The Counteroffer

13/01/2017   Recruitment advice  

The decision to move jobs can be boiled down to be the result of one of two processes. You may have been looking for a new role, or you may have had an opportunity find you. Both of these routes reflect an ambition to change. If you have made a decision to look for a new role, whether that be for more money, better progression, or something else, that desire for change is obviously apparent. But this desire is still there if you were approached about a role. Whatever that opportunity may be, it has offered a chance for a change that has piqued your interest.

Once the ambition for such a change and an opportunity align in the right way, you make a decision to leave. Great news! You’ve made a change.

However, in the current market, great candidates in the infrastructure and software engineering sphere are hard to come by, which means that the organisation you’re leaving will likely be facing a fairly long and potentially expensive process to replace you. So they will try to minimise this through tempting you not to leave with a counter offer.

Counteroffers are fairly common, so if you’re preparing to hand in your notice, you should be prepared for the possibility it will be discussed. It can be an uncomfortable conversation, so it can be useful to gather your thoughts ahead of time.

There a number of surveys out there that quote that a varying (but always high) percentage of people who accept a counter offer are no longer in their post 6 months later, and, from our experience, this ‘buyers regret’ is something we see fairly regularly. But, realistically, any real survey of counteroffers would be extremely difficult to take as there are secrecy incentives for both employers and employees. Companies that counteroffer are very unlikely to publish this - and people that take counteroffers are usually asked to keep quiet about it. With this in mind, it’s up for debate just how much value should be ascribed to these reports, though the statistics do tell an overwhelming story not to accept a counter offer.

Ultimately, moving roles or accepting a counteroffer is a personal decision. You need to unpick why you want to move on. From experience, this root motivator is usually found somewhere in the Venn Diagram of reward, progression, or team.

It is usually easy enough to see a counter offer for what it is - an attempt by your manager to avoid having to find a replacement for you. It’s important to remember that, whatever platitudes the organisation may offer you, usually, a counteroffer is, for the employer, a move to try to maintain the status quo.

This is especially important if you are moving roles for progression, and your current company offers you a sudden promotion or promise of change, usually with the comment that they were ‘about to promote you next month anyway’. Why did it require you to hand in your notice to get this mythical promotion?

It’s also worth considering that, realistically, most companies are not easily going to be able to change what they can offer you in a meaningful way, especially if the change is a knee jerk reaction to your resignation, and not a long-term strategic plan. Even if they can do something to meet your needs at that time, it is likely that it will be a static, one-time change. In six months time, you may well need something more to change. The other role will be long gone, and your current company may not be able to give you what you need. We’d advise that, unless your current company can really demonstrate some meaningful and verifiable transformation, accepting a counteroffer is likely just going to delay your long term ambitions.

You also run the risk of breaking the trust between yourself and your employer. Tendering your resignation might be said to demonstrate that you are not necessarily committed to your role, and attitudes may change, and responsibilities may be moved away from you. That’s not to say that every company will behave like this, but it’s something you need to consider as a possibility if you choose to accept a counteroffer.

Counteroffers are sometimes viewed as a way to leverage a salary increase or other rewards. But if you have already unsuccessfully asked for a raise, using a counteroffer is effectively resorting to putting your job on the line to get it - not to mention going through an interview and offer process with another company. If that’s how hard you have to work to get a pay rise, it just makes so much more sense to move on to the company that were willing to give you want you wanted in the first place. Go where you’re valued.

To get a formal offer, you will have gone through a several stage hiring process. If you’re really only trying to get an idea of your market value, that seems like a lot of effort. And it’s a lot of effort that the company you’ve interviewed with has invested. There are far easier ways to assess your market value - speaking to a recruiter, or perhaps taking note of contact from recruiters and the salaries of the jobs they are advertising.

There are certainly people out there who have been happy with accepting a counteroffer, and there are situations where accepting a counteroffer does make sense, but we would say from experience, that those are exceptions. Unfortunately, most people we see that accept counteroffers, are back looking for work within a few months. You need to reflect on why you decided to look for alternative work, and keep this clear in your mind when considering a counter offer, and how it fits in with your long-term ambitions.

PS: You might be thinking that the recruitment industry could be a bit biased when it comes to counteroffers, so we also found a couple of independent opinions from the software engineering community that you might find interesting, which you can read here, here and here.