Should I Stay or Should I Go? Playing “The Counteroffer Game”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Playing “The Counteroffer Game”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?“This indecision’s buggin’ me 
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be 
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me? 
Come on and let me know 
Should I cool it or should I blow?”

                                                                                                      “Should I Stay or Should I Go,”                                                                                                         The Clash


Delivering The Counteroffer For Max Results

If the words, “Can I see you for a minute” on a Friday afternoon are the words that strikes fear into all employers, then “counteroffer” is the one that strikes fear into an employee’s heart. “What should I do? They’ve matched my offer? 

It’s Friday afternoon. You walk into your boss’ office and ask the question that has scared many managers, “Do you have a minute?” At that moment, s/he knows you’re resigning and if he/she wants you, they will have to fight to keep you.Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“Why? We love you. Please stay! Don’t go! What do we have to do to keep you? What is it going to take? How much is it going to take? How much?” The message is always the same, even if those are not the exact words.

Not long ago, two people who accepted an offer from a client of mine called to tell me that they had accepted a counteroffer to remain with their current firm. The one who had been with their current firm for twelve years seemed to make a decision that made sense.

The other, however, had pleaded to get a full time job and leave consulting. His assignment was ending and he said he wanted the stability of a full time job, he told me. Earning $45 per hour without benefits, he accepted a counteroffer of a small increase in his hourly rate, rather than a full time salary of $93000 plus bonus, great benefits and three weeks of vacation to start from an employer that he kept begging me to get him an interview with that he said he loved.

Why did he decide to stay?

He told me, “They need me. (as though my client didn’t; as though the loss of revenue for his consulting firm and the difficulty they would have replacing him quickly at the client didn’t bother them a wee bit).”

Bringing Out “The Big Guns” for The Counteroffer

Should I Stay or Should I Go?Between the moment you give notice and your departure date, your employer may try to persuade you to stay.

Your mentor at the firm (the person in the firm who is not your manager who makes an obligatory call to you every 6 or 12 months) calls to talk with you. Your colleagues ask you to lunch and want to know why you’re going, where you are going to and for how much. Your boss’ boss asks to meet you. You are now the most important person at your company. You’re asked, “What will it take to keep you?” And this goes on for two weeks. 


The Pressure To Accept a Counteroffer

The pressure to accept a counteroffer can be enormous. The monetary offer can be tempting to stay. The promises to rectify everything that ticks you can be enormous. Yet, let’s look at what is going on from an employer’s perspective.

Years ago, I represented someone who headed a function with a global consulting firm where he ran an enormous amount of business at a government agency. “I want to leave consulting,” he told me. The offer he received was for just under $1 million in salary plus bonus and a sign on with a large financial firm in New York City.

His former client, the head of a large and dreaded US government agency called him to make a case for him to stay. The offer was for less money than my client was prepared to pay with promises made orally to make a few trivial changes. The conversation ended with words, “I need you,” he said.

Your resignation, like this person’s, has arrived at an untimely moment; they are not prepared to replace you with someone who can step up and do your job, they say.

The cost of replacing you in dollars and effort (how many resumes will need to be read and people interviewed before they hire someone who they will need to train) PLUS they may have to pay a higher salary than what you were earning plus a fee to the search firm for a person who doesn’t know what you know. Can you see it’s not about you, personally?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?Don’t believe me?

Consider how many well-intentioned managers and Directors have to fire the very people they deem are indispensable when budgets need to be cut. How hollow their words seem then.

Preparing for a Counteroffer

To head off being seduced, pressured and/or manipulated with a counteroffer, here’s what you do:

At the time you decide to change jobs, write down the reasons why you want to leave.

I’m bored.

I want to make more money.

My boss is a micro manager.

I want to learn something new.

I want to work closer to home

I’m bored and getting stale

There is no upside for me here.

Write down your reasons and put them in a place where you can find them at the time you give notice.

Then, before giving notice, find the list and review it. Do not be seduced by the emotional response you may receive. Remember, the money they offer may only be your next raise pushed up a few months.

Listen carefully to the promises that are made and remember that nothing is being put into writing; it is just the desperate effort to keep someone who was taken for granted for so long who they are now forced to remember they have underpaid, treated poorly and need to accomplish their objectives.

Few counteroffers should be considered, let alone accepted. By the way, a few months later, I received the consultant’s resume again and an apology for the mistake he made. Suffice it to say, my client did not want to talk with them again.

As for the person who took the call from the head of the US agency, he was shown the door in 9 months.


© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC  2017   

If you liked the article, read, “7 Days to Bulk Up Your In-Person Networking.” 

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves life coaching, as well as executive job search coaching and leadership coaching. offers great advice for job hunters—videos, my books and guides to job hunting, podcasts, articles, PLUS a community for you to ask questions of PLUS the ability to ask me questions where I function as your ally with no conflict of interest answering your questions.


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