It seems to be general wisdom that you should never accept a counter offer. Is there any exceptions to this rule? If a company asks that you name your counter offer, should you?

I can already hear M&M saying "never, ever, accept a counter," but I wanted to double check.

KCSmith's picture


Here is my take on M&M's "never, ever, accept a counter" statement. If you do accept a counter, you should expect to have a bulleye on your back.

If you are at the stage of resigning, you are in effect telling the company you have been unhappy and you have been looking elsewhere for employment. You probably have become "ill" or "had doctor's appointments" in order to accommodate your interviews with the other company. Your credibility will be suspect to them.

If you get a counter from your current company, you should expect that they will be looking to replace you as soon as they get a handle on what you are working on. The counter is a short term investment for them not to get "stuck" holding the proverbial bag.

Always, always, always leave on your terms. You were planning on leaving for a reason. If it is only about the money, re-evaluate your work. If you follow the MT "How to Resign" format, you should have your transition file in order and they may send you on your way sooner than your two weeks. Be prepared financially, if they choose not to pay you for those weeks.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

pneuhardt's picture

I wouldn't say "never never never" accept a counter-offer, but I would say that it's a one-in-a-thousand situation. I can only think of one time I've ever seen anyone accept one that it was good for both the person and the employer. And it should be noted that the one time I've seen it work was a very exceptional case. Every other time I've seen it happen, it's been bad for both in the long run.

I knew a salesman that, for family reasons, decided to relocate from Massachusetts to Florida. He wanted to remain with the company and as he traveled extensively anyway felt he could do his job based out of his home in Florida as well as he could from his office near Boston. His boss basically told him he could pick his family or his job. So he found another job and submitted his resignation.

Mind you, this guy was a star. He wasn't just good, he was the best. He was far and away the most productive sales person on the force in terms of quantity and margin and he had an outstanding relationship with most of his customers. And now he was going to go work for the competition.

The manager's reaction: Call HR and have the guy walked from the building right then. When called by HR to sign the "rapid termination" paperwork, the VP of Sales and Marketing announced that he would sign it, but only if it contained the sales manager's name and not the salesman's. He then personally went to the salesman and made things right. 9 years later that salesman is still with the company (he is in fact the current VP) and nobody has seen or heard from that manager since.

The only difference I find between this story and all the others with bad endings is this: In every other case, the issues that drove the employee to seek other employment remanined in place after the counter-offer was accepted. The euphoria of being "wanted" wore off and the things that made the person unhappy and unproductive in the first place were still there. Now the person is not only unhappy in his or her current position but is left wondering "what if I had made the change?" We won't even mention that she has probably burned all her bridges with the other company and now has one fewer place to go to when leaving her current situation.

HMac's picture

Noah: I spent a few years as an executive recruiter, and I was thoroughly drilled on the statistics of the number of people who leave their jobs within a year AFTER accepting a counter-offer. I don't remember the exact proportion, but it was HUGE!
So what does this mean? That money isn't often the driving reason underneath your dissatisfaction. And the implication is that paying you more WON'T fix what's really broken.
Search your own reasons for leaving, and figue out what it is that you need that you're not getting. Then ask yourself if a counter-offer will actually give you what it is you desire.

US41's picture

There was an article int he WSJ years ago about accepting counter offers. I can't cite it, but I remember the author pointing to an interesting statistic: People who accept counter offers are 90% likely to be employed elsewhere or unemployed 6 months after accepting them.

Thus, accepting it just gives the advantage to the company you are resigning from.

If you did your MT resigning work correctly, by the time they know you are leaving, you have spent two weeks ramping up a transition package. You're giving them 4-6 weeks notice, and there hopefully are no hard feelings since you are going to be a team player to the bitter end - not a lame duck. You've already backed up your email to a USB key and your contacts, and you've already moved out your personal property. There is nothing to carry out in a box.

You've also listened as Mike recounted his experience leaving for more money, finding it a bad decision because more money usually means more pain-in-the-***. That's why they pay more, right? So, you're not leaving for more money. You're leaving for a *better job*, better management, better opportunities for advancement, training, and etc.

