It’s counterintuitive, but counter-offers are almost always counterproductive for your career.
Sure, it’s an ego boost, but a backhanded one, when you think about it, no? If you were so valuable to the technical recruiting company all along, how come you had to quit to get your IT staffing company to realize it?
The simple answer is that most IT recruiting companies don’t have to be proactive in this labor market. They can coast because the demand for talent isn’t that hot and there are lots of unemployed IT professionals out there. There’s no need to spend extra money unless the company is forced to do it. That must be the case because they’ve made you a counter-offer. It looks like you’re in the driver’s seat now.
But you’re not. You just think you are.
If you take a counter-offer, and then kick back, it’s likely that you’ll be kicked out.
The reason that most IT recruiting firms make counter-offers is so that they – rather than you – are in control of the timetable for transition. When someone resigns, the general rule is a two week notice period (a month or longer for those in IT staffing management roles.) That means the IT recruiting agency has to scramble to find a replacement for the role you’ve been filling. Chances are that it’s going to take longer than that to find a candidate who’s going to be a good fit.
That’s why they’ll give you more to stay around. While you’re basking in the satisfaction of receiving more money and/or a better title, your boss may well be reviewing resumes and taking his or her time to interview replacements. When they find that particular candidate, you’ll be history. It’s a nasty surprise for the unaware.
You might think that being eliminated would be the worst thing that can happen if you take a counter-offer, but you’d be wrong. The worst thing is that you stay, and are – from now on – untrustworthy…disloyal…or an extortionist. It depends on the way your boss views your actions.
The end result is, no matter how you behave in the future, you’ll always be regarded with suspicion. You’ve already shown that you’re ready to leave, so management will be waiting for you to do it again. You’ll be at the bottom of the list for promotions and good assignments. Training? Why would a company invest in someone whose longevity is questionable?
You’ll also be subject to some of the office blacklisting. No matter how discreetly the counter-offer situation is handled, there’s always the possibility that news will leak out. Don’t be surprised if you’re increasingly cut off from the other IT recruiters in the office.
Therefore, before you grab a counter-offer, it’s important to think about what’s being offered and what actually brought you to the point of leaving in the first place. A counter-offer is almost always about money. However, the reasons people leave are almost never about money alone.
The reasons people leave are money and something else. Where’s the something else in the counter-offer?
What if the new job doesn’t work out? What if it’s no better than the job you’re leaving? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
It’s just as likely to be a good change as a bad change. At first, it may be hard to tell which was the safe alternative and which was the sorry one. Over time, you’ll get some perspective. And, even if it’s not for the better, for the first months, at least it’s different.
You’ll have the opportunity to look back at your old situation and decide whether it was really as hard as you thought while you were there. Your former employer gets the same opportunity, assuming that you handled your exit gracefully.
A respectful refusal to a counter-offer can leave the door open for an eventual return. All parties can benefit from a hiatus. I’ve heard from lots of folks who’ve left employers and then come back. These days, it’s very acceptable to leave and return later with a higher profile.
The skills and experiences you gain with another company can make you more valuable than if you had stayed. Plus, you have a better negotiating position, knowing what the culture and environment of your former company were. You may be able to bargain for better working conditions or a more favorable reporting structure in addition to the compensation and title you want.
But first you have to handle your exit properly. It’s a delicate process to extract yourself with your reputation and relationships intact when a counter-offer is on the table. And regardless of whether you intend to return, you do want to preserve the company’s respect for you.
Don’t get caught up in a discussion of where you’re going and what makes this opportunity so much better than your current job. Politely refuse to discuss it by saying that you want to focus on an orderly transition. Keep saying it, if you have to, until you make your point.