Your best candidate just got a counter-offer. What now?

January 3, 2024
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Your best candidate just got a counter-offer. What now? 

Picture this: you’ve spent months interviewing, assessing and evaluating the perfect candidate, and you’re finally ready to make them an offer. You know they’ll make a valuable addition to your team, and you’re excited to get them on board. 

But then… disaster strikes. The candidate gets in touch to say they’ve received a counter-offer from their current employer. Maybe they’ve been offered more money, a different position with a shiny new job title, or a bunch of extra perks and benefits. Either way, it’s enough that they’re reconsidering their decision to leave their current employer. 

Read on for our complete guide to what to do in this situation. 

First, should you offer more money? 

If you find yourself in this situation, the most obvious question to ask yourself is, ‘What can we do to sweeten the deal?’

And if you have the budget, it’s perfectly reasonable to counter the counter-offer with another offer of your own. 

But this sometimes isn’t possible — and that doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost. Remember, money is only one of many reasons that employees leave jobs, and it’s often not the most important one. 

That means you might still have a chance of convincing the candidate that your organisation is the better choice, even if you can’t increase your offer. 

Should candidates ever accept a counter-offer? 

There’s an old cliché in recruitment that candidates should never accept a counter-offer. The idea is that if the company is only offering you more money (or other benefits) now, they never really valued you in the first place. 

And while there may be some truth in this, it’s not necessarily the case that accepting a counter-offer is always a bad idea. After all, if the only thing pushing you to find a new job was the need to earn more money, then it probably makes sense to stay where you are if that money is put on the table. 

But most of the time, money isn’t the only reason employees want to leave their jobs. Candidates should think carefully about whether the counter-offer they’ve received will really fix their problems before accepting. 

What not to do when your candidate gets a counter-offer

Before we get into the best way to handle this situation, let’s take a quick look at three things you absolutely shouldn’t do:

  1. Threaten the candidate: E.g. ‘This is the only chance you’ll get to work here. It’s now or never, and if you make the wrong choice, you’ll probably regret it.’
  2. Try to make the candidate feel guilty: E.g. ‘I can’t believe you’re considering this after all the effort we’ve put into the recruitment process. We thought you really wanted to work here, but now you’ve wasted our time.’ 
  3. Patronise the candidate: E.g. ‘Everyone knows you should never accept a counter-offer from your current employer. You must be stupid if you’re really considering it.’

What to do instead

So, what should you do if your candidate is considering accepting a counter-offer from their current employer? Here are our tips for handling this tricky situation. 

Be aware of the possibility early on 

A candidate receiving a counter-offer when they tell their employer that they’re planning to leave isn’t a rare occurrence. After all, replacing an employee is expensive, and many organisations want to avoid it if they can. 

So one of the best things you can do is to try and assess the possibility of your candidate receiving a counter-offer (and accepting it) early in the recruitment process. 

In your first conversations with the candidate, take the time to dig down into their motivations for leaving their current employer. Taking this time to understand their desires, frustrations and passions shows the candidate that you’re interested in building a meaningful, positive working relationship — and it also arms you with information that could be useful later on. 

You can even ask candidates in the interview stage what they would do if they received a counter-offer from their current employer. Of course, they might not be 100% honest with you at this stage — and even if they are, they could change their minds down the line. But this can still give you an idea of how big a risk you’re taking by moving forward with the candidate. 

Don’t take it personally 

Getting a candidate to the offer stage takes a lot of time and resources. And it can feel like a bit of a kick in the teeth to realise that they’re considering staying with their current employer after all of that effort. 

But it’s important to remember that the candidate is weighing up an important decision and that their choice will impact their life much more than yours. 

So, instead of taking it personally, take a moment to congratulate your candidate on their offer. Then, set up a time for a full discussion so that you can better understand the offer they’ve received and their motivations for considering it. 

Remind your candidate why they wanted to leave 

When you meet with your candidate, bring the conversation back to the reasons they wanted to leave their employer in the first place. 

Keep in mind that if their only reason for leaving was to earn more money, there’s a good chance they’ll end up accepting the offer.  After all, they’re already comfortable in their current role. They already understand how the company works, and they’ve spent time building relationships with their colleagues. 

However, in most cases, money isn’t the only reason for wanting to leave a job. Depending on the reasons the candidate gave you, you could consider asking questions like: 

  • What opportunities will you have to develop new skills if you stay in your current role? 
  • Do you think the cultural problems you identified will be resolved if you stay? 
  • Will you have the opportunity to progress in your career if you stay with your current employer? 
  • Will the proposed pay increase be enough to make up for the other benefits you’re lacking? 

You can also gently remind the candidate that money is often only a temporary solution. While things might improve at their current job for a while, the frustrations they were feeling before probably aren’t going anywhere 

Talk about what the counter-offer really means 

Next, talk to your candidate about the reason their employer might have made them a counter-offer. It’s important to do this gently: if you simply criticise their employer and say they must be doing it for the wrong reasons, this could put the candidate on the defensive. 

Instead, you might want to ask the candidate questions like: 

  • Why do you think the company has made you this offer now?
  • What will the new job/promotion actually mean for your day-to-day work life? 
  • Will this pay increase mean you’re ineligible for more raises in the future?

Discuss your compensation philosophy 

While candidates are sometimes seduced by the offer of a higher salary, it’s important to remind them that this is often a temporary fix to their problems. Keep things positive by focusing on your own compensation philosophy and what it will mean for the candidate if they choose to accept your offer. 

For example, you could tell them that while the starting salary you’re offering is lower than the counter-offer they’ve received, you do review salaries every year. You should also highlight any potential opportunities for career progression that go along with the position they’ve applied for. 

This can help them to put the counter-offer into perspective and show them that your offer might be the better choice in the long term. 

Give them time to think about it 

Most importantly, you shouldn’t try to pressure your candidate into making a decision before they’re ready. After your conversation, ask them to spend some time thinking about what you’ve discussed, and set a time to follow up. At this stage, you’ve done everything you can to convince the candidate. All you can do now is trust them to make the right decision. 

Finally, follow up with the candidate at the agreed time, and ask them if they’ve made a decision. If they’ve decided to take your offer, great! You’ve successfully countered a counter-offer and can look forward to onboarding your new employee. 

But if they decide to stay with their current employer, at least you’ll know you’ve done everything you can. You’ll also have gained valuable insights into their motivations, which could help you land other candidates down the line. 

Making employee retention a priority

What about when you’re on the other side of the table: should you make an employee a counter-offer if they say they’re leaving? 

Sure, if you want to. But the truth is that this approach is often too little, too late. And even if the employee accepts your counter-offer, there’s no guarantee they’ll stick around for the long term. According to one study, 50% of candidates who accept a counter-offer are actively looking for work again within 60 days. 

That means that instead of waiting until your employees threaten to jump ship, you should make retention a constant focus. 

Want to learn more? Here are some resources on the best ways to retain your employees: 

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