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When your resignation triggers a counteroffer

Sonia Singh

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Sonia Singh got an unexpected phone call from her boss after she told her company she was leaving to take a better job at another firm.

"They were ready to offer me a lot more money and a bigger territory if I'd stay," recalled Ms. Singh, who had been in the same role as business development manager of a Toronto security company for eight years.

"It was a very lucrative offer, but I didn't feel comfortable accepting it. I just kept asking myself, why didn't they feel I had more value before I decided to leave?" said Ms. Singh, who a few months ago made the move to being customer support manager for search firm Eclectic Allocation in Mississauga.

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It's a situation an increasing number of people are facing as the economy improves: Employers are suddenly more willing to ante up to keep staff from moving on after years of restlessly sitting tight during cost-cutting and downsizing.

"I haven't seen the phenomenon for at least three years, but in the past few months almost every executive we've placed in a new position seems to have received a counteroffer from their existing employer," said Gary Huggins, managing director for Canada of executive search company DHR International.

"I've also talked to a couple of other competitors and they are seeing the same trend," he said.

Raises and promotions became scarce during the downturn because employers had reduced resources and prospects and the fact that few employees had few options to leave made many employers complacent, Mr. Huggins said.

"But now, talented players they would like to keep are giving notice and they realize a counteroffer is their last chance to keep them from leaving. And this is not in some industry sectors, we are seeing it across the board."

That creates a dilemma for employees who are thinking of moving on, but it also creates an opportunity for employees aren't in the market to test how much their employers actually value them, career experts advise.

For those who have got another offer, "unless an employer is willing to offer an even bigger step-up in title and salary, it would probably be in your best long-term interest to turn down the counteroffer," said Martin Buckland, principal of Elite Résumés in Oakville, Ont.

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"In general, offers from new employers are going to be better than those from an employer who is just looking to keep you on board," Mr. Buckland advised. Currently he is seeing clients who have been at the director and vice-president levels getting offers that move them into the C-suite.

And if your currently employer is suddenly offering the moon, "you have to consider why they didn't see that potential in you before this," he said.

If the counteroffer is enticing, it may seem less risky to accept rather than leave a situation you are familiar with, "but you need to do a thorough analysis of whether you are really going to be happy in the long term," said Christina Lord, division director for Hays Specialist Recruitment Canada in Mississauga.

That begins with examining the reason you want to leave.

If it has been disappointment after a couple of years of diminished expectations, you may find the prospects in your current role may be brightening, Ms. Lord said. But if there are underlying personality clashes, these are less likely to be quickly remedied and another job will provide a fresh start.

Meanwhile, a move up in responsibility or salary will provide greater opportunity and satisfaction, said Ms. Lord, who is also a board member of the Toronto Human Resources Professionals Association.

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For everyone, her advice is to scope out what opportunities there are with your current employer, whether it be an increased title or responsibility or more compensation.

"You need to sit down and have a career talk with your boss or someone in human resources and be able to document your value," Ms. Lord said.

For example, if you have been in a sales role and are producing above forecast, go in with the numbers to back it up. The key is to say 'I would really like to understand what my opportunities are and that I have a career path in the organization,'" Ms. Lord said. The conversation will let you gauge how receptive the organization is to your aspirations.

"This is not something you want to wait for the annual review to do. Why wait? If your review is in October, there's going to be a lot going on in the market in the next six months and you will lose what will be critical time to advance your career," she added.

"The bottom line is that if you are an important part of the business and true asset that they want to keep … they should be open about what they see as your value and potential," said Tim Cork, president of leadership development and coaching company Straight A's Inc. in Toronto.

"The only way to find out your true worth is to ask. You don't get if you don't ask," he said.

"If they don't bite, then you are better off knowing where you really stand and you can move on with confidence," Mr. Cork said.

"Far too often, people spend their lives in mediocrity because they didn't ask or take any chances."



Thinking about leaving your job and moving to a new employer?

Recruiter Christina Lord offers some questions to ask yourself about making the move:

- What dissatisfaction drove me to have an interview with another organization?

- Can I honestly accept an counteroffer from my current employer when it appears the only reason it's being offered now is because I have decided to leave?

- If a counteroffer were offered, what would I need to remedy the issues I was facing?

- Have I done a "pros" and "cons" list for both organizations?

- Which company offers the most opportunity for me to build my career?

- Is it mostly about money, or are there other incentives or training that each employer could add to the deal?

- What potential is there for long-term career growth potential in each of the companies?

- Will my current employer hold it against me that I wanted to leave, and will that affect how they view my performance in the future?

- If I stay with my current employer, will it affect my morale and motivation?



If you're contemplating a job move, be sure to give weight to two safety checks:

Is the new job a real commitment?

If you are going from a permanent position and the new job is a contract post, make sure there is wording in the agreement about contract renewal or the position becoming permanent if you achieve certain goals.

Is the new job a real step up?

If the move is sideways, or a step down in title, try to negotiate something stronger with your new employer. This may not be an issue for you now (there may be other aspects about the job that make up for a "lesser" job title), but in future, potential employers might examine your résumé and question why you took a backward, or downward, step.

Source: Hays Specialist Recruitment Canada

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About the Author

Wallace Immen is an award-winning staff writer for The Globe and Mail whose stories about workplace trends and career advice, as well as about cruising and travel destinations around the world appear regularly in print and on-line. He has worn many hats in his career with the Globe, including science writer, medical writer and columnist, urban affairs reporter and travel writer. More

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