should I talk with my manager before I accept another job, even though I wouldn’t accept a counter-offer?

A reader writes:

I have a great relationship with my manager, and about a year ago he mentioned that if I were to ever get a job offer, I should speak with him before accepting it so we could work something out. We’d had a few people in our department resign over the course of 3 or 4 months, and he said something like, “If you get a job offer, just promise me that you’ll come talk to me *before* you accept.” I thought he was joking with me, but then he said something like, “No really, come talk to me so we can work something out.”

Here is my problem: I just received a job offer for my dream job (thanks to your awesome advice)! We are in the final stages of negotiation and I expect to hear something within the next two days.

I would like to talk to my manager before accepting the offer, since he asked me to, but I feel there is nothing he could offer to make me stay. He can’t change any of the reasons that I’m leaving. The new job is at a much larger company, with more opportunities and ideal career track. I love my current manager, but I’m worried that talking to him about an offer I am considering, but haven’t yet accepted, is a mistake. On the other hand, I’m worried that if I just resign without giving him the opportunity to counter-offer, he will be offended.

What should I do?

By the way – my manager always makes a counter-offer if he wants to retain the person. I only know this because I am his assistant and I draw up the counter-offers on his behalf. One person did actually accept the counter-offer and is still with us, and I’ve never perceived any awkwardness between him and my manager.

You’re not obligated to talk to your manager before accepting this other offer just because he asked you to. And really, the type of thing he said to you doesn’t usually mean “I will be offended if you take another offer without talking to me.” It more often means “I would like the chance to keep you from leaving, probably with more money.” If you know that he wouldn’t be able to make you an offer that would entice you to stay, then you should be able to comfortably skip that step.

That said, there certainly are people who have such a strong relationship with their manager that they would want to talk with them before making a final decision on an offer. And that’s reasonable, when it’s in a context of knowing they won’t be penalized for it. But it doesn’t sound like the desire to talk to him about this is coming from you — it’s coming from him. So what you have to remember is that his asking you to do that doesn’t incur an obligation on your part — you get to decide for yourself whether it makes sense to give him a heads-up before you make a decision.

If you choose not to, then when you resign, if he’s dismayed that you didn’t talk to him first, you can say something like: “I appreciate that you would have been open to talking with me about it. But I’m committed to my decision, and I don’t want to put you in the position of trying to work something out with me when my mind is made up on the other job. I hope you understand.” And then you quickly follow that up with something about how much you’ve enjoyed working with, what a great manager he’s been (since it sounds like that would be sincere), and how you’re going to work to help him have a smooth transition and hope to stay in touch afterwards.

He might still tell you that he wishes you’d talked to him earlier — but a sane manager isn’t going to hold it against you that you didn’t.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. tango*

    Oh another “dream” job. Where does one find one of those? I can’t say I’ve ever applied to any job on paper or after interviewing that struck me as a “dream” job.

    And I don’t get these counteroffers. I understand someone might be recruited who was not actively looking for new work but open to hearing about something when an opportunity presented itself that they just had to take. But the majority of people who accept a new job went out and did the work to get it from searching for opportunities, applying, interviewing and negotiating the salary. As a manager of an employee who just gave notice, why would I want to offer them more money to stay? They put in the effort to find a new job, seems like they don’t want to be at my company any longer. It seems routinely offering counteroffers will just motivate some employees who want to stay but want more money to go out and find another job just to force their boss into paying more.

    1. Andie*

      What is funny is that AAM cautions against calling any job a dream job because you don’t know that until you are working there but people repeatedly keep saying they found their dream job……….

      1. Lucy*

        I scrolled down before reading the whole response to see if there was a “This is not your dream job” statement.

          1. Broke Philosopher*

            you haven’t failed all of us!!! I am a recentish college grad and your spiel(s) about the idea of the dream job have been very helpful in keeping me grounded.

            …not that you would have failed us regardless, but there you go.

          2. Jessa*

            You have not failed us at all. The issue is people want it to be a dream job, they want that hope, and even though it’s unrealistic, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

      2. Bea W*

        She also advises against taking or making counter offers usually. Maybe she should try some reverse psychology.

    2. Vicki*

      The other night, we were watching the “features” add-ons of a DVD and they interviewed one of the people who works on the crew; she has my “dream job”.

