The Truth About Counter Offers

You’ve interviewed for a position with a new company. The company likes you! – and makes you an offer. You analyze everything: career development, growth potential, salary, benefits, and intangibles. After some thought, you decide to accept the offer.

You attempt to resign from your current company. Oops! It doesn’t go as smoothly as you planned. Your boss is upset about losing you and presents you with a counteroffer. A counteroffer is an attempt by your current company to persuade you to stay.

Career changes are tough enough as it is, and anxieties about leaving a comfortable job, friends and location and having to reprove yourself again in an unknown opportunity can cloud the best logic. But just because the new position is a little scary doesn’t mean it’s not a positive move. Since counter offers can create confusion and buyer’s remorse, you should understand what’s being cast upon you. No doubt about it: change can be scary.

Don’t let familiarity cloud your judgment. Ask yourself whether the new position is a positive step toward advancing your career. Will it be better for you than your current position? If the answer is yes, then proceed with pursuing the position. Familiarity will follow!

Why Companies Make Counteroffers

Some companies never make counteroffers. In others, it’s a fairly common practice. Consider what happens when an employee (like you) resigns:

First, morale is likely to suffer, particularly among your closest coworkers. Management will notice, and your resignation may be perceived as an unfavorable reflection on your boss. Your absence could jeopardize the progress of a big project, lead to increased workloads for colleagues who remain behind, and even mess up vacation schedules! Furthermore, it could be expensive (in terms of time, energy and money) to replace you.

A cheaper solution for the company is to make you a counteroffer. This may consist of a raise, a promotion, change in title or job description, or a combination of these factors. It may even be just a promise of change to come. Be aware that this solution may actually be a stalling technique. By buying you back, the company has bought itself some time, perhaps to finish that big project, reorganize other team members, or search for a suitable replacement for you.

What Does a Counteroffer Sound Like?

Because your company wants to attract you to stay, a counteroffer will usually come cloaked in flattery. It may sound something like this:

“But you know we are right in the middle of a big project! And you’re much too valuable to the team to desert us now!”

“We didn’t want to tell you until next quarter, but we were just about to give you a raise/promotion to show you how much we appreciate your work. Why don’t we make it effective immediately instead of having you wait any longer?”

“Why, we had no idea you were unhappy with anything here. Let’s discuss this further before you make some rash decision. Whatever it is, we can work it out.”

“You know we have great plans for you here! But the company you’re going to work for? What can they do for you?”

Why Counter Offers Don’t Work

Counteroffers can be tempting and ego-inflating. You also may detect an underlying threat that by not accepting the counteroffer, you’ll be throwing away your entire career, future, life.

It’s true: counteroffers very, very rarely work. There are several reasons for this:

Trust. No matter what the company says, you will forever be a marked employee. You have demonstrated your lack of loyalty by considering another opportunity. People will feel jilted, even if you accept a counteroffer and stay. Trust and acceptance among your immediate colleagues may be irrevocably lost. Managers, too, have long memories, and won’t forget your lapse in loyalty –no matter how brief it may have been.

Most likely, your basic reason(s) for thinking of leaving will eventually resurface. There are a myriad of reasons why you may have considered a change: perhaps something in particular bothered you about your position, or maybe you were presented with an irresistible opportunity. In any case, changes made as a result of a counteroffer may appease you in the short term, but rarely last for the long run. Statistics show that if you accept a counteroffer, it’s still extremely likely that you’ll voluntarily leave or be terminated within 6 months to a year.

Apart from a short-term, Band-Aid treatment, nothing will change within the company. After the dust settles from this upheaval, you’ll be in the same old rut. Statistics say that more than 80% of those who accept counter offers leave or are terminated within six to twelve months. And half of those who accept counter offers initiate their job searches within 90 days.

Finally, when you make your decision, look at your current job and the new position as if you were unemployed. Which opportunity holds the most real potential? Probably the new one or you wouldn’t have accepted it in the first place. 

Rather than setting yourself up for the feelings of confusion and guilt that may arise when a counter offer is presented, be prepared.

What should you do with a Counter Offer?

Ask any recruiter and you’ll hear dozens of heartbreaking stories involving counter offers. Unfortunately, more executives seem to be getting and accepting them because of the inconsistent economy. Companies are operating with reduced staff and any defections from the ranks create problems for those who remain. It’s much easier for employers to sweeten the pot to keep executives from deserting than to conduct grueling and expensive searches for replacements.

When you are ready to leave a job, you will leave. You wouldn’t accept a counter offer any more than you would let a vendor who bid high on a job make a second, lower bid to beat out the winner. Your price should be your price, period….

Try not to let the attractiveness of the new offer make you unhappy with your present position. Base your decision to move – or – not solely on the opportunity the new job represents, not on whether your present one could be better. And, since decisiveness is a trait of a superior executive, stick to your guns once you have made up your mind.

When resigning…

Avoid any possible misunderstanding by submitting your resignation in writing AND email.

Focus on the positive opportunity you’ve been offered with your new company. At your resignation meeting, don’t feel pressured into giving reasons for resigning. Simply state that you’ve been presented with an opportunity that you cannot pass up. An example of your resignation letter might look something like this:

(Month Day, Year)



(Direct Boss)

(Boss’s Title)

(Company resigning from)




Dear (Boss’s first name),

This letter is to inform you that I am concluding my employment with (XYZ Company) effective (day of week), (Month Day Year).

I have decided that it is time to take another career step and I have accepted a position elsewhere.  This was not an easy decision and took much consideration.  The time I have spent at (XYZ) has been most rewarding and helpful in my career, and I hope that my contributions to the company have been constructive and valuable.

(Boss’s name), I have the utmost respect for you and wish nothing but the best for you and the (Business Unit) team. I truly appreciate the career guidance, leadership and friendship you provided me and want to thank you for having me as part of your team.

Please be assured that I will do all I can to assist in the smooth transition of my responsibilities before leaving.

Respectfully yours,



(your full name)



cc:         President, Direct Supervisor, Personnel, Vice President, Plant Manager, any others in the chain of command above you.


(Send a copy to all hiring authorities – this will depend on the structure of the company.)


Handle your resignation right the first time you do it. Be professional and courteous, not disgruntled or weak. Offer to help during the transition time, then follow up with your best effort.

Then, after you’ve done all that you can, move forward! Look ahead to your new opportunity, complete with fresh challenges and all the excitement that goes with the start of any journey.