Counter Offers - The Poisoned Chalice


by Alex White

Senior Partner, Talent & Research 7th Jan 2017

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Alex White is the founding partner at Avellio. He is an industry experienced former analyst, and has led over 120 retained search assignments for data science leaders, with mandates entrusted by leading global investment banks, major retailers and analytics consultancies.

When January comes around It’s a fairly familiar story, quantitative professionals are considering their employment prospects and are mindful to seek out new opportunities to gain greater experience and to move up the career ladder. But, when they secure a job offer they’re buoyant about and go to hand in their notice, their current employer responds with a “counter offer”, in the form of a wage increase, an annual bonus, or promotion, to encourage them to remain. 

They take the offer to stay on ‘improved terms’, then 3 months later they have either left, or have been let go for not meeting with the revised performance objects, or there has been a round of internal restructuring or job layoffs. 

Contrary to all of the advice available, from articles on counter offer strategy, to advice given by well meaning friends and colleagues, a large percentage of professionals will feel inclined to accept a counter offer for a variety of reasons, such as loyalty and familiarity. We thought it would be beneficial to look at some of the reasons why these offers feel so enticing – and considerations to bear in mind when evaluating them. 

There was an original motivation for seeking out a new career opportunity

You could be determined to learn Python but the business insists everyone must work with SAS. Were you looking at stepping across in to a new industry? As the leader in your field perhaps the original idea to leave and negotiate a role with a tech start-up, along with the obligatory 'stock options', or perhaps to secure a role with a challenger company to your current employer? the point is, there’s an original reason you began looking for a new career opportunity in the first place, and any increase in the level of your compensation will unlikely resolve the main issues. 

Will your present employer truly be able to make adjustments to accommodate your revised contract?

With your new salary increase your manager listens to your other concerns and assures you that you will get more responsibility, or holiday time, or that management position, etc. But be realistic with yourself about whether this is really a change that can be made. Although you may experience a temporary improvement, the core issues that you originally had are likely to return.

Don’t let your perception and standards of loyalty get in the way of self interest and your long-term goals.

You will likely have a strong bond with your current team, and perhaps also loyalty to the management, but you will have little idea how long that team dynamic will last. We’ve counselled numerous professionals who went with a counter offer simply because they liked working under their current manager, only for it later to transpire that their manager had already been in the process of leaving. You should be mindful of your own priorities.

Trust and bonds are broken

When you make clear your intention to resign, you’ve indicated to the company that you are dissatisfied. Regardless of the gesture of a counter offer, from this point on your relationship with them has changed, you will be watched closely and going forward there could develop an element of mistrust in regards to your short-to-mid term intentions towards the business, and overall loyalty. But by this stage, you will have forsaken the original opportunity and will have to start over again with the process of interviewing for another job, which if combined with the unhappy experience of being ‘managed out of the business’ by your current employer, is likely to cause you some degree of mental stress.

In summary.

Exercise caution, take your time, be sure to weigh up the pros and cons when contemplating a counter offer. Remember, that if you do choose to accept a counter-offer you could be focussing on the short term gains, such as an increase in salary, for example. Instead why not switch up to a higher level of thinking, consider what your long-term career strategy should be, such as skills development, exposure to new project types and technologies etc. 

The take-away

There is a reason you were actively intent on seeking out a new career opportunity. Listen to your inner voice and be sure to marry your gut feel with how best to proceed with your long term career goals.

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By Alex White
Alex White