You are about to take the final step to get you the job you want. Throughout the employment process we have stressed that your objective should be to solicit an offer from a good employer that will make you want to go to work for them. That should happen during the next interview so let’s make the assumption is has – However, many of the thoughts presented here apply to offers which are accepted as well as to those which you may reject for one reason or another. Either way, it is always a matter of good taste to respond to the employer in a positive manner and give them a firm answer in a timely manner.
The accepted thinking among employers and executive recruiters is that an employer can rightfully expect a response to their offer within forty-eight hours of a verbal presentation. Except in extenuating circumstances, this allows the employee to discuss the offer with their spouse or family, gather additional information and give the offer a thorough analysis. Even in situations where not all the details can be addressed (as in the case of a trip to the area by the spouse), most applicants can respond at least in principle to an employer’s offer within this time frame. I have been personally involved in well over 1000 offers during my career as a search consultant, and only rarely have I seen a decision come out any differently two weeks later than it does within a forty-eight hour period.
Delays on the part of an offer usually indicate to the employer and to me that the candidate has some reservations about the position that will not or cannot be overcome – or that the candidate is simply “shopping”. Employers are looking for people who recognize good opportunities when they see them and will act decisively when good offers are presented. For that reason, “The 48 Hour Rule” should be observed unless a different timetable has been discussed with the employer during the interview stages.
In the emotional surge associated with receiving an offer, it is sometimes difficult to get all the details you need to make an informed decision. There are a million questions regarding benefit programs, vacation plans, moving policies, incentive programs, work environment and the job itself which may or may not have been discussed during one or two proceeding interviews. No employer wants to hire employees who “shoot from the hip” with big decisions at hand. However, obtaining this additional data can sometimes present a situation that you want to avoid.
It is very difficult for employers to cross every “t” and dot every “i” in the process of making offers. They want to hire analytical, thorough employees; but too many detailed questions regarding benefit programs, vacation time and moving policies telegraph to the new employer that you may be more wrapped up in the details of the offer than you are in the big picture. It is important to maintain your perspective when looking at offers. The initial package that you negotiate is almost inconsequential compared to the opportunity a good employer can offer you. Ask the most successful people you know what their salary was five years ago or two years ago – or when they started with their employer. I think you’ll find that most of them couldn’t tell you. The biggest issue to high achievers is the job satisfaction derived from growth with an employer, not the starting point with that organization. Accordingly, you need to maintain a focus on the opportunities that this offer represents with this employer, as opposed to the specific details of the initial package.
Remember, too, that no two companies have exactly the same programs, so comparisons will be difficult. In addition, prospective employees are treated much differently than employees. Good employers do everything they can to insure the happiness of people on their payrolls and policy adjustments do occur once a decision to “join the team” is made. While you can’t count on this at the outset, I think you will find that most employers “let you win the ties” once you are on board. Prior to acceptance, however, they really have no choice but to quote you chapter and verse as it relates to company policy. In the United States probably 95% of all employment contracts are “at will”; that is, they can be terminated at any time by either party. Usually, only CEO’s and other top officers receive written contracts of employment, and even the value of those contracts is questionable. Good lawyers protect companies they work for in drafting these documents and there are plenty of exclusions for every inclusion. Common practice, therefore, tends more towards verbal or implied contracts of employment that are seldom formalized.
The first law of the jungle is to never let go of one vine until you have a firm grip on the next one! In the employment process, that translates into being sure that you have a firm contract with your new employer before withdrawing from your current one. It is perfectly all right to request confirmation of an offer in writing and we are happy to assist you in getting an employer to confirm offers by overnight courier. This written confirmation is done for the protection of both parties so that no misunderstandings occur. Most employers do this routinely, because it also provides the employer the opportunity to provide additional information on benefit plans and moving packages. However, do not be concerned if a company does not confirm an offer in writing, since it is simply not their practice to do so. This does not make them any the less trustworthy, it simply indicates that you need to be more specific in your questions during the presentation of the verbal offer. Whether or not a written offer is received, you should respond to the employer in writing as well as verbally.
