Aaaargh – What can I do about counter offers???

Ah yes, the agony of a hard-won candidate being successfully counter offered elsewhere. It’s a personal hell that everyone in the recruitment supply chain will experience sometime (and given the market, probably soon).

There are few things more dispiriting than the rejection, the wasted effort and the need to go again with less time, less resource and usually less enthusiasm.

Here’s a little insight into how you can largely make this problem go away but first, let’s look at the numbers.

Depending on the market somewhere between 5 and 20% of your job offers are likely to be rejected and probably 50 to 80% of those will be because of a counteroffer. Bear in mind that counteroffer might not come from the candidate’s current employer.

These numbers add up to a huge amount of re-work effort and an awful lot of missed deadlines, goals, objectives and milestones. Worst of all failure to resource your business can result in further unhelpful resignations. See where the cost is now?

Here’s the truth though, 9 times out of 10 the rejection / counteroffer / alternative offer is entirely predictable.

How is this possible? Because human behaviour is very predictable across a set process like a hiring.

What can I do?


Recognise and acknowledge the signs.

Sounds easier said than done and it is – a bit – but the signs are often highly visible and ignored or un-investigated because it takes effort or a realisation that something isn’t right (and I’d rather not know (you’d be surprised)).

Basic signs:

  • Slow communication (BIG-RED-FLASHING Light).You’ll not be bothered too much about impressing your new colleagues if you say you’ll sign the contract by Friday and still haven’t done it by Tuesday. Guess why? Because you don’t want to.
  • Incongruent / incomprehensible timelines and communication. (“I won’t be able to get that back to you until a week on Monday because I’m on holiday. No, my phone doesn’t work in Bognor Regis”) Yeah, right.
  • Guarded engagement beyond the point of offer. (“Well, I think that start date might work, I just need to see my boss about it. They’re not around this week.” (No, they’re busy clearing a counteroffer with the board!))

These signs don’t apply to your average employee – they apply to absolutely everyone from the top to the bottom of the career ladder.


Control the situation right from the start

You can’t make people love you when you don’t have what they want but you can stop them from screwing your business up by being secretive. If someone isn’t likely to be a hire, the earlier you know that the better. Here’s how you make that happen:

  • Full and frank disclosure. Candidates share more at the start of a process and when they feel they are being entirely respected in their choices. At the back of an awful lot of difficult communication is a desire by the candidate to “not-hurt-your-feelings”. As well as not “give-away-negotiating-power”. Create the circumstances in which the candidate feels entirely comfortable sharing everything about their career move with you and you’ve got control. Not over them, but over the situation.
  • Communicate deftly and be alert to changing tone and mood. Yes, I know that’s subjective, but I guarantee you’ll know what I mean when you’ve done it a few times. When you hear a change in tone or mood gently take the candidate back to the full and frank disclosure agreement put in place and ask full and frank questions in a way that doesn’t judge or criticise choices.
  • Set the resignation scenario with the candidate and walk them through the options that might be presented (again, don’t judge) If they say they’ll consider a counter offer seriously then make plans to bolster resourcing. If they say they wouldn’t consider a counter offer, then work through some possibilities (“…how about if your boss offered a promotion and a £10k salary hike?”) There’ll be a point at which they say they’ll stay or accept an alternative. You want to know what that looks like and make a judgement call on how realistic an outcome it is.


Good luck with your hiring and if you’d ever like to discuss how we can improve your success rate in hiring productive, competent employees, leaders and staff, come and talk to us? That bit is free.

Who is Ewan Jardine

Ewan is a 30 year industry veteran with a long history in powering the growth of successful businesses through talent acquisition. Ewan and the team partner with some of the most dynamic, growth orientated and successful businesses in the UK Life Science Industry.