The Counter Offer: Some Insights and Tips

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In an ideal world, job candidates of all kinds would lie in wait for the positions they are perfectly suited for. Unfortunately, many of the best candidates already hold positions when approached by managers planning to make employment offers. This is just par for the course when looking to hire top-performers for your company. Similarly, because these types of candidates are such hot commodities, their current employers are often reluctant to let them go without a fight.  Enter, the dreaded Counter Offer.

Now before we go any further, let’s talk about what exactly a counter offer is. A counter offer can present itself in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. In the case of hiring offers, counters come from the company with whom a candidate is employed when they are presented with a new opportunity. Often, a counter offer is a last ditch effort of an employer to keep a valued employee from leaving their organization. Mostly, they present in the form of salary increases or added benefits and perks to the position.

Mostly likely, everyone has had to respond to the presentation of a counter offer at one point or another. If you have not yet encountered this in your hiring endeavors, we can assure you that sooner or later you will. And, let’s face it. It isn’t what we would call a good time. Counter offers create awkward, uncomfortable situations for everyone involved. They create a competition between the existing employer and the hiring manager of the new company. While some people may not care about making enemies, we’d like to remind you now about what a small world it is, after all! This is especially true for industries with commonalities. We can’t always play nice, but it does make life a whole lot easier and more pleasant if we do. Also, counter offer negotiations can make a candidate feel as though they are a piece of property, as opposed to potential member of your team. Being respectful and courteous to them holds the utmost importance during the hiring process. They must feel as though they too, have a say in the procedures, as opposed to the powerless feeling of a new toy for the two managers to fight over.

Next, we will discuss the issue of handling such situations if and when they arise.  What is the best way to prepare for the possibility of counter offers occurring? And furthermore, when a counter offer does come in from an existing employer, what are some strategies to deal with it? Based on our experience in this area, we offer some helpful tips when faced with counter offers.

  • Get to Know Your Candidate– By asking a candidate to tell you about themselves, you will learn more about their current situation, including any grievances they may have with their employment. This information will help you know if and how they could be happy with your company. Also, these types of conversations build a relationship and create trust.  Simultaneously, you can find out the reasons they are looking to leave their current situation. Later, you can gently remind them they why wanted to leave, if a counter offer tempts them to stay.
  • Don’t Avoid the Issue-No problem has ever been solved by being ignored. We feel as though the best way to handle counter offers is to address the possibility initially when speaking with a candidate. Chances are they have not given any thought as to how they would respond if faced with that choice. By asking them upfront about how they feel about the issue, you will urge them to consider their options. This will prepare the candidate should their employer make an offer, but it will also get them to evaluate their situation, and seriously consider the pros and cons of staying with their company. Discussions like this will keep them from being overwhelmed if their boss happens to hit the panic button when they announce they are leaving.
  • It’s not a Wage War– Don’t battle it out! Often times, the existing employer and hiring manager continually up the salary offers to get the candidate. However, this gives them the idea that they can easily get a raise by threatening to leave in the future. Not to mention, you can end up paying a lot more for a position than it warrants. Also, this takes the decision somewhat away from the candidate themselves. In this situation, they commonly feel as though they should automatically stay with the “highest bidder” regardless of whether or not that is the smart choice for them. Your goal is to keep the responsibility in the hands of the candidate. Help them with the decision by reminding them why they wanted to change their situation, and politely but firmly state from the beginning that this is your best and final offer. If you plan to negotiate don’t do it as a type of competition with the other company, but keep it between you and the candidate.

We hope these suggestions will be of use to you the next time a counter offer comes you way. Or better yet, your candidate’s!

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