A verbal acceptance to the person making the offer followed by a short confirming note is in order. That note should contain:
- A statement of acceptance – i.e.: “I am pleased to accept XYZ Corporation’s offer of employment as outlined in your letter (our conversation) of June 10, 1992.”
- If the details have been presented verbally, confirm the highlights of the position, title, salary and start date – i.e.: “I understand I will begin work as a Programmer Analyst on July 15th at a starting salary of $3,500 per month.” Of course, if the offer is presented in writing, a simple reference to the offer letter will suffice.
- A statement indicating your eagerness to work for the employer and your high expectations that the relationship will be mutually beneficial.
Of course this letter should be typed if at all possible. Courtesy copies should be sent to us and to your new direct supervisor, if the offer is received from the Human Resources Department. Should you reject an offer, it is just as important to respond to the employing company, because you never know when you may want to work for that firm. In this case, item one and two above should be followed by a simple statement that you did not feel it is in your best interest at this point in your career to accept the opportunity. It is always important to keep an open door with any employer who thinks enough of you to make you an offer of employment.
A word about resigning your present position. What you do and say during your actual resignation may very well set the tone and how you are treated during the transition phase. This transition period is extremely important for yourself, your family and your new employer. We have all heard of situations in which an employer “refused to accept a resignation.” In reality, there is no such thing since The Emancipation Proclamation Act ended involuntary servitude in 1863. This scenario can only develop when the resigning employee is too weak-willed to stand by his well-planned decision. By the time you get to this stage in the process there should be no wavering in your commitment to your new employer, and nothing that your current employer can say or do at this point should materially affect your plans. Common practice in the United States dictates that all professional employees provide two weeks notice to their current employer. No employee or their projects are so critical to the success of a company as to require an extension beyond that time frame.
We read every day about Chief Executive Officers who are fired or resigned, yet their companies go along nicely. The same is true of employees at all levels of the organization – someone will take up the slack provided you do a good job of handing over your projects during the two week notice period. The reasons for not letting yourself be talked into longer notice include:
- Your loyalty now needs to be with your new employer. If your new employer did not have an immediate need for your services they would not be in the market, and delayed start dates compound their problems. Extended reporting dates leave them with no alternative but to evaluate other options and even withdraw offers. Your new employer is your future – insure that relationship!
- While it is important to document or complete projects-in-process, working out a notice as a “lame duck” is no fun and will seem like an eternity. Maintain your enthusiasm rolling by keeping this transition period as brief as possible.
- Remember your current employer has nothing to lose by extending your notice. It allows them time to search for your replacement or even induce you to stay with promises of things they should have been doing for you all along.
- There is also a down-side from the employer’s standpoint. An extended notice is an uncomfortable time for your superiors and peers. It is difficult for them to include you in many things that are confidential in nature or that affect long-range plans for the company. Usually in a matter of days, you’ll find yourself somewhat isolated despite the best intentions of your employer to make this a positive period.
You can avoid this awkward environment by staying with the traditional two weeks notice and by busying yourself with those things that will contribute to a successful transition. If asked for a longer notice, simply say: “I’m sorry, I am already committed to this schedule; but I will do everything I can to complete my tasks prior to that date.” By taking a firm posture you force your employer to make the necessary plans to insure that your work is properly passed to an interim replacement. Some companies are notorious for procrastinating until the last day or two of employment before handling transitional issues; and you should not feel responsible for their action or lack of it. Prepare yourself for the scenario in which your serving notice elicits an emotional reaction on the part of your employer.
