What Happens if You Receive a Counteroffer?

By Veronica Blat

Changing jobs can be a huge source of stress, even when you *know* it’s the right decision. It’s common to feel sad or anxious, or even a little bit guilty even if you are excited about the new opportunity. On top of all those emotions, you have to actually resign – you know, tell your boss you’re leaving. And that’s when they hit you with the counteroffer. Maybe you didn’t see it coming, or maybe you should have, but either way, it’s on the table and now you have to deal with it.

If you’re working with a recruiter, you have likely had the “counteroffer talk” multiple times throughout the hiring process. While that might make it less of a surprise, it can still feel like you’ve been caught off guard. It can still be difficult.

If you’re not working with a recruiter and you haven’t ever received a counteroffer, here is some information to help you navigate this process.

Assume you’re going to receive a counteroffer

Unemployment in the US is hovering around 3.6% percent. There are more available jobs than workers. Companies know how hard it is to find good employees, and they are increasingly likely to make counteroffers. In fact, a Robert Half study showed that 58% of employers ARE doing that already. Make a list of the pros and cons of your existing job. Compare that to the pros and cons of the new job. Most of the time a counteroffer involves more money. If your current job has no career path, more money will not solve that problem. If you don’t like your boss, more money will not solve that problem. Understand the WHOLE monetary value of your new offer. Benefits have a cash value, even if you don’t see that as extra money in your paycheck. Role play a counteroffer situation with a trusted peer. Practice your response until you feel comfortable saying it out loud. Prepare yourself early, and make sure you know why you’re really leaving.

Counteroffers are about THEM, not you

While it may seem flattering to receive a counteroffer, understand that it is more about solving the employer’s problem than yours. You’ve just presented your resignation letter. They are now filled with the difficult task of finding a suitable candidate to replace you (perhaps at a higher salary), losing the institutional knowledge you possess, training and onboarding someone new, lost productivity (and potentially revenue), and maybe even a dip in morale or additional departures. It’s much easier for THEM if you don’t leave. Your departure is likely not going to come at a good time – when is it ever a “good” time to lose productive employees? A counteroffer may keep you around long enough for them to create a plan for your inevitable departure, or even start looking for your replacement while you’re still on staff.

Understand that you will burn bridges

You’ve spent time interviewing with the new company. You’ve accepted their offer. Turning them down NOW means they have to start over. They have to tell other stakeholders you won’t be starting after all, which makes them look bad. They may think you’re unprofessional. They may say “no, thanks” to you in the future. Meanwhile, your current employer knows you’re ready to leave, that you’re dissatisfied with your role or the company. They may question your loyalty. If there is a “reduction in force” on the horizon, you might be impacted.

In short, accepting a counteroffer is a risky proposition. Don’t allow guilt or anxiety to make that decision for you. Understand clearly why you are ready to make a career move. Focus on the good things waiting for you and move forward with confidence.