The Pandora's Box That Is the Counteroffer: Why You Should Never Open It

As the saying goes, "Beauty is only skin deep." The same can be said about counteroffers. Yes, they come dressed in beautiful packages but shortly thereafter begin to expose their ugly insides.

Over the years, I have heard about candidates turning down offers for various reasons. I have heard everything from fear of current economic conditions to relocation costs. The reason I have heard all too often is the most deadly of them all: The Counteroffer. Yes, I used the word "deadly."

Accepting a counteroffer has proven to lead to job loss more often than not and in some cases has been career ending.

In an effort to save many from the trials and tribulations that I have witnessed directly and those that I have heard about, I have compiled a list of the top five ideas to consider before deciding to accept a counteroffer.

  • First, there is such a thing as an offer that is too good to accept. Many employers will increase salary on the spot plus throw in a bonus to sweeten the deal. If an employer offers you more moneyto stay, remember that the same concerns about the job that lead you to look outward will still exist (too many hours, no opportunity for growth/substantive work, top heavy with senior associates or partners, etc.) As a result, after the euphoric feeling of the pay increase has worn off, you, like many others, will find that the partner that was difficult before has become almost unbearable now. The hours that seemed taxing before are now overwhelming. You must bear in mind that the same conditions that drove you to look initially will be there in full force the minute you turn down the new offer and accept the counteroffer. In fact, many claim that the conditions got worse, not better, after they decided to stay.
  • Second, you will now and for the duration of your tenure be considered suspect. Since your supervising attorneys (and many others) are aware that you are unhappy and want to leave, many will no longer treat you as a loyal member of the team. Many will take your decision to resign personally, so if you decide to stay, expect the cold shoulder to get even colder over time. As a result of your desire to depart, you will be considered a fidelity risk to the firm and will be kept out of the loop and away from all of the best assignments. Many firms are reluctant to give the more substantive and career-advancing assignments to those whose long-term viability is in question. This is just one of the many reasons that the statistics regarding those that are no longer in their position 12 to 15 months after they accept a counteroffer range from 69% to 93%, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Third, counteroffers are made only in response to a threat to quit. Will you be rewarded with better work, hours, or salary only when you threaten to resign? A good employer always values its employees (or at least tries to keep them from fleeing in droves) without the threat of resignation.
  • Fourth, accepting a counteroffer after already accepting another position burns bridges with the other firm/company. Most candidates have no idea about the amount of work that goes into getting a candidate an offer. Most offers have to be approved not only by the department head, but also by the managing partner of the firm. In some cases, the board of directors will have to sign off as well. Most firms are disappointed, yet understand when a candidate turns down a position to go to another firm or company. They understand that another environment may have provided a better fit. Still, when a firm hears that a candidate has decided to stay at their current firm as a result of a counteroffer, they immediately assume that the candidate just used them as leverage or a negotiating tool to get something from their current firm. Firms, just like people, do not like the idea of being used as a means to your end. Even if this was not originally the intention, the firm will see it that way, and when things go awry at your current firm, as they almost inevitably do, consider that bridge burned. I have never seen a firm extend another offer to a candidate that turned it down in favor of a counteroffer.
  • Fifth, remember a law firm/company is always looking out for their best interests, not yours. When you are presented with a counteroffer, know that there are numerous reasons why the firm/company may want you to stay on board. Reasons can include everything from preserving the morale of the department to not wanting to be saddled with another associate's work while trying to find a replacement. More often than not, that is exactly what the firm will be doing: looking for your replacement. The counteroffer is usually just a device to buy an employer the time it will take to replace you. You had better believe that while they are smiling and congratulating you for staying on board, they are reviewing resumes and conducting stealth interviews. Once the replacement is found, all of the goodwill that originally accompanied your counteroffer will quickly dissipate.
So if you are ever inclined to accept a counteroffer, remember that offer comes wrapped in a box that belongs to Pandora and it should not be opened! Be smart. Hand the box back to the giver, count your blessings, and keep cleaning out your desk.

This article was written by Theresa DeLoach. Theresa is currently a Director in Lateral Link's Los Angeles office.