When is it appropriate to ask my current employer for a counter offer when I have an offer in hand? What are the risks? (Negotiating Series – Part #3)

Judith Cushman All Posts by Date, Negotiating Skills 0 Comments

negotiating skills career transitions compensation advice judith cushman associates HR career consultantsAnswer:  I rarely think there is a case to be made for a counter offer to join a new organization. However, there are circumstances where, with full knowledge of the risks, an employee may approach his supervisor with an offer in hand (but not yet accepted) to discuss staying or leaving.

In some organizations, once an employee indicates s/he has an offer, that act indicates disloyalty. If the move is to a competitor, that is grounds for immediate dismissal and s/he is escorted out of the building. In other circumstances, particularly where the marketplace for talent is highly competitive, there is often a reaction where the supervisor asks if there is anything that can be done to affect the decision to leave.  Or, the employee can approach the supervisor and say, “I have an offer but I have not yet accepted it. I wanted to discuss it before I make a final decision.” In that case, the employee is opening the door to a counter offer.

If you have a good relationship with your current supervisor, and the company does want to retain you, they will want to know how much time there is to make a counter offer. I would provide the date you are planning to accept the offer (or a day earlier.)

The supervisor may indicate that this news comes as a surprise. He may ask if there is a way to address the issues that led the employee to consider a new opportunity. Or, the supervisor could share some options for growth or plans for a promotion.  Your employer could also ask about details of the offer and decide to match (or come close to matching the offer.)  This exercise does not become a ping pong game. There is only this one opportunity to negotiate staying.

Meanwhile, how do you handle this situation where you want to consider two options? You need to give you current employer time to make a counter offer while not putting the new offer at risk. It is time to walk a delicate line. I would ask for a reasonable amount of days to think about the new job offer, e.g. by the end of the week the offer is put in writing in final form. I would continue to express interest in the offer and say you are giving it a great deal of consideration. If any questions occur to you about the offer, this would be the appropriate time to nail down any remaining details (and give you more time to make your decision.)

As soon as you have the terms of the job offer in writing, you must move quickly to alert your supervisor or his/her supervisor of the situation and provide as much detail as they ask for. If they cannot move quickly enough, then you will have to accept or reject the offer on its own merits. Often, an offer is subject to passing a reference check that includes drug testing and it would be unwise to discuss a counter offer until you have a firm offer in hand (and have passed that test.)  Worst case scenario If you do not wait until you pass the reference check, you could find the offer rescinded and your current employer unwilling to consider your request for a counter offer.

If you do accept a counter offer and remain with your current employer there are repercussions. There is a degree of mistrust that remains for having shown a degree of disloyalty. That can affect your future with the organization. If there is an opportunity for promotion, the fact you were willing to accept an offer to leave may affect that promotion. Impractical as it is, some organizations feel you should have had a dialog with them before you started job hunting or responding to a call from a recruiter.

In certain industry categories, especially, Silicon Valley, where there are too few outstanding senior level managers, stability is elusive and this concern does not apply. The expectation is that companies, jobs and candidates are all in transition and that what will keep candidates from moving on are lucrative retention agreements, bonuses and stock programs with a relatively short vesting cycle. What retains key employees are significant monetary awards that make it extremely difficult for another company to match or exceed current earnings.

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