Counter-offer: Appreciation or a slap in the face?

In my daily dealings with executive and senior candidates, one of the most important discussions I have during the interview process is around counter-offer. Because one thing is almost certain: top professionals will receive one from their current employer at the time of resignation.

I am an executive headhunter, which means I approach people who are relatively satisfied within their current companies, and I introduce them to the prospect of something different – a better role with bigger challenges, more career prospects, and greater impact.

Now, presumably, because the people we approach are not necessarily ‘unhappy’ in their current roles, they are more likely to accept the inevitable counter-offers. And they think that taking a counter-offer in such a situation (having been ‘headhunted’) is not a particularly career-limiting thing to do.

In my opinion, regardless of whether you’ve been actively approached or not, once you’ve resigned, it’s really not in your best interests to accept a counter offer.

And here’s why: a counter offer is an easy way out. It is much easier for your employer to offer you more money, than to go through the process of finding and training someone new. “You are my right hand man”, or “We have earmarked you for leadership”, are phrases often used when a key employee resigns – because your employer’s priority is NOT your new career prospects, but rather, his own resourcing problem.

My question (and that of Harvard Business Review’s article “Setting the record straight on switching jobs”) is why your employer has not offered you this increase, new position or compliment before you resigned? And what is resigning – and then staying – doing to your reputation and your career? Your loyalty from now on will always be questioned. Not only with your current employer, but with the prospective employer who was jilted, and possibly within your industry.

People think receiving a counter offer is an act of appreciation. Sadly, it’s not. In fact, it’s actually a selfish ‘slap in the face’ – to you, your reputation and your career prospects. True appreciation from your boss looks like this: acknowledgement of your work to date, and a dignified, magnanimous wish of goodwill for the next phase of your career journey. Leaving the door open for future engagement and collaboration at some future date.

Now, I don’t mean to insult the respective parties to a counter-offer – giver or acceptor. Rather, I hope to urge people to think back to the reasons for deciding to investigate a potential new career opportunity, and progress all the way to offer stage. Don’t let these excellent reasons be clouded by the inevitable gremlins that lurk within counter-offers.

– San-Marie Barnard, Principal Consultant

San-Marie Barnard


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