As a developer with skills and experience that are in high demand, we are often bombarded with job offers and interview requests. Imagine if you accept an offer where the salary is good, the benefits are great, and you decide to give it a go. You type out your resignation letter, and you send it off. You get a response, and it’s a counter-offer from your current company. What do you do? Here is how I went through this exact situation and the valuable lessons I learnt.
While I was an intern at a company (let’s call them by a fictional name like Intern International), I was approached by a different company (let’s say Corporate Conglomerate, also fictional) about a potential job opportunity with them. I got an offer from Corporate Conglomerate in September, with the understanding that I would begin in January of the following year. I was excited and immediately notified my superiors at Intern International. Their response was completely unexpected. They made a counter-offer which matched the one from Corporate Conglomerate. This led to a sudden flurry of back-and-forth messages and phone calls between me and these two companies, both of which were great places to work at the time. The whole process went down like this:
- I first rejected the matching counter-offer and planned on still leaving for Corporate Conglomerate.
- Intern International increased their counter by enough to make me reconsider.
- Corporate Conglomerate increased their initial offer to beat the newest counter by Intern International.
- Intern International increased their counter yet again.
- Corporate Conglomerate told me that they’ll speak to finance and get my offer updated, but they still wanted me.
I was completely out of my depth, to say the least. It was a constant emotional rollercoaster of surprise, excitement, anxiety, self-doubt and the adrenaline rush of seeing offer upon offer being laid out in front of me. I started fearing that the final offer would be so high that I would be overvalued and end up disappointing whichever company I finally decided on.
After much consideration, I ended up going with the final counter from Intern International. It was a tough decision, but throughout the process, I learnt a lot of valuable lessons that any developer in the same situation could benefit from.
Lesson 1: Know your motivation
When faced with these offers, I had to ask myself a few introspective questions.
- Why did I accept the initial offer from Corporate Conglomerate?
- Why am I considering the counter from Intern International?
- Do I actually want to leave my current job?
These questions were extremely helpful in getting a new perspective and seeing the big picture. They helped me to decide on what was important at that point in my career.
Why did I accept the initial offer from Corporate Conglomerate? What was it that made me think, “Yes, I would like to work at this company”? The answer to this question made me realize what I desired in a company:
- the benefits a new position could offer me,
- what my future career path would look like, and
- how I would grow as a person.
I also had to ask myself why I was considering the counter from Intern International. What made me believe that staying at my current company would be better than leaving? This made me critically evaluate whether I was actually satisfied with my existing company and the opportunities already available to me.
But the most important question was actually the most basic one: did I really want to leave my current job? I needed to know whether my gut feeling, my instinct, my basic desire was to leave or not. Because if I wanted to leave, then that counter-offer would only be a temporary postponement of a decision that was already made in my heart. No amount of monetary increases and promises of future improvements would fix the concerns and problems I had with my current position.
For me, this question was the most difficult one as I didn’t actually have a problem with my current company - which ultimately showed me that my motivation didn’t have anything to do with leaving my current job, but rather with exploring the unknown.
Lesson 2: Communicate, communicate, communicate
Throughout this entire process, it was absolutely crucial that I communicated honestly, clearly and timeously with everyone involved. Whenever a new development happened, I immediately informed the other party. I communicated my feelings and why I was even considering the counters.
Remember, there are people on both sides of the conversation. No one likes being ghosted. No one wants to feel like they are being lied to or manipulated. No one likes being toyed with. So follow these basic rules of communication to make sure everyone involved feels trusted and respected:
- Don’t leave people hanging - always follow up with them or keep them in the loop.
- Be open and honest.
- Take people seriously - and make sure they know that you are too!
- Be professional.
- Show the same or a higher level of urgency than the people on the other ends of the conversation. You don’t want people to retract one (or worse, both) of the offers because they feel like you’re just stringing them along.
I kept both Intern International and Corporate Conglomerate in the loop about every single development in this journey. I kept all my emails and calls cordial, professional and to the point. I made sure that I provided my reasons for considering each counter every time to reassure the other party that I was serious and not trying to manipulate them.
