Why Counter Offers Are Good (except for headhunters)

As headhunters were taught early that counter offers are bad and we need to make sure we explain to our candidates the pitfalls of excepting them. Obviously the time we put into a search can never be replaced or compensated for if one is on a contingent assignment. It might hurt our wallets more then our pride when they are excepted -  not all counter offers are bad, and some are really great for our candidates careers and livelihoods.


Have you been promised a promotion or salary increase?  Have you been told that the fresh challenge you’ve been craving – and worked hard for – is just around the corner?  More importantly, is it now six months or a year since those opportunities were outlined – but they have yet to materialize?

Many employees find themselves in a situation where their company has repeatedly promised to take care of them, however after months of waiting, it can begin to feel like they’re just paying lip service to the idea.

If this is you, it’s time to consider a high risk-strategy that some career-minded individuals are reaping the rewards from.  It’s not for everybody – but worth considering if you are determined to progress your career and want to give the process a kick start.  Do you want to live with the frustration of waiting to see if promises come to fruition – or are you willing to do something about it?

Leverage Can Work

If you’re good at your job and you know – or think – you are valued, there’s one sure-fire way to find out.  Get yourself an offer.  Prepare your resume, apply for opportunities outside your current company and get some leverage.   What’s the worst that can happen?  If you end up with a great offer on the table from a competitor to present to your boss, it’s crunch time.  Either they step up and increase your responsibilities or fulfill that promised pay rise – or they don’t.  If they don’t, you’ve got a good opportunity to pursue.  If they do, mission accomplished!  It’s win, win.

More often than not, its medium sized businesses where this strategy works best.  Small companies may not be in a position to boost your role; and large organizations often don’t have as much riding on individual responsibilities, unless you’re already on the management team.   Busy – and bottom-line focused – executives will overlook successful individuals over for promotion time and time again.  Whether you’re flying under the radar, too good at your current job to move on, or need progression but don’t have anywhere to go,  you need a catalyst for change if you don’t want to stay stuck in a rut.

(True story)  Nicky Hoffman decided to take this approach last year – and has never looked back.  A sales manager at a successful engineering firm, she had long been promised a senior account manager role.  She knew she could procure another position, had established a huge book of business and was confident that her clients loved her:   “One year after the promotion had been broached; I knew I had to speak to my employer yet again, but it had got to the point where it was unprofessional to keep bringing it up.  I felt I had to take control of the situation.”  Nicky soon found out if she really was a valued employee, as she had hoped.   She secured an offer with a competitor, re-approached her company and the very same day she found herself in front of the CEO accepting the role of senior account manager, along with a 45% increase.  “They knew that if they lost me, it could have been a big problem.  Some clients would have been unhappy, some may have followed me to the competitor, plus it would have been hard to replace me – or swallow the cost of retraining – in the industry I’m in.”  By proactively seeking some leverage, Nicky helped her company realize they’d dropped the ball.  She didn’t complain, so she was still viewed as a team player; instead she succeeded in strengthening the respect of her peers for making a strategic move.

It’s true, the majority of those electing to use a counter offer find it doesn’t come to fruition.    But it’s a guaranteed way to establish your true worth – and that’s as good a reason as any to give it a try.

Have you successfully procured a counter offer and ended up with a promotion or pay raise? Or did job-seeking help you realize it was time to leave?

Views: 1810

Comment by Amos on November 16, 2011 at 7:12pm

Amber - She needed to know if she was really worth her weight in her industry - I think she really needed that offer in writing - not just a verbal offer - to prove it to herself not just to the company. Big risk big reward.

Comment by Amos on November 16, 2011 at 7:14pm

Amber - The funny thing is that she didn't really become active in the market - she only went to one interview!

Comment by Sandra McCartt on November 16, 2011 at 9:24pm

Jerry Albright wrote a funny post that would solve this debate several months ago.  He suggested that if someone is in this  situation they first make a few very whispered phone calls so several people noitice, then a few days later they come to work in a suit and tie, say they have an appointment take an hour an half personal time, leave the office then come back in a great mood all smiles.  When somebody asks where they have been or why they are so happy just smile mysteriously and say "just taking care of some personal business". 

Jerry thinks that the rumor mill will rapidly grind out that they are looking for a new job, the boss will perk up, call them in and either offer that promotion/raise or ask them if they are looking for another job.  The answer of course is no not looking then go back to work and wait a few days, maybe do it again.  One should know pretty quickly if the raise/promtion is going to happen or they really do need to start looking.