Some companies do, in fact, have a policy to release immediately anyone who serves notice – especially if they plan to go to a competitor. You are not obligated to tell your current employer who your new employer will be. You should, however, prepare yourself for the possibility of being released immediately by discussing this scenario with your new employer. I have never seen a situation in which a new employer would not put you on the payroll immediately in such a case; but it is good to have that discussion beforehand. However, more often than not rather than releasing you immediately your present firm will attempt to keep you on staff by making you a “counter offer”.
A counteroffer can be defined as any inducement – concrete or implied – from a current employer aimed at convincing you to stay after you have announced an intent to leave. Webster’s Dictionary defines counter as a verb meaning “to meet attacks or arguments with defensive or retaliatory steps – to off-set or nullify.” The word “defensive” in the above definition seems to best describe the whole concept of counteroffers. In effect, these are short term strategies taken by an employer when their back is against the wall. The cardinal rule is that good employers never make counteroffers; and smart employees never entertain them. The reasons for this include:
- Most good employers adopt the attitude that achievers are entitled to reach for “the brass ring” and to better themselves. While they realize that losing any good employee represents a loss of investment in time and training, they also know that they have received more than their money’s worth from good employees.
- Regardless of what you may be told by the employer, anyone who resigns but is retained by a counteroffer is always considered a risk. Having once demonstrated a perceived lack of loyalty (for whatever reason) you lose your status as a “team player” and your place in the inner circle will always be in question.
- Any situation in which an employee is forced to get an outside offer before the present employer will get you a raise, promotion or better working conditions is highly suspect. Counteroffers are only made in response to a threat to quit. Will you have to solicit an offer and threaten to quit every time you deserve better treatment?
- Counteroffers are usually nothing more than stall devices to give your employer time to replace you or make a transition on their timetable rather than yours!
- Decent and well-managed companies don’t make counteroffers – EVER! Their policies are fair and equitable and they will not be subjected to blackmail simply to keep one employee.
It is important at this point to remind yourself of your original reasons for making a job change. Chances are they still exist and you need to stay focused on those motivators in light of these interferences. Even though all employers know that counteroffers are risky business at best, there are some firms who will give in to the temptation – particularly if they genuinely had plans for you at higher levels in the organization. While their logic sounds good, statistics prove that the practice is faulty. Let me cite a couple of examples:
- A Boyden International study published in the CPA Client Bulletin of September, 1988, tracked some 450 managers who had changed jobs during the previous three years. Of the 450, 39 had received counteroffers from their current employers and 27 had accepted those counteroffers. Eighteen months later, only 2 of the 27 were still with their original employer – 25 having either quit or been fired during the proceeding eighteen months. Boyden’s conclusion, in a nutshell, was that these employers had all felt somewhat blackmailed by this threat to quit and had laid plans to make an organizational change at a more advantageous time.
- Paul Hawkinson wrote in the National Employment Business Weekly in December of 1983 that “during the past ten years, I have seen only isolated instances in which an accepted counteroffer has been to the benefit of the employee or the employer.”
This conclusion was arrived at following extensive interviews both with employers and employees who had accepted counteroffers over a ten year period. Since the evidence clearly indicates that counteroffers almost always spell trouble for both parties, it is best to prevent any situation from developing that encourages such activity. No one is comfortable in counteroffer situations and the facts are that it’s a no-win situation long-term for either party. If a counteroffer situation does develop, you need to take command immediately. If you hear anything that remotely sounds like a counteroffer, simply put up your hands in the universal “stop” signal and say “I didn’t come in here to blackmail you, I’ve simply been presented an opportunity I can’t pass up.” A good follow-up tactic to add finality is to ask if there is anything you can do during the transition to make things easier. This sends the message that your mind is made up and while you are anxious to handle things in a professional manner, you are clearly looking forward to your new position. Given this scenario, even the most persistent employer knows they are fighting a losing battle and will settle for making the transition as friendly and graceful as possible for all concerned. After all, how employers handle resignations has an effect on their reputation as an employer as well.
