Why Your Candidate Just Accepted a Counter Offer and Why They Just Don’t Work


If you are in the field of Recruiting or Human Resources, you have likely seen it, but cringe at the mere thought of it: the Counter Offer. As much as we don’t want to think about them, in this day and age, they happen more often than we would like.


Picture this: you have spent almost two months going through the interview process with the perfect candidate. Sure, you have others you have spoken to. Sure, you have submitted several other qualified candidates for the position. But this candidate is the real deal: checks all of the boxes in terms of both skills and cultural attributes. He’s perfect. You have been in almost daily conversation with this person – preparing him for phone interviews, in-person interviews, presentations, etc. You have spoken to and written comprehensive reference checks. You have covered commute/relocation, compensation, motivations for making a move. Every box is checked – or so you thought!


The fateful day comes and you extend an offer to your “perfect” candidate. Silence. A second day passes. Silence. You get the horrible feeling in your gut that can only mean one thing – the worst possible outcome! When you finally talk to the candidate on the phone, he seems very uncomfortable – not at all his usual demeanor. When he finally finds the courage to start talking, he utters the words “well, I talked to my boss and told him I was getting another job offer. They gave me a counter offer I couldn’t refuse, so I am going to stay where I am.”


Part of you wants to die inside…none of your other candidates even came close to the overall fit THIS candidate was! You don’t want to go back to square one – not after all of this work! What are the important questions to ask the unicorn on the other end of the phone that is hanging by a string?


Let’s Start Here

Some important questions to remind anyone receiving a counter offer are the following:

  • What were the person’s motivations to leave in the first place? If it was strictly a matter of money, they probably weren’t an ideal candidate to begin with. Most likely, the person’s reason had to do with hours, commute, travel, the work environment, the opportunity for advancement, or the challenge.


  • If this is the case, why is your employer only doing this now? If you employer truly values you as an employee, wouldn’t your efforts be recognized prior to receiving another job offer? Companies are investing large amounts of time and money into retention strategies. Why weren’t they trying to keep you before?


  • How will your loyalty and integrity be perceived by this employer going forward? You were willing to jump ship once, why wouldn’t you do it again? How long did you put on this charade while you were interviewing? If you don’t think they realize this, you are sorely mistaken!


  • How will others perceive your indecision (especially if you have already accepted the offer)?


  • How will you feel walking back into an office that you have already mentally “checked out” of?


  • How do you know your employer will fulfill their promise?


  • Most importantly, what will you do when the circumstances you are trying to escape don’t change? Will you leave then? And will there be an opportunity this solid waiting for you?

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Why You Should Never, Ever Take a Counter Offer

Alright – if the above questions were not compelling enough, let’s talk about the harsh reality of what accepting a counter offer means for the employee that DOES decide to stay. Ever meet anyone that took a counter offer and lived happily ever after? Maybe. But, a stunning 88% of candidates that DO take counter offers are no longer employed by the employer that made that counter offer after 18 months! Why? Let’s consider some of these theories:


  • Does the employer really value the employee that much, or is the timing simply inconvenient? Let’s face it – it never looks good to lose an employee to resignation, but if they are in a role that fills a day to day need, the company is going to need some time to replace that person. Giving them a counter offer does just that.


  • As mentioned above, the employee’s integrity will forever be in question. Why not hire another employee that is excited about what the company has to offer without leveraging them for more money?


  • The underlying issues that existed on both sides of the fence (with the candidate and his current employer) don’t go away. They may be sugar-coated by a raise or promoted title, but the real reasons the person was unhappy still remain.


  • Your relationship with colleagues could be damaged, knowing that you threatened to leave and are now being paid more for the doing the same job they are doing.


  • The best-run organizations typically have a policy prohibiting counter offers. This is why they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars engaging and retaining their best employees. If you are unhappy and you are unable to communicate with your supervisor, then leave.


If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably Is


There is no doubt about it – receiving a counter offer is flattering for the moment. The fact of the matter is that if you went through the trouble of phone interviewing, taking off to interview in person, completing assessments, presentations, and/or references, there is something about your current role that is unsettling.

If you are making the effort to make the career move, your best bet is to follow through with it. You’ll thank yourself later.

For additional information on this topic, I’ve included some books you might want to refer to:


Why Your Candidate Just Accepted a Counter Offer and Why They Just Don't Work



by Natalie Lemons

Natalie Lemons is the President of the Resilience Group, LLC, and the author of The Resilient Recruiter. Please follow her blog for more articles like this, plus helpful free downloads for leaders, and tips for improving your career!

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3 thoughts on “Why Your Candidate Just Accepted a Counter Offer and Why They Just Don’t Work

  • Ok but would strongly disagree if we generalize to all the cases, there could be other cases such as being und r paid or feeling under valued or not having the growth expected or deserved, in these cases you might look to leave but if you boss/company receives well the wake-up call and reacts accordingly is a win-win as it is also a cost for you to move and you might stay and be more motivated than ever with the new conditions Just wanted to share the perspective of those cases too. Cheers!

    • No problem – I appreciate the perspective! As a recruiter, I always tell candidates to consider all options. Most of the time, however, if an employer makes the effort to keep you, it is a short term solution for them. This isn’t true in all cases, but there have been many occasions that a candidate calls back in less than a year, and is ready to search for a new job again. The promises made by the employer didn’t pan out, or were short-lived. I am always happy to hear about the win-win situations, though!

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