How to Avoid a Candidate Accepting a Counteroffer

Losing a candidate to a counteroffer is one of the worst things that can happen to a recruiter. Though the candidate will always do what he believes is in his best interest, our job is to educate him to make sure he understands the risks involved in accepting a new offer from a current employer. One of the biggest parts of helping defend against the counteroffer is what happens when the candidate gives notice. The way that I see it, if you can discourage an employer from even giving the candidate a counter, there’s no way the candidate will accept one. Giving notice can be the most emotional time for a candidate. The pressure that the current employer may put on someone, as well as second-guessing by the candidate, may take a toll. The easier that you can make this, and the more that you can reduce stress for the candidate, the better. Here’s what I tell candidates:

“I’m not concerned that you will accept a counteroffer (you don’t want the candidate to think that you don’t trust them). I just want to make this transition as painless as possible. The way that we do this is through the process of giving notice. The best advice that I can give you is to be very brief when you give notice. If it were me, I’d say, ‘I have accepted another position outside the company. My start date is _____________, so I’m happy to work out my two weeks’ notice. Under no conditions will I accept a counteroffer.’ You do not have to tell your current employer where you are going or what the job is. I strongly suggest that you do not give them any clue about your new compensation package. They will ask you a hundred questions; you do not have to answer a single one. All that’s important is that you are leaving. You don’t want to burn any bridges, so I’d just say that your new employer has asked you to keep this information confidential. Just have a matter-of-fact style and appreciate why they want to know this information (so they can use it to counteroffer you). The less information you give them, the easier this will be. When talking to your current employer, you can add positive things such as, ‘I have had a wonderful experience at this company, and am happy to have had the opportunity to work with you, but the time has come for me to move on.’ But be firm. If you show any kind of weakness or uncertainty in your voice or actions, your current employer will smell it. Most managers have been professionally trained on how to counteroffer employees. Your boss is going to be shocked that you have accepted another position and that you are leaving. The first thing that will go through your boss’ mind is how your leaving will have an impact on him or her. He or she may have to work more hours until a replacement is found; your leaving will lower the morale of the rest of the staff, and your boss may have an extremely difficult time finding someone with your qualifications to replace you. It is much easier and cheaper for your company and boss to try to keep you rather than losing you (especially if it’s to a competitor).

Expect your boss’ boss to get involved as well. Don’t be surprised if both offer to take you out to lunch or dinner. They are going to give you all the attention in the world. Expect a counteroffer. Most counteroffers that I have seen have been anywhere from a 20% to 35% increase in earnings. Enticing, isn’t it? But why weren’t you worth that much to them yesterday? Does it take you leaving to get something you should have been getting anyway? If so, is that the type of company you want to work for? Keep in mind that counteroffers come in many other forms than just an increase in compensation. Promotions are also ways for getting employees to stay.

Once you give notice, you are essentially breaking a trust that you had with your employer. If you are countered and stay, your company may feel that it owns you. You will be known as the one who caused your employer grief by threatening to quit. You’ll no longer be known as a loyal employee. Will this cause your boss to pass you over on the next possible promotion? I’ve heard of stories where companies only counter to get the employee to stay until they find a replacement and then let the employee go. Some companies feel that it’s better for people to leave on their terms instead of their employees’ terms. I promise you that in any research you do on counteroffers, you will not find anything that ever says, ‘Take the counteroffer.’ Please research this on your own, and if you do happen to find anything to the contrary, please let me know.”

I write candidates’ notice letters for them. I ask for their boss’ names and draft the documents. I also send them published articles written about counteroffers and research on what happens with employees who decide to stay. The whole purpose of this is to get candidates to understand what will happen. If you prepare them to expect the counteroffer and how it will happen, the candidates will have a heads-up on how to handle it.

