually, more money or that promotion won’t be enough.”

It’s a good exercise to ask, and answer, the following four questions:
  1. Why did I want to leave the company in the first place?
    You need to determine specifically what it is you don’t like so you can judge whether the counteroffer will address those issues. Ideally, you will have thought out all your reasons for wanting to leave before your job search started. If not, it’s vital to be sure you know what has motivated you to accept another position and give notice.
  2. What do I expect to receive from the new company that I didn’t receive, or didn’t think I could receive, at the old company?
    This is critical to understanding your own expectations and to weighing all the facts.
  3. If the counteroffer is more money, is it enough?
    Traditionally, employees who complain about salary are often more unhappy with other aspects of their situation. Money is just the symbol that sums up their job dissatisfaction.
  4. If I accept, what are the ramifications of telling the new company that I’m not joining them after all?
    The phrase “It’s a small world after all” is as true for IT as it is for any other industry, and you need to consider how this could potentially impact your reputation—or the reputation of anyone who went out on a limb for you as you secured this new position.

Necessary follow-through after deciding
Once you ask yourself these fundamental questions, the choice should be clear. If you decide to accept a counteroffer, be sure to professionally and gracefully let your new employer know you’ve changed your mind. And if you've put anything in writing, consult a lawyer to make sure you understand the ramifications of your decision.

If you decline a counteroffer, again, do so professionally and courteously, and remember that you are simply fulfilling the decision you made in the first place.

“If [the counteroffer] doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.… Offer to help during the transition time and give it your best effort while you look forward to your new position. It’s like riding a wave; you never know where you’ll land,” said Peck.

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