You’ve turned in your two weeks’ notice, and your boss seems genuinely shocked that you want to leave. The next day, after frantic meetings involving HR, finance and his bosses, you’re presented a counteroffer.
What to do now?
There’s a certain advantage to dealing with the devil you know, and that’s why counteroffers are tempting.
You might not be thrilled with everything about your current situation, but you know that applicants aren’t the only ones putting on the dog during the interview process. Companies are accentuating the positive, too. Even if you spend considerable time researching new employers—and you should—you won’t have an insider’s view until you’re officially inside.
The problem is, you didn’t have an insider’s view of what was going on during that frantic round of meetings at your current company. The counteroffer might seem to be a good outcome. Oftentimes, it’s not. Just as you applied careful calculations in deciding to go, your company used its own math in deciding to ask you to stay.
Maybe your decision was all about the money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In many ways, a purely financial perspective makes things easier. It’s clean and simple. Numbers don’t lie. At least, they don’t as long as you make sure you’ve factored vacation time, retirement packages (including vesting) and seniority into the equation.
Dollars-and-cents calculations are easy for companies, too. They’ve invested time in training you, and it’s often worth paying a little more to keep you around for your experience. Consider what the pay bump really means, though.
There’s a chance that it’s just a slight advance on a raise you were going to get sooner or later anyway, or it could be the company’s way of buying time to train your replacement. The business world is filled with stories of professionals who accepted counteroffers only to be shown the door as soon as an exit became convenient for the company.
In many cases, once you’ve made it clear that you’re willing to leave you’ve given yourself a death sentence. That’s why some experts recommend never accepting a counteroffer. Bosses will start questioning your commitment, and it’s hard for the relationship to recover from that damage. You might still be in your same position, but you could be out of the inner circle. Sometimes it’s possible to rebuild the trust. Most of the time it’s not.
Often, a job move is about more than the paycheck. A desire for a different atmosphere, for more opportunity or for a fresh start in another field. It’s hard for a counter offer to match any of that.
Your current company might promise to move you ahead on the promotion track. Absent a specific plan, that pledge is easily broken. If it’s kept, it can cause problems with co-workers who resent that you were able to hold the company hostage to get what you wanted.
And no counter offer can counter the fact that sometimes, it’s just time to leave. You’re not happy, and you’re never going to be happy. Let go of what you think is a security net and take the plunge.
Ultimately, leaving a job is somewhat akin to leaving a relationship. It’s easy to get emotional as you remember the good times. It’s exciting to be wooed again by someone you thought no longer cared.
In both situations, it’s best to remember why you pondering the change to begin with. It’s unlikely that a counteroffer is going to make things better, and there’s a good chance that accepting one will make things worse.