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Jerry Land, CPC, owns an organization that is hired by a selective group companies who want to grow and prosper by having a sales force made up of highly motivated and career driven professionals. These companies only hire overachievers who separate themselves from their peers due to their performance. They are the type of people who have obtained President's Club status, putting them in the top 15% of their company. He only works with quota-reliable sales reps, managers, & VPs. He is the headhunter who connects these game changers to companies who are not willing to hire second best. He can be emailed at JPLand@JPLand.net.

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4 Comments on “How to Avoid a Candidate Accepting a Counteroffer

  1. I prefer, among other things, to tell the candidate what you think the employer will say. I use ‘EGG – Ego, Greed, Guilt.’ Those three emotions are all prey for an employer who is at risk of losing an asset. They will feed each one in an attempt to get you stay.

  2. I agree with most of Jerry’s observations. I would offer a couple of additional thoughts:

    1) As Jerry suggests, if you are working with a quality candidate, you should anticipate the possibility/probability of a counter-offer. Given this, it becomes imperative to address counter-offers at the front-end of the relationship. This can be achieved by asking the following, ‘Sue, having thought more about our initial discussion the other day, and having reviewed your background, it’s very clear that you possess great skills/experience/ability, which leads me to a question: I’m curious…..what’s your boss going to say when you tender your resignation?’ (SILENCE)

    The object of this exercise is to place the candidate into a situation that projects a near-term reality (the actual act of resignation). At this point, you must actively listen and observe. You may get a short, crisp response wherein the candidate replies, ‘There’s absolutely nothing that they can do that would compel me to stay…my boss won’t be happy, but I’m out of there and ready to move on.’ Sometimes, however, you will hear the candidate say, ‘Hmmm…..I hadn’t really thought about that……she’s going to be devastated.’ In this instance, we must patiently walk the candidate through the three phases of any counter-offer (Shock, Disappointment/Guilt, and Resolution/$). Or, and this is an actual response reported to me at a training session that I conducted, the candidate may say, ‘He will probably give me a raise and some more responsibilities just like he has the past two times I’ve tried to resign.’ Which, leads to my second point:

    2) At the onset of our relationship with any candidate, we must ascertain what is motivating them to consider making a change, and we must determine what steps, if any, the candidate has pursued to fix whatever isn’t right or is missing within their current situation. Obviously, there are an array of motivators that space precludes me from addressing here, but suffice to say that if the candidate has not proactively attempted to resolve the issue that is compelling them to consider other opportunities, you have a counter-offer in the making.

    3) Regardless of what may be motivating a candidate to consider a job change, I can assure you that if an individual holds his/her boss and employer in
    generally high regard (despite whatever is motivating the desire to make a change), there is an exponentially higher degree of a counter-offer being accepted. Remember, the current employer, albeit flawed, is still a ‘known’ and generally comfortable quantity. The prospective employer is a relative unknown – maybe at the end of an interview cycle the candidate has invested 6 hours in getting to know the organization. And ultimately, when the offer comes, they will effectively be making a life decision on the basis of this 6 hour snapshot. This is where ‘fear of the unknown’ presents itself.

    Recognizing this, a few years ago, I built a short candidate ‘Work/Life Attitudinal Survey’, which is comprised of 10 questions that allow a candidate to rate how they perceive their current employer/boss/peers/work environment, etc., and offers a recruiter the ability to better evaluate a candidate’s potential for a counter-offer. I have used this tool very successfully with an array of candidates. I absolutely believe that it has enabled me to more effectively discern the degree to which a candidate may be vulnerable to a counter-offer, as well as candidly engage the candidate in a very open discussion about my specific concerns. If you would like a copy of it, just send me an email (paul.siker@artofrecruiting.com) Happy to share.

  3. Right on the money with this article. I have told cnadidates to handle their resignations in this manner and I have also resigned under the same advice. Nothing prepares you for exactly how it will go however. Role-playing it through is a good suggestion. Through everything you can at them from suspicion to anger, flattery to guilt, etc.

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