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Dealing With a Contingent Offer April 7, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Interviews and Offers.

Anyone who has ever had a house to sell knows the elation you feel when you get that call from your agent that a contract has come in.  And the feeling of deflation when you hear there is a home sale contingency. Your future happiness and financial wellbeing is now tied to a potentially endless stream of other people’s decisions. Your buyer gets a buyer but that buyer also needs a buyer, etc, etc. At the end of the day, you really haven’t sold your house and now you have to make the decision to effectively take it off the market by marking it “Sale Pending- Contingent”.  The same thing can happen in your job search – you love the company, they love you but for whatever reason, they can’t seal the deal and you get a contingent offer. What should you?

First of all, NEVER tender your resignation if you have a contingent offer. A contingent offer is NOT a REAL offer until all contingencies are fully removed and you have signed the non-contingent offer letter. This seems like common sense but some candidates we have worked with have been so eager to resign, they have almost made this mistake. Our practice is to counsel all our candidates with contingent offers to treat it like there is no offer at all when it comes to resigning.

Second, you need to decide if you are continuing your job search or marking yourself as “sale pending” and taking yourself off the market. This will depend on a lot of factors around the actual offer and your personal tolerance level for ambiguity and uncertainly. Here are some things to think about when faced with this situation:

  1. What are the contingencies? If the contingency is something like verifying your clearance or checking your references and you are confident that there are no issues, then it probably makes sense to stop marketing yourself if you really want this job. If the contingency is something less clear like client approval, winning the actual contract or the dreaded “waiting for a slot to open up” you would be foolish not to continue your job search.  If you think about it, what kind of job security is this company offering you long term? What happens if funding for “your” slot goes away in three months? Will you be put on the bench until another project comes along or laid off?  My guess is laid off – if they could hire to the bench, your offer wouldn’t be contingent.
  2. How has the entire interview process been with this company? Can you look back on the experience and say it was positive?  Was the process organized and straightforward?  When you called with questions, did someone get back to you quickly with the answer? Did someone fully explain what the contingencies were and how quickly they would be lifted? If you have had an overall positive interview process, then chances are the company will work to get the contingencies lifted as quickly as they can.  If it has been a disorganized or extremely long interview process, this should send up a red flag. Chances are, you are going to be waiting a long time for those contingencies to be lifted, if they ever can be.
  3. If you didn’t get this job, how would you feel? Even if this is your dream job and if you didn’t get it you would be crushed, a contingent offer doesn’t guarantee you anything and taking yourself off the market can be ill advised. In some cases, going back to the original company and telling them you have a non-contingent offer can suddenly make the contingencies be lifted a lot faster. It could also lead to the offer being rescinded so be sure you are OK with that outcome before announcing you have another offer.

Contingent offers, no matter how you look at them, are not ideal situations. You are relinquishing control of your future employment, salary, and job satisfaction to someone else. They leave you up in the air and not much further along than you were before you had the offer. They can cause stress and frustration and may cause you to pass up another offer that might have been better. Before getting too far along in any interview process, it may be in your best interest to find out if the staffing of this role is contingent on funding or client acceptance or the next election. Then you can make an informed decision early on whether to continue or find something more certain to pursue.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.


Counter Offers… Accept Them or Reject Them? February 16, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Interviews and Offers.
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You’ve decided to look around for a new position.  You’ve interviewed with multiple companies and gotten an offer you want to accept.  Hoping to avoid too much conflict, you tell your boss you need to talk.  You stumble through your resignation, and then suddenly your boss asks, “What can we do to get you to stay?”

Congratulations! You are about to receive a counteroffer, and your next few days are going to be confusing and stressful!

Your old company suddenly treats you like you are the most important person in the world. Your manager and your manager’s manager meet with you. You have the discussions you’ve been wanting to have for a long time – about your career, the things that have been bothering you, the future of the company, and the key role you can play.  You’re offered a raise, perhaps a retention bonus as well, and maybe even a promotion.  You walk away from these discussions feeling wonderful – finally, the management team understands you and is going to make the changes you need and fix the problems.   They value you, they are listening to you, and you’re seriously considering calling your new company and telling them you’ve changed you mind.

Don’t. Accepting a counter offer is always a bad idea.  Always.  Here’s why…

You just threatened to leave your employer, and they are offering you a bribe to stay.  Trust has been broken, and nothing else has changed.

It really is that simple.  If your old company lets you leave, they lose the revenue and profit you’re generating, and they have to scramble to find a replacement.  In the short-term, it makes sense to bribe you to get you to stay.  In the long-term, you no longer have any good career options at the company.  They know that you decided to leave them – you interviewed, you accepted another offer, and you blindsided them when you resigned.  They see you as not having the company’s best interests in mind – they see you as only being concerned about yourself.  Trust has been broken.

That sounds harsh, but it is true.  Google “accept counter offers” and see the scary statistics…

You might read all this and still think that your situation is the exception, and that the company will trust you and take care of you in the future.  Even if that is true, it’s still a terrible idea to accept the counter offer.  Consider the following question:

Why didn’t the company fix the problems BEFORE you decided to look for a new job?

Companies are like people.  They are very slow to change.  You interviewed for a reason – you weren’t getting what you needed at your old company.  Maybe they’re offering you more money and painting a rosy picture of the future, but do you really think you suddenly created a massive change in the culture of the company by threatening to leave? It’s still the same company, with the same decision-makers, and the same problems that motivated you to consider a new job in the first place.

The employer-employee relationship is analogous to dating.  Let’s assume John and Susan have been dating for a while, and Susan has become unhappy enough with John that she’s found a new boyfriend.  Here’s Susan’s “resignation” and John’s “counteroffer”.

Susan: “John, it’s over.  This isn’t working, and I’ve found someone else.”

John: “Wait a minute, Susan.  If you’ll dump the other guy, I’ll buy you a big diamond, and I promise I’ll pay more attention to you in the future.”

Susan: “Gee John, that’s swell!  I’ll dump the other guy!”

Do you think Susan and John are going to live happily ever after?  Don’t accept a counteroffer.  It’s a bad idea.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, an Intelligence Community search firm.  Ron unfortunately accepted a counter offer early in his career…