Accepting a Counter Offer: Savvy Negotiating or Career Suicide?

by Brian Skory

Imagine yourself as a hiring manager. Here’s a scenario you don’t like: you escort a candidate through multiple interviews and then give the candidate a great offer. Much to your surprise, the candidate calls you up and says he’s not going to accept the offer. Instead, he accepted a counter offer from his current employer! The pay is better or there is a promise of better working conditions or some other enticement is dangled in front of him.

It does happen and it is understandable, but some would argue that the benefits rarely outweigh the negatives that come along with this scenario.

Employers often feel that their hand is forced in these situations. When they perceive that the damage done by the employee suddenly leaving will be greater than the salary increase required to keep the employee around, they often opt for the salary increase. But research shows that there is often a liability for the employee who accepts the counter offer:

  • Trust has been broken, and moving forward the relationship is now strained.
  • The employee’s long-term commitment is now viewed as unstable. Oftentimes the manager will end up replacing the employee the first moment it is convenient.
  • Depending upon how tight-knit your industry community is, the employee’s reputation could be tarnished. It is not uncommon for Human Resource Department staff from different companies to compare notes with each other on candidates. They even have a term for a candidate who accepted a counter offer. They are referred to as a "buyback."

Depending upon your particular situation, accepting a counter offer may be a perfectly acceptable course to take–however, our experience has shown that more often than not the above does hold true. Our recommendation to candidates is to have those salary conversations with current employers before committing to the job search. If your boss is not willing to pay you more before you have another offer on the table, chances are your boss will only do so begrudgingly (and for as short-term as possible) when it’s done as a counter offer.

As always, we're interested in hearing how your job search is going. Feel free to contact us.
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