In the March 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader considers a big, fat counter-offer not to leave a job she hates for one she really wants.
I work in the financial services industry. For a year and a half, I was promised project management work but never got it. Recently I landed another job in another company — something I’ve wanted for two years. But it comes with a $6k pay cut. Then my boss made me a counter-offer, promising everything he had promised before, plus an $18k raise and a promotion to Project Manager.
It’s a big pay difference and a major promotion, and that’s the only reason I’m considering it. I could live off the lower salary with some lifestyle changes, in exchange for having a job I really want. The reason I was looking in the first place was that I am miserable at my job. It’s the wrong culture in the wrong industry working for a narcissist boss. Of course, the extra money would really help. Please help me figure this out.
Far be it from me to tell anyone to reject an extra $18k. But I will tell you what every good headhunter knows: A counter-offer usually has hidden strings.
I discuss this at length in “What’s the truth about counter-offers” in Parting Company | How to leave your job, (pp. 50-52):
“To a company, a counter-offer is sometimes a purely pragmatic tactic that enables it to sever a relationship on its own terms and in its own good time. That is, companies use counter-offers defensively. A company would rather have a replacement employee lined up, and a counter-offer buys time. The extra salary offered may be charged against the employee’s next raise, and the work load may increase. The employee is a marked man (or woman).”
In other words, there’s a good chance your boss is keeping you until he can find a replacement.
Of course, I could be wrong. Your boss may have seen the light. Even so, you must ask yourself, why didn’t your boss do the right thing before you announced you’re leaving?
You refer to lots of things that make you unhappy with your employer. The extra money would be nice — and I’d never blame you for taking it. But if this deal is designed to cover the job until they find someone new for less money, will you be on the street soon without another job waiting for you?
Again: Why didn’t your boss do this before you signaled you were leaving? Will any of the other problems you describe be corrected by this counter-offer?
I don’t get the feeling you went looking for a new employer because you wanted your boss to counter. But if you had, here’s the strategic advice I’d have given you, also from Parting Company:
“Before considering a job change, ask yourself if you would consider a counter-offer. If the answer is yes, identify exactly what changes you would want in your current employment and compensation and try to negotiate these with your boss before you step out. If there’s nothing you really want, then you’re ready to move on. (See “Learn to Move On,” p. 31.)”
It seems you already tried this, when you asked your boss for a job change and a raise. I know this is a very loaded question, but, why didn’t he give you what you asked for when you asked for it?
I think you know what you should do. The hard part will be deciding whether you can forgo all that extra money to have a job you really want, working with people you respect, in a healthier environment.
These are all things to consider. I wish you the best.
Would you take the counter-offer, or the job you really want? Am I too heavy handed with the risks of counter-offers? Have you ever gotten burned by one — or has a counter paid off for you? More important, what other factors would you advise this reader to consider?
(The reader who submitted this question has let me know what she decided to do and why. I’ll post the outcome as the discussion takes off! UPDATE: After letting our community post comments for a while… I’ve posted what the reader told me she decided to do, in bold down below in the comments… along with some additional information that she shared about her boss… Gotta give her credit for handling this so well!)