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Considering the Counter-Offer

  1. Overview
  2. Here Come the Three Stages
  3. How to Tactfully Resign


Of course, if your motivation for getting a job offer was to position yourself for a counter-offer, then you’re in the catbird’s seat — you can’t lose either way. Or can you? Some employment experts point out that accepting a counter-offer is the equivalent of career suicide. Your acceptance of a counter-offer could very well blow up in your face. Here’s how. Let’s say you announce your plans to leave your current job. This, in effect, blackmails your boss, who makes you a counter-offer only to keep you until he can find your replacement, at which point you’re dropped like a hot potato.

In the meantime, the trusting relationship you’ve enjoyed with your current supervisors and peers abruptly ends, and your loyalty becomes forever suspect. Is this sort of scenario accurate? I guess it depends. My experience has been mixed. That is, some candidates I’ve known who’ve accepted counter-offers have remained at their old jobs for years, and have smoothed over whatever difficulties caused their split in the first place. It’s precisely for this reason that I’m so cautious when I work with currently employed job seekers. I want to feel confident that their motives are pure before we both invest a lot of time and energy in testing the market. However, there’s a lot of evidence to support the theory that candidates who accept counter-offers become damaged goods once they’ve been herded back into the fold.

TopHere Come the Three Stages

If your intention to make a change is sincere, and a counter-offer by your current company won’t change your decision to leave, you should still keep up your guard. A counter-offer attempt can be potentially devastating, both on a personal and professional level. Unless you know how to diffuse your current employer’s retaliation against your resignation, you may end up psychologically wounded, or right back at the job you wanted to leave. The best way to shield yourself from the inevitable mixture of emotions surrounding the act of submitting your resignation is to remember that employers follow a predictable, three-stage pattern when faced with a resignation:

[1] They’ll be in shock. You sure picked a fine time to leave! Who’s going to finish the project we started?

The implication is that you’re irreplaceable. They might as well ask, How will we ever get the work done without you? To answer this assertion, you can reply, If I were run over by a truck on my way to work tomorrow, I feel that somehow, this company would survive.

[2] They’ll start to probe. Who’s the new company? What sort of position did you accept? What are they paying you?

Here you must be careful not to disclose too much information, or appear too enthusiastic. Otherwise, you run the risk of feeding your current employer with ammunition he can use against you later, such as, I’ve heard some pretty terrible things about your new company or, They’ll make everything look great until you actually get there. Then you’ll see what a sweat shop that place really is.

[3] They’ll make you an offer to try and keep you from leaving. You know that raise you and I were talking about a few months back? I forgot to tell you: We were just getting it processed yesterday.

To this you can respond, Gee, today you seem pretty concerned about my happiness and well-being. Where were you yesterday, before I announced my intention to resign?

It may take several days for the three stages to run their course, but believe me, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself engaged in conversations similar to these.

TopHow to Tactfully Resign

The first thing you need to consider is the timing of your resignation. Since two weeks’ notice is considered the norm, make sure your resignation properly coincides with your start date at the new company. You should always try to avoid an extended start date. Even if your new job begins in 10 weeks, don’t give 10 weeks’ notice; wait eight weeks and then give two weeks’ notice. This way, you’ll protect yourself from disaster in the unlikely event your new company announces a hiring freeze a month before you come on board. And by staying at your old job for only two weeks after you’ve announced your resignation, you won’t be subjected to the envy, scorn, or feelings of professional impotence that may result from your new role as a lame-duck employee. Some companies will make your exit plans for you.

Your resignation should be handled in person, preferably on a Friday afternoon. Ask your direct supervisor if you can speak with him privately in his office. When you announce your intention to resign, you should also hand your supervisor a letter that states your last date of employment with the company. Let him know that you’ve enjoyed working with him, but that an opportunity came along that you couldn’t pass up, and that your decision to leave was made carefully, and doesn’t reflect any negative feelings you have toward the company or the staff.

You should also add that your decision is final, and that you would prefer not to be made a counter-offer, since you wouldn’t want your refusal to accept more money to appear as a personal affront. Let your supervisor know that you appreciate all the company’s done for you; and that you’ll do everything in your power to make your departure as smooth and painless as possible. Finally, ask if there’s anything you can do during the transition period over the next two weeks, such as help train your successor, tie up loose ends, or delegate tasks. Keep your resignation letter short, simple, and to the point. There’s no need to go into detail about your new job, or what led to your decision to leave. If these issues are important to your old employer, he’ll schedule an exit interview for you, at which time you can hash out your differences ad infinitum.

Make sure to provide a carbon copy or photocopy of your resignation letter for your company’s personnel file. This way, the circumstances of your resignation will be well documented for future reference. In all likelihood, the human resource staff will want to meet with you to process your departure papers, or cover any questions you may have concerning the transfer of your medical insurance or retirement benefits.