Lesson 3: Stick with your decision
It sounds obvious, but you need to remember to actually make a decision on what you’re going to do. As soon as that first offer was made, a timer started. People were investing time and effort into this process, and every time a counter was made, that timer got shorter and shorter. At some point, people won’t entertain your flip-flopping between them and the other guys.
This is why you should make sure that you stick with your decision when you make it. Everyone involved should know of the conclusion so that they can also get closure and start working on what should happen next. When communicating this decision, acknowledge the time and effort that people have spent on this.
Don’t burn your bridges - you never know when you might need them again in the future.
I made a point of staying connected to the person that contacted me from Corporate Conglomerate. Even after rejecting their last offer, I made sure they knew how much I appreciated the effort they went to during this process and how grateful I was to be offered an opportunity to work with them.
Lesson 4: Prove you’re worth it
By considering a counter-offer, you should know that your willingness to leave your current company is out in the open. Everything you do and every decision you make thereafter will be under great scrutiny while the company decides whether they should look for your potential replacement or trust that you are really staying. To avoid being shown the door a few months after you’ve accepted the counter-offer, you will have to show significant improvement/value so that it is not worth the trouble to hire a replacement for you. You will need to prove that the sudden increased financial investment in you was worth it and that you are not still considering leaving. You will have to:
- Work harder than you have before.
- Show them that you are serious about staying by volunteering for more complex and long-term projects and features.
- Demonstrate that you can be trusted in your current role by upskilling yourself and staying committed to the company’s vision and mission.
The same applies if you decide to still leave your current company even after the whole counter-offer process. You will have to prove to your new employer that you were worth the entire ordeal. Remember, you will probably be paid much more than they initially budgeted for, and they can easily decide to terminate your contract during your probation period if it turns out that the value you provide is not worth their investment.
In both cases, you’ll be under a magnifying glass, so you need to be prepared and willing to stick to your decision and perform at a higher level than before in order to keep your job. I stepped up my game at Intern International after deciding to stay by taking on more responsibilities, focusing on delivering quality work and helping to mentor some of my colleagues.
Lesson 5: Your reputation will be affected
Regardless of which choice you make, your professional reputation is at stake.
- Your loyalty will be questioned.
- Your trustworthiness will be doubted.
- Your career progression will slow down.
- Your conduct during the entire offer/counter/negotiation process will be remembered for a very, very long time.
Let’s face it, no one is going to be jumping for joy because you considered a counter-offer, which is why it is important not to make any enemies along the way. Like job hopping, it is a game you can rarely play more than once with the same employer, and each time will make it more difficult to play and still escape unscathed.
If you accept a counter-offer, you will still be in your comfort zone at your original company, just with more money in the bank. However, there exists a distinct possibility that your newly found glory is just temporary. Your reputation will suffer, depending on how you behaved throughout the entire process. And you might experience a pause in your career progression while spending time trying to prove that it was worth pitting two competing companies against each other. However, if you work hard and prove your worth, your reputation will recover.
In the end, there are pros and cons to both accepting and rejecting the counter-offer, and you’ve got to choose what is right for you. By accepting the final counter from Intern International, I experienced a bigger boost in salary than most of my peers at the time. I learnt much during this process and gained exceptionally useful experience at Intern International. But some days, I regret not taking that first leap of faith with Corporate Conglomerate. I wonder if I made the right decision by giving up other benefits for a higher salary. I definitely missed out on some early career progression opportunities there. But I do believe that I made the right decision for me at that point in my life.
Andreas Nel is a senior software engineer at Entelect Software, a software consultancy operating in multiple countries in Africa, Europe and Australasia. He has experience in a number of web, backend, database and software infrastructure technologies. He spoke at both PostgresConf ZA 2019 and DevConf 2022, where he was rated as the best speaker at the Johannesburg event. He is passionate about all things DevOps, and if he isn’t adding another idea to his list of (unfinished) side-projects, he can be found talking about different coffee brewing methods.
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