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Fear of Change and Counteroffers

Fri, Mar 6, 2015


There are right reasons to leave a job (or stay for that matter), and there are wrong reasons.  The purpose of an interview process from the candidate’s perspective is to figure out if a company and opportunity better align with one’s career vision.  Toward the beginning of the process, we coach the recruiters at our firm to get to know candidates at a deep level.  

Ultimately, every person that even passively keeps an eye out for what’s next is looking for something compelling. It is the recruiter’s job to determine if the person we’re working with is:

  • Trying to make more money?  
  • Seeking a better work life balance?  
  • Looking for a better long term opportunity?  
  • Trying to get away from the clutches of a toxic boss or culture?
  • Seeking an industry change?

We know we’ve connected a candidate with a good fit when we obtain a market or above offer from a client. Even when a logical, obvious alignment is present between a candidate and an offer, two main obstacles typically prevent a candidate from accepting:  fear of change and the counteroffer.


Fear of Change

Leaving a job can be daunting for many people.  We help coach people through this process every day. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes we are not.

On average people change jobs approximately every four years.  So it’s not routine, and very much outside the comfort zones of most.  When faced with a compelling offer where all qualitative and value-based elements appear to be aligned, it is not uncommon for doubt to creep in. The reason for doubt’s presence is simple - most people find systemic life changes intimidating.  Fear of change is a damaging motivating factor throughout a job search; it’s irrational and causes true information to be overlooked.

The Counteroffer

Even though compensation is often one of the most important motivating factors compelling job seekers to start a search, it’s only one component driving employee satisfaction (and not always the most important). Despite this reality, many employers use the counteroffer as a means to entice departing employees to reconsider their pending move.  But there is considerable risk in accepting a counter. Ultimately you should ask yourself:

Why should it take until the bitter end for an employer to pay market value to a person they value?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone considering a change of scenery; it’s likely there are three or four priorities you would seek in a prospective employer that would entice you to explore the opportunity and/or compensation among them.  You go through the interview process, your priorities align with the role and company, and they offer you a 10% bump to join.  After accepting and putting in notice, your soon-to-be former employer offers you $3k more than the new offer to stay.  should you stay?  It’s up to you, but if you do, you’re sacrificing every other priority for the sake of a few grand.  Unless compensation was the only driving factor for looking in the first place, a decision like this may be a short term gain at the expense of the bigger picture.

Sure – leave it to a headhunter to tell you counteroffers are evil!  But many companies by policy don’t make counteroffers – they instead work very hard to build great cultures and pay at or slightly ahead of market, understanding sometimes they’ll lose good people despite their best efforts.  Make sure when keeping an eye open to the next step forward, build a close network of mentors that will give you objective, informed opinions, and work with a recruiter that facilitates the professional self-discovery process.  And when a great offer is presented, from a team and company aligned with your vision, don’t let fear of change or the lure of the counteroffer cloud your judgment.

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