Counter (Offer) Intelligence

Counter Offer Intelligence

Did you know you can google “the dreaded counter offer” and get two pages of hits on different articles using the term?

Scroll through the results and you’ll notice that it’s not just HR professionals or Talent Acquisition professionals talking about “the dreaded counter offer,” but business journalists and bloggers as well. 

There are good reasons this has become an oft-used phrase in the employment world: The facts around counter offers are not pretty.  

You can find multiple sources citing the astronomical percentages (as high as 80% according to surveys done by the National Employment Association) of employees that leave a company within six months of accepting a counter offer, or the number of hiring managers (as high as 60%) who say they would not completely trust someone who accepted a counter offer.  

Any thorough review of data around companies making counter offers to employees inevitably leads to one conclusion: These things very rarely work out.

With reliable workforce information becoming more plentiful and more accessible every second, one might think that counter offers would have gone the way of the palm pilot. But here we are, 2016, and some companies still give counter offers (not the really good companies, more on that later) and some employees still accept them.  


The lure of what is promised in the future seduces some employees even as the stark reality of the present stares them in the face. 

I recently had a recruiter for one of the clients I manage tell me that a candidate was waffling on going in for a face-to-face interview because his company was promising him an undefined new role in “a couple of months.” That a candidate was considering canceling an interview over such a vague offer of ‘some sort’ of improvement to their job, just blew my mind.

These type of scenarios speak to how easily people can be brainwashed when all of a sudden someone starts telling them how much they are valued.

In the end, this candidate went on the interview and got an offer, and elected to stay at his current company, mostly because of this so-called “new position” that was being pitched to him at an unknown time in the future. While it wasn’t the most prototypical counter offer scenario, it got me thinking about them in general.  

Counter offers are not a new topic for recruiters; many of the talking points around discussing the pitfalls of the counter offer (reciting the stats above and talking about counters early on in the recruitment cycle) have been covered ad nauseam. But because this still happens, and even more when recruiting passive candidates, there is always room for a few ideas.  

Here are 3 things to think about when in the “dreaded counter offer” scenario:


If a candidate tells you they are looking for more money (or more perks, benefits, attention, recognition, etc.), ask them if they have asked their boss about any of the above.

You would be shocked at the amount of them that have not. If they have not, tell them to go talk to their boss and call you back if that conversation goes nowhere. Then hang up the phone. Don’t pin your hopes on a candidate who hasn’t made an effort to improve their own situation, one that might be easily remedied.

This simple practice could save you a lot of time, effort, and recruiter anguish.  

I read an article recently about counter offers where the author talked about a candidate who wanted more money, and he glossed right over this piece, simply saying that they were able to produce an opportunity within a few days that easily exceeded the candidate’s current compensation. The author seemed surprised when the candidate ended up taking a counter offer for slightly less money than the new company was offering, but with some additional responsibilities.

Being able to get a candidate a quick offer for more money is great, but only if you understand their true motivation for leaving (or potentially staying).


You may have heard a variation of this one before – an old colleague of mine phrased it in a way I think can be really effective when talking to the candidate.  

Ask this question: Why did it take you preparing to leave your employer for them to start paying attention to your growth and needs?

Whether it’s money, or responsibility, or any other single issue, how can you really feel that you are a valued contributor and that they aren’t just throwing money or promises around to avoid having to scramble in your absence?

Ask your candidate to do research on the Fortune Top 50, or any companies with commendations as a “Best Place to Work” and see how they handle counter offers. Guess what? They don’t do them. They focus on providing their employees with a fantastic work experience and giving them the resources they need to succeed and feel appreciated.  

If an employee wants to leave, there is nothing more to offer them.  


I had a candidate once who gave me all the reasons he wanted to leave, just as would happen in pretty much any conversation with a recruiter.  

It all stemmed from a desire to get more technical in his day-to-day role. He wanted more money and more responsibility but ultimately it was about the job fit. I sensed he was going to get a counter; he was underpaid and being stretched thin because he had knowledge that multiple teams could utilize.  

So, just for emphasis, I went back through his list of reasons for leaving with him at the end of our initial conversation, talking about how my client could improve on those issues, one-by-one. Sure enough, he did get a counter offer, for WAY more money and he was seriously considering taking it, as my client was not going to be able to match the number.  



What’s a recruiter to do?

I pulled out my list from our original conversation and went through all of his reasons again. Turns out his old company wasn’t planning on really giving him any more of the technical responsibilities he was seeking, at least not in any tangible way. I asked him, is the difference in salary really going to matter if you still aren’t going to be doing what you really want to do?

He ended up rejecting the counter and is still happily employed at my client three years later.

The tactic of deploying counter offers isn’t going away anytime soon. Getting aggressive with some of these (bad pun alert) “counter” measures can help you break through with a candidate when it comes to realizing what they are missing in their current job. The only way that hollow space is likely to be filled is with a new opportunity (and you happen to have one for them, don’t you?).


Mike Mammoser_OPBy Mike Mammoser, Engagement Manager, Dedicated Recruiting Services – Objective Paradigm


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