On the Way Out -- With Offers to Stay

By Susan Kreimer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 14, 2006

When Darren D. Criglar told his employer he was leaving to take another job, he received an enticing invitation to stay. The perks: $3,000 more than the new offer and a coveted all-expenses-paid assignment to Germany with at least two free trips back to the States.

But it wasn't enough to sway him. He gave up his gig training military health-care workers on the use of patient-monitoring software systems and accepted an offer from Alexandria-based Amyx Inc., a consulting company.

Some things, it turned out, were more important to him than the money. "I had been a road warrior for about seven years, so this was a great situation for me," said Criglar, 43, who has been with Amyx for a year and is working on a contract for the Defense Logistics Agency. "To be able to come home every night, return to [graduate] school, were some additional benefits."

A recent survey suggests that many employers want to woo back valuable workers when they're about to jump ship. But employees -- no matter how flattered -- shouldn't simply leap toward the dollar signs flashing before their eyes.

Instead, experts advise, they should carefully contemplate all the factors that prompted their job search. If there's little room for development with your current employer or your strengths no longer meet the company's needs, bargaining for better pay won't wash those worries away.

"We decided to explore this issue because we've noticed a shift in the job market," said Christopher Vennitti, Washington-based regional vice president of the Creative Group, a staffing service in Menlo Park, Calif., that commissioned a telephone survey of top advertising and marketing executives. "Candidates have more clout than they did a few years ago as the demand for talent has intensified. The survey results support this trend."

The poll asked, "If a high-performing employee quit to accept a more lucrative job offer, how likely is it that you would make a counteroffer?" Of the respondents, 25 percent said "very likely" and 38 percent "somewhat likely," 24 percent "not very likely" and 11 percent "not at all likely." The remaining 2 percent were undecided.

Other employment specialists have noticed the surge in counteroffers, too. "More and more people are receiving very lucrative and compelling counteroffers. In fact, the people who do not receive them are becoming fewer than those who do," said Gail Kaplan, president of Kaplan & Jass Inc., a legal recruiting firm in Boston.

Still, for an employee, getting too ambitious with counteroffers can be dangerous. Recently, Kaplan had a candidate who resigned upon receiving an offer from one of her clients.

"After a week, it was apparent to me and to my client that the candidate was using this offer to get higher offers from other companies," she said. "My client rescinded the offer they made him. They felt used and knew that someone who behaved in this way would not fit into their culture."

Ultimately, workers who agree to stay because of a counteroffer find that the core issues motivating them to make a job change haven't magically disappeared, said Paul Siker, principal of Advanced Recruiting Trends LLC in Loudoun County. More often than not, they end up back on the market in six to 12 months.

"It just poisons the well. The relationship is just never the same once the bond of trust is broken," agreed Bob Corlett, president of Staffing Advisors of Maryland LLC in Silver Spring.

Bosses may resent feeling as if they negotiated with a gun to their heads; they also may ratchet up performance expectations along with pay. Meanwhile, Corlett said, employees wonder: "Why didn't they give it to me in the first place? Do I have to quit every time I want recognition for a job well done?"

Money isn't everything. It's the total package that counts, said Ane Powers, founder and managing partner of the White Hawk Group LLC in Washington, a career-management firm. For instance, your current employer may not pay for medical and dental coverage; the prospective employer does.

If you're reasonably happy in your current job, Siker recommends taking the time to candidly discuss troublesome issues with your employer to determine whether a resolution is possible.

"For example, I once worked with an individual who had an extremely long commute," Siker recalled. "This person really liked her company but had hit a point where the commute was impacting her quality of life."

Before she launched a job search, Siker suggested asking her boss if she could work from home a couple of days a week. The answer was a resounding "yes."

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