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Seduced by a Counter Offer? Be Prepared for the Morning After

Finding a new position isn't easy. It takes time, more time than any respected professional wants. In fact, after you reach a certain level of acumen in your chosen field, it's downright insulting to be part of this slow-moving process, waiting tirelessly to land that next, rightful position. But once the deal is done, you are ready. You are pleased with the compensation package and determined to make a move. And then what? It's time to tell the news to your current employer: not such a 'gee-I'm-really-looking-forward-to-it' kind of task. It might even keep you up at night, actually rehearsing what to say to your direct report.

And then, nervously, you announce to the higher ups you're leaving: "It has been a terrific time spent but a better opportunity has come along, and I'm taking it." Your heart rate slows, and you're breathing fresh air. But the next step could come as a surprise if you aren't prepared for it.

Your employer says to you: "Hey, can you hold your decision for 24 hours? I would like to discuss this with someone in the corner office and get back to you tomorrow." Much like the spouse who refuses to sign the divorce papers, you are now caught in a game of 'how much you are valued in your old post' and it's a bit alluring. Hmm. They don't want me to leave, they want to keep me, that's interesting. What am I really worth in this position? Shall I play this out a bit and see?

Well here's my best advice, based on all of the candidates that get seduced by the counter offer: Cut your losses. Because, truly, sticking around isn't exactly what you wanted in the first place. Here are some reasons why:

  1. The counter offer is a holding pattern. Your employer hasn't found your replacement and they're not willing to have you leave until they are ready. Does that sound like job security? Not so much.
  2. Don’t forget, there was a reason you were open to new opportunities. The company that you are leaving has not met your professional goals and that's why you were receptive to new opportunities. Don't forget the basic premise of your search—you had some kind of philosophical differences to get you here in the first place. If it was just compensation, why didn't you ask for a raise?
  3. Your employer will view you as untrustworthy. You have crossed the line. In fact, they now know you were looking for another position when they thought your lunch just ran late. You are now considered a traitor in their eyes; one who is just avaricious enough to stick around.
  4. Head them off at the pass. When breaking the news, tell them you are leaving, don't ask for permission. Ensure that your employer knows your decision is firm. Don't even allow them to get to the point of a counter offer. You have slogged through this process for a reason, so don't let your flattered ego stop you from forward motion. Politely tell them you're mind is made up.
  5. Hold your ground, give plenty of notice and do your best to ensure an orderly transition. Because you never really know if a time could come when you are landing back on your old employer's doorstep—or your old employer becomes your new employer. Still, hold your ground. People always remember how you leave.

The seduction of a counter offer is rarely what it seems. Though the bitter taste of disloyalty may linger in the mouth of your current employer, your new post is awaiting you with open arms.

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John C. Lamar

Managing Director