Women have been doing that for years by sending themselves a dozen roses to put the boyfriend on his toes . When he asks who sent the roses, the answer is , "I don't know , I thought you did".  It will drive any male crazy trying to figure out who sent the roses and put him in high gear unless he is hung in neutral for eternity.

Comment by Bill Schultz on November 16, 2011 at 10:09pm
Nicky will be on the streets in 6 months. If she's 1 out of 4, she may last a year.
Comment by Todd Oldfield on November 17, 2011 at 6:48am

I have NEVER, not one time seen a counter-offer work to anyone's benefit, not after 21 years in the industry. I am proud to say though that I have had very few counter offers accepted though, due to my "prepping candidate's expectations". The few times I have seen candidate's accept counter offers, the old rule of thumb of them being unemployed after 6 months has happened in nearly every case. We all know the reasons why. The biggest in my opinion is the simple fact that the employer, through whatever tactics they used to keep the employee now knows that the loyalty to the company is in question, and within 6 months, they always seem to replace them or loose them anyways. Companies will promise anything almost to keep from loosing a trained employee.  Todd

Comment by Mike Auton on November 17, 2011 at 8:53am

If you are comfortable with your morals, then all well and good. We receive back what we give out in life. Personally in 21 years of recruiting people I have not seen this work out for anyone, but if it does for Nicky then I say good luck to her.

Comment by Nate Fischer on November 17, 2011 at 11:25am

I would tend to agree with Amber, besides the obvious, for every "success" story you have here, if you can call it one, your employer will never look at you the same way again, it denotes a lack of trust in the candidate, and EVERY counteroffer that I have had one of my candidates accept (there have been about 20 over 15 years) has had everyone of them leave, get laid off, or get fired within 6 months.  That's right 6 months.  

Karma is a b*tch, and it will get you everytime.  My words of wisdom to her, if she is undervalued, and the company doesn't it see it that way, than perhaps she should take the competitors offer because loyalty is a two way street. Additionally, what happens when and if she does get laid off or move on, you are BURNING BRIDGES by not accepting another offer.  If you went LOOKING for another job, there was a reason. 

I won't go into the arguments about why counter offers are bad, we all know them, but most of them hold true.   

Comment by Robin Schlinger on November 17, 2011 at 11:26am

I did a similar thing in my career years before that. I had a boss who liked having me work for him (I was his most productive employee) but did not give me the credit for my ideas (he put his name on a patent that was my idea - that he said would not work [but it did]) - and was holding me back from promotions. I wanted to move onto another research area and the boss of that area wanted me. However, without permission from the original boss, the director would not move me to work for the person I wanted to work for.

I got a call from a headhunter (unsolicited by me) to interview for a position with another company in the field my preferred boss did research in. I went on the interview and got an offer (which I would have taken if I did not get satisfaction on moving to work for the good boss at my old company). I let HR in my company know I had the offer and was prepared to take it if I did not get the transfer I already was considered for. They said they would transfer me - and they did. In the next 3 years I got 3 promotions in my existing company.

The company that gave me the offer shut down their operations in the area 2 years later. I made the right choice in many ways.

Just saying you have an offer is not an option. You better have a good offer in your hand, or you may not have any options to move onto.

Comment by bill josephson on November 17, 2011 at 11:29am

Everyone here is correct. 

It's a ploy that specially hurts the recruiter and prospective company wasting their time acting in their own best interests.  But acting in one's interests is, unfortunately the way it always is.  Decisions have to be made as to whether any action is in one's interests.  This is the way of the world.  This is reality.  We never know if a candidate is sincere in making a change or really wanting to leverage an offer to change an unattractive situation at their current employer really wanting to stay.

I'll just say that in my 30 years of recruiting 2 years after accepting a counter offer I've found at least 50% of the people still there.  And one last thing, how do we know the candidate really gave their notice?  What's to keep them from saying they have a chance to go somewhere else due to whatever is bothering them cunningly using the offer to correct the situation without actually giving notice having the offer in hand?

People here expressing negativity are morally right.  We just don't live in a moral world, but a world of self-interest which often isn't moral to others.

Comment by Derek Wirgau on November 17, 2011 at 11:42am

Hmmm...on the surface I want to believe that getting on offer to use as leverage is not right. However.....

It appears that Nicky would have taken the new position if no counter happened. Also, how is this different than when we shop for cars? We find two cars that we really like. We go to both dealerships a few times. We get written offers and we play them against each other. And then in the end, we may not even buy either car. Usually, we will buy one of them. Yet, not always....


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