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It’s official, you got the job! You break the news to your current employer that you’re going to be moving on to a new opportunity, and what do they do? Pat you on the back? Offer their sincere congratulations? Wipe a single, stoic tear from their eye? No, they give you a counteroffer.

What. The. Heck.

In this situation, emotions tend to run high: you may feel happy, annoyed and flattered all at the exact same time. Counteroffers are a lot of things, but mainly, they’re confusing.

In today’s candidate-short market, the competition for top talent is extreme, and we’re seeing more counteroffers than ever before – that means now’s a great time to learn what exactly a counteroffer is, why you’re getting one and how to decide whether to stick around or move on as planned.

WHAT IS A COUNTEROFFER, ANYWAY?

A counteroffer is, basically, just what it sounds like. It’s an offer you receive from your current employer to ‘counter’, or rival, the one you’ve received from another organization.

The specifics of this offer will differ from case to case and may include increased base salary, more vacation time, a fancy new title or any number of other benefits and perks, and the ultimate goal is to make the offer enticing enough that the employee decides not to leave after all.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO LEAVE IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Okay, you’ve got a counteroffer in hand, and it’s… oddly tempting? It’s normal to feel any number of things when your employer is pulling out all the stops to try and get you to stay, but the best thing you can do at this point is to keep a clear head and think about the situation logically.

At some point, you decided it was time to move on from your current position. And whatever your reasoning was, it was major enough for you to:

  1. polish up your resume and potentially even write up some cover letters (which, as everyone knows, is absolutely no fun whatsoever);
  2. contact your references to let them know you’re job hunting;
  3. search for roles online and apply for them directly, and/or connect with a recruiter to assist you with your search;
  4. actually sit down with a new company for at least one interview.

That’s no small amount of effort – and it makes it pretty tough for us to believe that you opted to do all these things after just one bad day at work. Think back – what was your reason for wanting to leave in the first place? Some of the most common reasons we hear from candidates are:

  • Unclear on the path to promotion, looking for more defined growth opportunities
  • Unchallenged in current role, bored with the work
  • Poor relationship with management and/or colleagues, negative view of company culture
  • Desire to learn a new skill and/or develop a current skill further
  • Seeking a better work/life balance, more flexibility
  • Unhappy with current compensation and/or benefits package


[A quick sidenote from the author: Open communication plays a key role in job satisfaction. Before you get to the point where you’ve got one foot out the door, try sitting down with your manager for an honest discussion about your professional goals and how you’d like to grow with the organization. Maybe things will change, and you’ll stay; maybe they won’t, and you’ll go – but it’s good practice either way.]

WHY ARE YOU GETTING THIS OFFER?

One of the reasons is because you’re amazing, of course. We know it, you know it and, frankly, it’s not up for debate. The real question is this: why is your employer only acknowledging all your fabulous qualities and many skills now, after you’ve tendered your resignation?

  • The simple answer: They want to convince you to stay, duh
  • The less simple answer: Your employer has something motivating them to convince you to stay, and understanding what that motivation might be can go a long way in helping you make your decision


Maybe you never vocalized your concerns to your manager, so they didn’t have a chance to address them prior to you resigning. If that’s the case, then the counteroffer may be a sincere attempt to right any wrongs, address your reason for wanting to leave and improve your overall job satisfaction.

That’s best-case scenario.

For the most part, unfortunately, that’s not the real reason your employer is reaching out with a grand gesture. In most cases, when a counteroffer is made, the intention is to benefit the organization, not the individual. A couple of reasons an employer might make a counteroffer include:

  • Buying time. If your boss was blindsided by your resignation, they may not have anyone trained up to backfill you. It’s possible that they’re hoping you’ll stick around long enough for them to get someone else up to speed on the ins and outs of the role
  • Less effort. It takes a lot of energy and resources to bring on a new hire, and it’s possible that giving you a pay bump is more cost-effective for the organization than recruiting someone to fill your position
  • Retention of knowledge. If you’ve been with the company for a while, you probably understand the job, the processes, the culture and the customers and clients like nobody else. Because of that, an employer will sometimes extend a counteroffer with the intention of having you pass along that knowledge and experience on to another employee before you part ways


SO WHAT? IT’S A GREAT OFFER, AND I’M GOING TO ACCEPT

Hey – that’s entirely up to you! We’re not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do – but we do think it’s important that you have all the facts before you make that call.

So, yes, it’s certainly possible that you accept the offer and everything works out great; you’re happier, your employer is happy that you’re happier and it’s a happily-ever-after moment for all involved.

However, unless your decision to leave was strictly monetary, it’s not likely that’s how this particular cookie will crumble. Some common things we see after a candidate accepts a counteroffer are:

  • Initial excitement after accepting, quickly followed by renewed dissatisfaction. Remember, you’ll be working for the same organization, in the same office, with the same people. So if your big problem was with your lunch-stealing co-worker or the terrible commute, that likely won’t be solved by a promotion and a healthy pay raise
  • Tension between you and your manager, and/or you and your colleagues. Are you still a team player? Are you a flight risk? What extra perks are you receiving now that they aren’t? Long story short, relationships with your team may be strained upon your return.
  • Less job security. Unfortunately, many employers stand by the belief that an employee who decides to leave will eventually leave, whether that be in a month or a year. Because of this, you’re more likely to be let go during a period of restructuring or downsizing
  • Passed over for big projects and promotions. If it’s between you and Larry, the guy who didn’t try and resign, there’s a pretty good chance that Larry’s name will come up before yours the next time your boss is looking to trust someone with more responsibility
  • Not much really changes. It sucks, but sometimes employers don’t follow through on all their lofty promises – make sure you get it in writing.


JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO ALREADY, PLEASE

The truth is, the majority of people who accept counteroffers find themselves back in the same place in less than a year: unhappy and, once again, looking for a new opportunity.

Assuming you’d like to avoid winding up in that situation, sit down and weigh the merits of both offers. Heck – go ahead and make a pros and cons list, if you want. The goal is to figure out which option makes the most sense, providing you with what you want now and moving forward.

To get started, ask yourself some questions:

  • If I accept the counteroffer, what will change? Will accepting the offer from your current employer resolve the real issues? Will your original concerns be addressed and managed?
  • How do the offers look in terms of total compensation? Keep in mind that base salary isn’t the be all and end all. Factor in benefits, bonuses, profit share and other perks one role may allow you that the other doesn’t (company car, flexible schedule, etc.).
  • Which opportunity makes me feel the most excited? Are you really relieved to get to stay at a company you’re familiar with? Or are you looking forward to tackling a new challenge?


At the end of the day, the decision is a big one and it’s yours to make. If we can offer one more piece of advice, though, it’s this: throughout the process, be respectful, stay calm, be objective and always trust your instincts – there’s nobody who understands your situation better than you.

Way back when, many years ago, a then “senior account executive” named Mark Fenwick penned a poignant blog on counteroffers. Now, in the present day, Mark’s the VP of our Corporate Services division, and we’re taking his brilliant piece of writing, dusting it off and giving it a little makeover for 2021.

If you’re curious, you can read the original here: https://impactrecruitment.ca/the-counter-offer-should-i-stay-or-should-i-go/

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