How to Get the Most From a Counteroffer

iStock / iStock

When you land a new job offer and your current gig comes back to you with more money or a better title, what do you do? How much time do you have? And how do you leverage the offers into the best scenario possible—without leaving flaming bridges in your wake?

First, do a gut check. “What’s driving you to explore other options?” asks Jenny Blake, a career coach and author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One. “If your current company did offer you more money or a better title, would you be excited to stay or still ready to leave?”

Many people don’t look elsewhere simply for a better salary; they’re often feeling stymied or unfulfilled. In these situations, even a double-digit percentage raise at your current job isn’t going to solve the underlying problem. So you need to be clear on your values and what you want out of the next phase of your career.

James Caan, a London-based private equity professional and founder of a training program for recruiters, points out that if the only time your employer offers you a better deal is when you try to resign, it’s likely a sign you’re better off elsewhere. “My 30 years’ experience has taught me that most people who decide to accept the counteroffer and stay end up leaving six months later,” he says.

Not all recruiters believe that counteroffers signify trouble. Dave Fecak, a well-known Silicon Valley tech recruiter, has written about the fact that people in his industry try to scare employees away from staying with their current company because doing so would cause the recruiters to lose out on a hefty finder’s fee. Counteroffers vary widely and can provide an excellent chance to boost your salary.

As with all tough decisions, no one else can tell you the best choice. Ask yourself if the counteroffer will solve the issues you have with your employer, and whether the fact that you had to resign in order to achieve the new offer will affect your ability to successfully do your job in the future.

If your gut tells you to stay, you can leverage the other offer without burning bridges. The key is to be honest and direct in order to avoid seeming like you’re playing one offer against the other. “Have conversations with both companies about what your decision criteria are, and what adjustments would move the needle for you to stay (or go),” Blake says. “Aim for solutions that feel like a win for all involved.”

In your negotiations, don’t stress about taking too much time to think or worry about how many times you go back and forth. If you're forthright about your ideal offer package and the lowest you’ll accept from the get-go, it should speed the process considerably. Then ask the decision-makers at both companies when they need a decision. If the period is too short, politely note your ideal timeframe and ask if you can respond at a later date. “It’s okay to take your time and not feel rushed, as long as you communicate clearly,” Blake says. If the other company doesn’t have the time to wait, go back to your gut-level reaction. What’s the right answer right in this moment, with the information you currently have?

Remain clear and authentic throughout the negotiations—and politely expect the same in return. That means you need to treat the counteroffer as a formal process, even if you’ve worked at your company for years. Lastly, make sure to get the new salary or job responsibilities in writing, along with the date at which they’ll take effect.