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The Counter Offer Trap: How to Navigate a Counter Offer Professionally

You have just accepted a really terrific new position with a company that is excited about you and is offering an attractive package.  You’ve signed your offer letter and are on your way!  Now you muster up your courage and walk into your boss’s office to resign.  Then it begins… the fight to keep you.

One of the vexing situations when leaving a company is deciding how to handle a counter offer from your current company. If you’re considering a job change–no matter what your circumstances–you’re not alone. The average American changes jobs approximately 12 times throughout their working life, according to the Bureau of Labor.

The days of company pensions and a gold watch for 30 years of faithful service are gone. In fact, today’s successful employee brings a variety of experiences and perspectives from multiple jobs to a company. Today, changing jobs is a routine part of every growing professional career–and a necessity if you expect your career to grow.

So, what should you expect when you tender your resignation? Undoubtedly, your company will be sorry to lose you. After all, you have been a valuable employee, and you are providing a vital function. The labor market is tight… good employees are impossible to find.  If you were your boss, what would you be inclined to do when a valuable employee resigned?

It’s natural instinct to resist change and avoid disruption–and your present employer will likely follow that instinct. If you’re doing a good job, they will want to keep you and will attempt to do so with a counter offer. Even though you have accepted a new job elsewhere, they may try to convince you that you have made a mistake.

If a candidate doesn’t find what they are looking for in their current position, they should first make their concerns known to their current employer. If the current employer is unwilling or unable to meet those needs, then the candidate should make a decision about the right time to look for another position. After that, as the proverb says, “Once you put your hand to the plow, don’t look back.”

For those who do look back, the decision can hurt them. A counter offer can be very flattering, sometimes causing emotions to obscure your objective decision to leave your present employer. There is also the natural feeling of buyer’s remorse, that vague apprehension of change that subtly urges you to reconsider your decision.

It’s important to know how to handle a counter BEFORE you resign.

Questions to Ask When Considering a Counter Offer

When confronted with a counter offer and, perhaps, even before you decide to search for another job, ask yourself these questions.

  • If I stay, will the circumstances at my company really improve just because I said I was quitting?
  • The raise my company offered elevates my salary beyond that of my peers.  Is my company just “buying time” until they can find my replacement within their regular salary range?
  • If I decide to stay, will my loyalty be suspect and affect my chance for advancement in the future?
  • If my loyalty is in question, will I be vulnerable to a layoff if business slows down?
  • I received this counter offer because I resigned. Will I have to threaten to quit every time I want to advance with my company in the future?

 The Professional Approach to a Counter Offer

Before entertaining any offer it’s important to take time to think objectively.  Ask yourself why you were motivated to leave your current position in the first place.  Then consider which organization and position will be best for your overall career.  It’s important to make decisions free from emotional pressure created by fear or guilt.  And, while it is often important to seek counsel from friends, relatives and business associates, you must depend primarily on your own judgment. After all, you are the only one who is in the position to understand all of the implications of a counter offer. Expect your company to be sorry to see you leave, and expect them to make some attempt to keep you. At best, their response could be considered flattering.  But remember, a counter offer is often awash with numerous pitfalls you should not risk.

It’s always best to end your relationship with your employer as professionally as you began it. Your new company will be anxious to have you start, so you should do so as soon as possible. However, it’s important to give adequate notice and not leave your existing company in the lurch.  Check in advance to see what your company’s policy is concerning notice.  Also consider what is customary in your industry. A maximum of thirty days is almost always sufficient.

Remember, a counter offer is almost always flattering and may tempt you to consider staying with your current company.  However, counter offers are made primarily to benefit the company… not to meet your needs.  Move ahead to your new job with the goal of making yourself as valuable to your new organization as you were to the former. After all, if you don’t look after your future, who will?

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