Dealing with a counter-offer

Should you stay or should you go? 


(This article also appears on


By Kristi Edwards


The Clash address this age-old question in their 1982- released song, allegedly inspired by Mick Jones contemplating on whether or not to leave his ex-girlfriend. Similar levels of deliberation can go into a decision about leaving a job and indeed, leaving a job is sometimes broadly analogous to leaving a relationship. Really. It is.


If you are a valuable commodity to your current firm and this is especially the case in bull markets and boom times when simply staffing a deal can be an issue, they will not want to lose you. Recruiting and retraining is time-consuming and extremely costly. Think about all the time and money they have ploughed into making you the billing machine that you have become. This is especially the case at the 3-5 year pqe mark when you are really starting to be worth all that investment and are requiring (theoretically), less and less supervision.


But let’s go back to the break-up analogy. The desperate pleas of the lovelorn boyfriend/girlfriend and the promises of changes, better conditions and more understanding can be compared with the firm keen to woo you with pledges of a higher salary, more responsibility and improved considerations of your need for a weekend off once in a while; they often do not materialise. Most such promises, either in a personal or a professional situation are self-motivated and why, if you are so valued, were they not offered before this ‘crisis’ situation arose?


We observe that approximately 75% of candidates who accept a counter-offer from their current firm will leave within 12 months as their initial concerns and reasons for wanting to leave have not been addressed; a hike in salary, however lavish will not make up for other issues that make you miserable and structural changes important for your wish list being met often meet with internal resistance and take a long time to implement. In addition, do not underestimate the damage done to the relationship of trust by the resignation. Like it or not, people take such things personally and your resignation, no matter how it is done, will alter your relationship with your firm permanently. It’s just like the (probably now ex) girlfriend or boyfriend; how often does it really ‘work out’ when you decide to give it one last go?


It pays to be prepared for a counter-offer and most good recruiters will, in their initial meetings with you, ask you to consider what you will do in the event of receiving one. It is our part of our role to prepare you for the possibility and you should start to consider it from the beginning of the process. It helps to focus the mind.


Here are a few things to consider:

  • What are your reasons for moving? Be clear on these and communicate them early on with your recruiter;
  •  Are your concerns or issues able to be addressed by internal conversations with your current firm or is it a wider issue such as you wanting to become involved in larger deals or some other matter that your current firm cannot change or address? Such conversations should always be had before you consult a recruiter. What can they do to keep you and if these things were to not be in issue, would you still be interested in moving? Remember that the recruitment process to hire an associate takes up many hours of partners’, HR professionals’ (not to mention recruiters’) time and it should not be used in order for you to gain bargain power in your current seat; and
  • What are you prepared to be flexible on and what are sticking points? Remember that rarely is an offer completely perfect – you may have to compromise but this is most often not enough to justify the ‘devil you know’ approach of accepting a counter-offer. If you communicate these points early in the process your recruiter will be able to manage the expectations of the client.


Just as in relationships, we often see candidates who are ‘playing the field’ and there is absolutely nothing wrong with treating the beginnings of this process (just like dating) as exploratory, or in deciding that, given all the options and having received an offer, you have decided to stay with your current firm if there is a genuine removal of the obstacles to you remaining there that drove you to seek alternatives in the first place. In addition, sometimes, the courting process employed by the new firm just may not work and you decide that after a completely unemotional and objective assessment, your current firm is the better place for you.


On a final note, no matter what you do, try to do everything with integrity and openness, thanks and some class. If you are going to reject an offer, do so with thanks and always make contact with the firm you are rejecting – you will come across them at some stage in the future.


And a reminder about the break-up scenario; how often do you hear of people getting back together, to give it ‘one last go’? How often do you hear of it working? As Mick Jones said, “If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double” – in our case, the trouble will wear off when your firm comes to terms with the fact that you are seeking pastures new and hopefully, they will wish you well and take a mature approach to restrictive covenants. There’s nothing to say that you can’t remain friends. If you stay – well, our experience indicates that it rarely works out.


© Edwards Gibson

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