Burning down the building – a word on counter-offer etiquette

There are some strange things going on in the job market at the moment. We know that employers are making whopping great counter-offers when their employees try to leave.  We know that counter-offers will sometimes – especially in these strange times – be too good for candidates to refuse.

And that’s okay – we get it. So as recruiters, we’ll go back to the drawing board, and help our clients find the right person.

What I can’t quite get my head around at the moment is the occasional inclination of candidates that have accepted a counter-offer to cut all ties with both the recruiter and the client and refuse to engage, thus destroying any chance of re-visiting the opportunity later on, or future opportunities, if it materialises that their decision was the wrong one.

Here’s what I mean. So, you’ve accepted a new job, received the contract, and resigned from your position. Your employer doesn’t accept your resignation. They make a blinding counter-offer that will give you more money, and change all the things about the role/commute/company culture that caused you to look for a new job in the first place.  They might throw in a promotion as well. A sexy new job title. It’s too good to refuse.

So now you need to tell the recruiter/business you were supposed to be joining that you’ve changed your mind. Ooh, its awkward. What if they try and persuade you that you’re making a mistake? What if they make some valid points that make you uncomfortable about your decision?

So you decide to ignore their calls and emails. Cut all ties.  They might spend a few days trying to track you down, but they’ll soon get the message that you are not interested.

If you really, really believe your employer will make the necessary changes, and you think you can really make it work, then that’s great. Perhaps you’ve done the right thing – at least if you’ve severed all ties there is no chance anyone can try to convince you that you’re making a mistake. (It’s a shame you had to hand in your resignation in order to persuade them, hastily, to make changes, but that’s the stuff of another article).

However, if the money was too tempting to refuse on this occasion, but you have a nagging doubt that all the things you hate about your job are going to mysteriously disappear, you should aim to leave things on a positive note with the employer whose offer you’ve turned down. You should reach out to the recruiter/client/both – by phone. Talk to them. Explain what’s happened.

They will understand. Counter-offers are not new. (If you’re a cracking candidate, they might be more surprised if you didn’t get one). Yes, they will probably try to change your mind, or at least ask you some questions to see whether your mind can be changed. They will inevitably point out to you some of the reasons why it is risky to accept a counter-offer.  (Presumably, you already know these, and have decided it’s a risk worth taking.)

But the fact that you reached out to explain your decision, and apologise, might mean that you can leave the door open. That way, if things don’t work out in your current role, the company that actually believed in you and wanted to take a chance on you might be open to hiring you at some point in the future.

Give them a chance to be understanding. Hell, why not give them a chance to say ‘listen, we’re not giving up without a fight, we are going to make a better offer!’ You never know. It happens.

In any case, I cannot stress the importance of leaving things on as friendly and positive a note as you can. Those people you are turning your back on could be invaluable contacts in future if there is even a teeny, tiny little chance that accepting a counter-offer is a mistake that you regret later on.

If you are confident in your decision, you should be prepared to explain and justify it.

Leave the door open. Don’t torch the building on your way out.