Monday, December 8, 2008

The Perils of a Counteroffer


You're trying not to grin like an idiot, but the truth is, you're feeling pretty full of yourself. In this rotten, stinky, abysmal economy -- you've been offered a job when you aren't even unemployed!

OK, so now comes the time to decide: Do you accept the new job or try and get a counteroffer from your current employer? The truth is, your current job feels safe, and you're not 100 percent sure the new employer can offer you the same job security.

But still. It is more money and a better title, and it is really flattering to be wooed by a new company.

Well, maybe there's a compromise, you think. All you have to do is tell the boss that you've been offered a new job at a better salary and title, and see if he'll counter.

Hope you like snake pits, because once you've made that decision, you've just jumped into a big one.

“Most of the time, accepting a counteroffer is short-term fix for both the employer and employee,” says DeLynn Senna. “More than 90 percent of those who accept a counteroffer end up leaving the job less than a year after they accept it – either because the company lets them go or they leave on their own.”

Senna is executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Pleasanton, Calif., and I recently interviewed her for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column.

Senna says that while your boss may indeed offer you more money or better title to hang onto you, the truth is, he or she may only be doing this to buy time.

“An employer wants to minimize disruptions or lost productivity in this economy, so they make a counteroffer to keep the person,” Senna says. “But the trust has already been broken with the manager and the employee’s colleagues.”

Oh, yeah, your co-workers who may resent you nabbing more for yourself when they're likely to get a frozen turkey as a holiday bonus this year.

“These colleagues are going to know that you’re now making more money, and there is now a lack of rapport,” Senna says.

And as for your manager? Well, that chill in the air may have nothing to do with the office thermostat turned down to save energy.

"It’s always in the back of a manager’s mind that the employee has been disloyal" by even talking to another employer, Senna says.

“When it comes time for a promotion, the manager may give it to someone else, because he or she may be considered a more ‘loyal’ worker,” she says.

Ouch.

So, what to do when times are tough and you don't want to play this touchy situation the wrong way?

Senna says that you should first begin by thinking about why you thought about leaving your employer in the first place. Accepting a counteroffer, she says, may not fix the reason you were considering the exit in the first place.

“Getting a pay raise doesn’t change the fact that maybe you’re not getting a chance to work on certain projects or can’t get along with the boss. Those problems still exist,” she says.

That’s why Senna says it’s critical that anyone considering a counteroffer from an employer should think about:

• Trying to make it work. “Make sure you do everything possible to improve your current situation before you think about leaving. Try and get the raise on your own, address the poor communication with your manager, try and get those good project assignments, etc. If you can change the one thing that makes you want to leave, then try and work it out.” While a new job offer may be exciting, consider that in this economy, it’s difficult to know who is financially solvent and who is not. You may be jumping ship to a company in trouble. Further, you will be leaving “goodwill that has built up” in your current job, Senna says. “It’s much more risky to leave.”

• Standing firm. If you do your research and believe that the job offer is worth taking, then tell your employer and don’t waffle when a counteroffer is made. Senna suggests saying something like: “I appreciate it, but I’ve made a commitment. I’ll do what I can to tie up loose ends here before I leave.” Senna adds that employers may try change your mind while you’re still on the job, but you must be polite but firm about declining a counteroffer.

“Think about it: Why do you have to threaten to leave before being heard? That’s a real red flag right there,” she says.

• Keeping your word. “You’re running a real risk of damaging your professional reputation is you renege on your agreement with a new employer to accept a counteroffer from your current employer,” Senna says. “Remember: Your reputation is the most important asset you have.”

In this economy, is it foolhardy to accept a counteroffer? Are there ways to make it work?





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Thursday, May 22, 2008

When You Jump Ship and Realize You Can't Swim

Have you ever accepted a job and then realized you made a huge mistake? Many people have been in that position, but how about this one: You accept the job and before you even begin, you decide you've made a mistake and want your old job back. Ever had that happen?

For example, just a few days after University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan accepted a job with the Orlando Magic as its basketball coach, he changed his mind.

Statements issued said that even though he had signed a five-year multi-million dollar deal with the pro team, Donovan was conflicted. He said, simply, that he was happy where he was and wanted to stay. After some legal shuffling, his wish was granted and he was allowed to stay in his university coaching job, as long as he didn’t try and coach in the NBA for five years.

While most of us will never be under consideration to coach a pro basketball team or be offered that kind of money, we can probably identify with having second thoughts about a new job.

That kind of "buyer's regret” can be a real problem, because lots of people are going to be very unhappy with you backing out of what is considered a done deal, whether you're making millions or $25,000 a year.

The key: Realizing that once you've made a mistake, you've got to be honest -- and you've got to be quick about it.

You cannot waffle for weeks about your decision. In Donovan's case, he made the decision after only a few days. What he proved is that the new employer must be told immediately, but it must be done in such a way that they are able to feel that you acted with integrity and with respect for them.


Some other key considerations:
* Once you tell the employer you're having second thoughts, it's over. Not only have you cost them money already (headhunter fees, employment ads, recruiting time, etc.), but they have to begin the recruitment process all over again. Or, if they decide to move to the No. 2 person, then that job candidate knows he or she wasn't the first choice -- not a great way for an employer to make someone feel welcome and valued.
* Your old company may not want you back. While you still have the same skills and abilities you had when you walked out the door, they may see it as a sign of disloyalty and say "forget it" or some variation of "@#$ you!"
* Other employers may avoid you. If the new employer had you sign a contract with a non-compete clause, that would mean that other companies will shy away from you because they don't want to risk a lawsuit. You may also run the risk of your professional reputation being sullied because of your actions -- all the more reason to act quickly and honestly.

In this tough job economy, would it be career suicide to walk away from a job offer that you've already accepted?


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