Photo by Ed L.

Last week we discussed three options when it comes to job offers: accepting, rejecting, or countering. We decided to leave one related topic out because it demands a post of its own: evaluating counter offers from your current employer.

Let’s imagine the situation: You’re unhappy at your current job (for whatever reason) and decide to look around for something better. You interview with a few companies and are made an offer. You decide to take the new job and give notice to your current employer. Your current employer, however, can’t afford to lose you and makes you a counter offer. Typically, they’ll offer more money, along with a new title and more responsibility to persuade you to stay on board. The question now is: what do you do?

Here’s our advice (and as always, we’ll be frank with you): Never (well, almost never) accept counter offers from your current employer.

If you’re not happy with your current work situation, attempt to negotiate some changes that will make you happy before you interview elsewhere. (That is, if you’d really consider staying.) Giving yourself and your employer an opportunity to make things work without the pressure/threat of a standing offer is in our experience the most honest and productive method for producing lasting improvements at your job.

If this proves unsuccessful, and you decide to look for something else, stick to that decision. Don’t decide to stay because you’re offered a 10% bump in salary when salary wasn’t your main concern in the first place.

It’s like this: Once you tell your girlfriend it’s time to break it off, things just aren’t ever the same if you try to work it out again. Maybe you’ll be happy again for a while, but the underlying fact that you tried to leave is still there.

Seriously, make a clean break…or we’ll be talking again in 3 months after you’ve stayed with your current employer and decided (again) that you need something new. It’s simply risky business to accept a counter offer from your current employer. It becomes an awkward work environment when you essentially threaten to leave but end up staying. Your boss and/or co-workers may be thinking, “He’s just here for the money,” or “She’s probably still looking for something better,” etc. Resentment, jealousy, and various insecurities will all be just below the surface in every interaction you have. Your boss and colleagues will perceive you and your work in a different light. Don’t put yourself in this kind of bind.

Things just aren’t the same after you threaten to leave. In fact, in the hundreds of deals we’ve played a part in, we can think of only a few counter offers from current employers that have resulted in positive long-term relationships. These exceptions all share one thing in common: the counter offer involved moving to a new department within the company, with new co-workers, and a new boss— essentially, a new job entirely. This is possible in larger companies, but often not so in agile Rails startups. If you’re going to have the same boss and co-workers, we can pretty much guarantee that the counter offer isn’t going to work out.

Also, only look for a job if you’d really consider leaving your current company. Don’t use another job offer simply as leverage against your current employer. That type of maneuvering does not engender the trust that is so important in the employer/developer relationship at startups.

Finally, discuss this counter offer with your recruiter. A good recruiter won’t pressure you into any decision, but she will remind you of what you said is important to you in your next job. Family and friends can also be useful in holding you accountable to previous decisions based on your priorities.

Bottom line: Don’t let your priorities and needs be clouded by the addition of another option. Counter offers are risky business and accepting one will rarely fulfill your long-term goals and needs.