Considering a Counteroffer

You have secured a great position at a new law firm/company.  After signing the Offer Letter and giving notice to your current employer, it is an exciting yet anxiety-ridden time.  Then your current boss asks you to wait a day or two so that he/she can “see what I can do” in response to your resignation.  Your confidence soars, your interest is piqued, and your current work environment suddenly seems brighter – when you are in demand, it is an intoxicating feeling.  Your boss comes back to you with a counteroffer, typically some form of compensation.  Now you start to second-guess your decision to leave.  Here are some factors to consider when presented with a compelling counteroffer:

1.     Accepting a counteroffer is playing it safe.  Frequently, our lawyer candidates tell us that they have been ready to make a career move for a long time, but that “devil that you know” mentality has kept them complacent.  By the time they commit to making a career move and accept a new position, they are truly ready and excited about that new job.  How does a counteroffer really change that?  Simply put, it changes nothing about your current situation!  It feels safer to stay at your current job and make your boss happy by accepting his/her counteroffer.  Many people feel tremendous pressure to accept a counteroffer because they do not want to upset their boss and co-workers.  Giving notice and preparing for a new job is nerve-wracking.  It can make you crave safety, so getting a good counteroffer at that anxious time can seem like the perfect solution.  Playing it safe in the moment may seem gratifying, but in the long run, you will likely look back with regret on accepting the counteroffer while letting the new opportunity slip through your fingers.

2.     Counteroffers are quick fixes without lasting solutions.  The counteroffer neither changes the factors that you dislike at your current job nor the factors that got you excited about the new job.  It is a return to that risk-adverse mindset.  Think long and hard about the real, underlying reasons behind your decision to accept a new job.  Even if compensation was one of the reasons that you wanted to make a move, it was likely not the sole reason.  Most counteroffers only address the compensation reason and do not remedy the other factors that made you decide to leave in the first place.  That difficult work environment that you are in will not change when you accept a counteroffer, even if your base salary or bonus potential is now increased.  The limited prospects for advancement and career progression will not magically multiply when you accept a counteroffer, despite the increase your boss is dangling in front of you.  You may think that the money will offset your unhappiness about other factors, but in our experience as recruiters, it typically does not.

3.     Counteroffers can damage your reputation.  Although your current employer is enticing you to stay, you will no longer be viewed in the same loyal light that you once were by your employer.  The employer will always remember that you accepted another position, and only stayed because they were the highest bidder.  Future opportunities for advancement and even work assignments are influenced by your employer’s knowledge that you were ready to leave. Even if you have a genuinely good relationship with your boss, giving notice will invariably take a toll on that relationship.  The employer will see you differently because you were ready and willing to leave his/her team.  You do not have to feel guilty about that, but rather understand the impact it will have on your working relationship.  Remember that impact when you are tempted to accept the counteroffer just to make your boss happy.  Ultimately, you may be making yourself very unhappy by staying in your current job and foregoing the opportunity for which you were ready.  Finally, it is also worth considering your lowered professionalism in the eyes of the firm/company from whom you had previously accepted a position.

4.     Counteroffers can inflate your sense of marketability.  Counteroffers are boosts to our ego!  They make us feel wanted and valuable.  Enjoy the feeling and flattery, but recognize the counteroffer for what it truly is. Unfortunately, counteroffers can trick you into thinking that you are so marketable that you have the luxury to accept the counteroffer and keep looking for new jobs in the near future.  Some lawyers believe that they will always be in demand in the marketplace, and that great jobs are easy to secure.  If you really are looking for the next, right position that offers exciting work and growth potential at the firm/company, you need to realize that such positions are not so easy to come by!  When they are available, the competition is intense and you cannot count on securing one so readily.  One of the lawyers with whom we were working told us that he may consider accepting the counteroffer and lose out on a great new job, because he felt that he could always secure that type of job in the future.  After we discussed the issue further, he admitted that because this new opportunity came to him at the right time, he felt that his “luck” in the job market would persist, but he realized that he did not want to lose this new opportunity.  So he enjoyed the short-lived ego boost of the counteroffer and chose to move forward with the new opportunity that had come at the right time.

You may be thinking “I hear you, but aren’t there some situations where a counteroffer is so good that I should take it?”  There may be some extremely unique situation in which that is true, but in our many years in the search business, we have not seen it!  The reality is that if you find yourself really tempted by the allure of the counteroffer, perhaps you were not ready to make a move in the first place.  If your current boss can make a few tweaks to your job to make you happy, then maybe you should negotiate for those tweaks and stay put.  Before you embark on a job search and explore career opportunities, take the time for an internal gut-check and see if you can really envision yourself walking away from your current job.

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