Should You Counter a Counter Offer?

Mar 31 2016

You’ve spent weeks courting this candidate and you were afraid that when she resigned, her current employer would make her a great offer to stay. Should you give up gracefully or fight? And what should you do with the seething anger that is bubbling up when she calls with the news? As with so many things in life, one size does not fit all and ultimatums or strict rules don’t serve anyone well in managing a counter offer. However, there are some great ways to improve your odds of successfully landing the new hire you really want.

Start Strong
Your candidate’s feelings about you as a boss really solidify during the offer negotiations. Use this time to build a strong relationship that can weather the gathering storm of a counter from the boss who already knows her very well. Build on the momentum of the final interview and make an offer within 24 hours that flatters her by exceeding her expectations in at least one area. Make the offer in person. Avoid all surprises in the offer documentation. Be patient and supportive while she asks questions. Invest in her comfort and show that you’re committed to her. Set the tone for a future relationship that motivates her to join your team.

An Ounce of Prevention
Talk openly about how your candidate will approach her resignation by saying something like, “I’m sure it’s going to be difficult to leave your current role. Tell me how you plan to give your notice.” Help her to imagine the discussion and practice what she’ll say. Ultimately, you want to add, “You’re a great talent and should expect a counter offer. How do you think you’ll handle that scenario?” This is the time to reflect back on the reasons your candidate told you she is willing to leave her current job. Find a way to remind her of those key drivers and encourage her not to burn bridges, but to stand firm in her resolve to make the change. Avoid the temptation to quote the fake statistic that 80% of people who accept a counter leave within a year—this is something headhunters made up decades ago. It’s better to just help your candidate remember why she wanted to leave, reinforce why she wants to join your team, and help her prepare to politely and professionally go forward with her plans. Letting her role-play will increase your chances that the emotion of the moment will be overcome by her advanced thought and preparation.

Know Your Limits
Decide in advance whether you can increase your offer if your candidate returns with a counter or whether you want to stand firm. There are no hard and fast rules. The overall situation—candidate dynamics and your financial and employment policies—dictates how flexible you should be. If your candidate has negotiated the best offer you’re willing to make, tell her that you want her to know that your agreement is your “best and final” offer and is not subject to further changes. However, if you assess that your candidate may need to win one last round of negotiation to feel satisfied, keep some dry powder and be prepared to use it.

To Thine Own Self be True
Under all circumstances, pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you get offended and begin to resent your candidate’s handling of the counter offer, be honest about whether you can form a healthy new employment relationship. Alternatively, if you’re impressed with her negotiating skills and integrity, move forward and be ready to laugh about it in a few decades when you’re reminiscing with her after a successful career.

Remember, there is no right and wrong—job offer management is an art and you’re holding the paintbrush.

Happy Hiring!


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