Sometimes counteroffers are disguised in terms of meetings with your boss’ superior, the company president or some other high ranking executive. It is also not uncommon for counteroffers to occur during an exit interview. Usually the timing of these meetings is more strategic than accidental. An employer will usually huddle well in advance of a meeting in an effort to evaluate their timetable and options for replacing you – as well as put together “a party line” that everyone can use in one fashion or another. Usually the meeting will take place near the end of your notice period with the hope of playing on any remorse you may feel about leaving associates and friends.
Typical comments you may hear leading up to a counteroffer include: “I am really shocked. I thought you were as happy with us as we are with you. Let’s discuss this before you make your final decision.” “Aw gee, I’ve been meaning to tell you about the great plans we have for you, but it has been confidential up until now.” “The VP has you in mind for some exciting new responsibilities.” “Your raise was scheduled to go into effect next quarter but we’ll make it effective immediately.” Meetings of this sort are heady stuff and we have seen more than one impressionable employee make the mistake of forsaking a concrete opportunity with a new employer because of vague promises at his current one. Good bosses know that by pushing the right buttons they can sometimes reverse emotionally charged decisions that were made logically and sometimes they will do so for their own personal interests.
After all, your supervisor probably has some of the following thoughts when someone quits: “This couldn’t be happening at a worse time.” “This is one of my best people. If I let him quit now, it will wreak havoc on the department.” “I’ve already got one opening in my department. I don’t need another one right now.” “This will probably screw up the entire vacation schedule.” “I’m working as hard as I can and I don’t need to do this work too.” “If I lose another good employee, the company might decide to ‘lose me’ also.” “My review is coming up and this will make me look bad.” “Maybe I can keep him on until I can find a suitable replacement.”
Regardless of what takes place between you and your current employer, it is never advisable to let your new employer know that you have even been involved in discussing a counteroffer. This type of information may well shake the confidence of your new employer in your commitment and career direction. If they know that you are seriously entertaining this type of discussion, it will lead to genuine concerns as to their ability to keep you satisfied and your level of loyalty. Obviously, your word is your bond, and an acceptance – written or verbal – is your personal guarantee that you have accepted their offer of employment in good faith and plan to live up to that commitment. Anything less is unethical.
You should also be aware of a strange phenomena that I will term “The Halo Effect”. It usually takes the form of an unexpected raise, a promotion or a “pat on the back” that suddenly occurs in the midst of your search. Why does this happen so coincidentally when you are actively seeking employment elsewhere? Sometimes a current employer accidentally finds out that you are interviewing perceptive employers (especially those who know they have personnel problems) learn to look for patterns in phone calls, vacation days and the willingness to fight for change within the organization. The more likely scenario, however, is that because of your decision to search for new employment, you have changed. The very decision to leave an unhappy situation leads to a feeling of relief that changes your attitude toward your boss, your co-workers and your current environment. Because you are no longer facing the depressing prospects of a dead-end situation, you may very well take on a new energy level and look forward to the promise of a brighter future.
In other words, frowns turn to smiles not because of what has happened in your environment but because of your attitude. Often, this positive attitude is further enhanced by your visit to employers who do offer a more challenging or rewarding environment. In addition, as you go through the search process you usually perform at your best simply because you know you have to be in top form in order to land the job you really want. Even the most inattentive employer will sometimes notice those changes in your attitude and recognize your performance in some fashion. However, don’t be distracted from your mission. Ask yourself, did the employer really change or did your attitude toward them simply change? If so, take that new energy and enthusiasm to a new environment where you can nurture it and thereby become an even more valuable employee. The odds are that you will grow more rapidly in a different set of circumstances than you would by constantly having to “pump yourself up” about a situation that did not fundamentally improve. Once you have found that position you want the next step is to make a “Graceful Transition” to your new job.
We are honored to be part of your career planning efforts and hope that this information will serve as a valuable primer throughout your professional life. We trust it will help you land the job you’ve been looking for, and we stand ready to help in any way we can to insure your success.