Thus, a counter offer has no meaning to an Manager Tools Evangelist. By the time you are presenting your package to management, you're so far gone that a counter offer sounds like someone burping accidentally. You just politely wave it off and get everyone back on your agenda.

CalKen's picture

Hello everyone;

Thanks for the wonderful comments, they have really helped out. I was wanting to know about what everyone thinks about counter-offers from divisions of the same company.

I am a manager in one division of a company and another division that I work directly with has offered to hire me in. The new division traditionally pays more and they have more career choices but this new position would mean that I would leave management for a little while as I "prove" myself in the new division. Although MT recommends not to tell anyone I had to tell my current boss as the hiring division had to tell them that they were interested in hiring me. My current boss has asked me to bring my offer letter to him once it is completed and they will make a counter-offer.

My gut feeling about this is that if I take a counter-offer then it would taint the relationship. I love my job but the main reason I am looking into leaving is due to the lack of mobility and opportunity for growth. Although I don't want to accept a counter-offer I almost feel honor-bound to at least listen to their counter, as I have a strong relationship with my current manager.

Any suggestions? Should I listen to the counter-offer?

pneuhardt's picture

I would say listen out of courtesy and respect, but make sure you are up-front about why you are entertaing the other offer. It never hurts to listen.

Also, only listen if you are willing to at least consider the counter-offer. Otherwise, you are wasting your current manager's time.

juliahhavener's picture
Licensee Badge

You're leaving for mobility and opportunity -- not money. A counter offer from the current division would not be able to give you more of what you seek, would it?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I'm sorry this has taken me so long. I regret my absence.

To CalKen- Of course you should listen. And evaluate your situation. I would likely recommend you still move, 90+% of the time. Be gracious, and explain your reasons. Keep things professional and positive so that you can maintain every professional and personal relationship from whence you are leaving.

I think counter offers are about the lamest thing a manager can do, and it points to their inherent failure to do their job day to day and week to week.

I won't say never, but it's darn near. My entire experience with them are bad. They send a message that you can be bought, that it really DID boil down to money. Your manager won't like having to go through the hassle. If it really IS about money, and you've already talked to your boss and she's said no, "can't" "won't", what does it say about what was really happening when you finally announce your leaving and she comes back with more money. Sounds like to me you weren't important until her productivity was threatened.

Short answer: listen, and hear it. Get the details. And in most/early all situations, gracefully decline.

Again, my apologies.


CalKen's picture

Thanks everyone for your comments, I have found them to be very useful.

I would like to turn the conversation, if I could, to ask WHEN you would accept a counter-offer. I do not want to dwell too much on the specifics but in essence my current manager gave me a very good counter (level increase with pay). The hiring manager of the new division cannot give me a high pay increase now (and in the short-term I will lose out on my yearly merit increase) but has "promised" me that he would "take care of me" in a couple of months if I come over. Although there are more opportunities for advancement and career growth with the division that is offering me the new position I would lose out in the short-term. My current manager (after asking for more challenging assignments) has offered to give me more challenging work to make up for the lack of advancement opportunity that I would have in the new division.

So, I would like to get some input as to when you WOULD consider or accept a counter-offer as I have found some great advice here and I am at an impasse. Thanks in advance for your time.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I would only accept one if I believed that the change in pay and level (in your situation) justified a belief that it was proof of an equal or greater opportunity to succeed in the long run. In other words, if you were leaving for lack of opportunities, a pay increase doesn't change that, and in a year or two you are right back where you started.

There are situations where the increase and level improvement give you more chances to look at more things where you are. I doubt that's true, but it may be.

Also, that increase, in your boss's mind, means you're staying indefinitely, to some extent. He doesn't think you're constantly looking at other options... he will be upset if you leave after a year, unless he has clearly said - out loud, in these words, "please stay until we're done with X".

This answer should not be construed to apply to any other situation. I'm not much of one for hypotheticals.


chrisakin's picture

Great points all around.  Thanks for comments, Mark and everyone else.