      I know it’s my dream job because I don’t have the background, the ambition, or the experience to have it myself, so it’s just a nice dream. I’d never take it away from her even if I could but a piece of me is sooo jealous. That’s what makes a “dream” job. I only know about the cool parts.

      1. Andie*

        That is a really cool definition of a dream job and so ture! It is a dream because reality hasn’t set in yet.

        1. A Bug!*

          Next Open Thread we should all share what our Dream Jobs are, unfettered by any pesky “realism” or “practicality”. I am posting this here and now because if I don’t, I will forget by next week.

            1. Sydney Bristow*

              Do you want a coworker? I’d be excellent at reading books, watching Alias and West Wing and eating pizza.

            2. tcookson*

              Oh, yeah!! Reading books, watching Sheldon, and eating pizza. And ice cream. And my colleague is a professional cat.

            3. Unanimously Anonymous*

              While I haven’t defined the exact parameters of my dream job yet, a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder is definitely my company car…

          1. Ruffingit*

            Oh great suggestion!! We should have a specific dream job open thread. That would be awesome!

    3. David*

      In all fairness, I can say that being one of the hosts on Top Gear UK would absolutely be my dream job, hands down.

      In all other situations, I would agree with your assessment.

      1. Bean*

        My dream job is held by Vanna White…wearing gorgeous gowns every night walking back and forth across a stage? Yes please!

      2. Kelly O*

        Okay, I will concede David’s point.

        And I may or may not be the Stig. I do not have a nipple shaped like the Nurburgring.

        1. A Bug!*

          Your clumsy attempt at misdirection is laughably transparent, Kelly O. Now we all know your secret.

      3. Leb*

        I at one time was lucky enough to have a job working directly for my absolute favorite musician in the world, who was a very big star. Dream job! Not really. If you enjoy the sausage, don’t get too close to the factory.

  2. AB*

    “No really, come talk to me so we can work something out.”

    Could also mean the manager would want to at least have a chance to negotiate something like a one-month notice, rather than 2 weeks, or some other sort of arrangement to help the transition if the OP was leaving anyway.

    I’m not saying the OP should accept a counter-offer or even any request made by the current manager, but I’d be open to hear what he/she had in mind after saying “I’m committed to my decision, and just wanted to talk to you before accepting the offer because you asked me to”.

    And if it was a reasonable request, I’d try to negotiate with the new company (say, a starting date a week after planned, which would be reasonable to ask). Who knows, being accommodating could become a huge asset in the future, when you need a glowing recommendation from this manager for another job.

  3. The Editor*

    My own thoughts, but if you love the manager that much and he’s really that good… It takes an awful lot of other things to make up for a great manager. I would at least give him the opportunity to see what he can do.

    And dream jobs… Yeah, I’ve had a few of those. Never really seemed to work out.

    1. Amy B.*

      +1. For me, having a manager I love to work for is worth more than a few more $ an hour. I know every one is different and driven by other motivations; but a great manager is hard to come by.

  4. Susan*

    I would consider talking to your manager before accepting, especially if you have a great relationship, even if you don’t want to stay. One, I would think it shows you have respect for the existing relationship, secondly, as long as he’s reasonable about your refusal to stay, he may have some advice for you on negotiating a better package in your new job or how to start out on a good footing.

    1. Anonymous*

      That’s a really good point. One of my previous managers has been fantastic about giving me advice about job transitioning, things to look out for, relationship building, and so on.

      If you trust your current manager, it could be really benefecial to talk to him, even if you have no plans to stay. Good luck, on both counts!

  5. abc*

    Is the trick to having your question answered stroking Alison’s ego? It seems like every other post includes something along the lines of “Thanks to your wonderful advice I got the job!” sheesh!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, really?

      You’ve complained before about not having your letters answered, but I get 40+ letters a day. I cannot answer them all (as my auto-reply explains when you email me), particularly not for free and particularly not when people are rude about it.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I have received several answers to my questions on here but have not received the auto replies lately. Has that been disabled?

    2. Mike C.*

      I’ve had several letters of mine answered here, and the last thing I do is stroke the AaM’s ego.

    3. Lisa*

      I don’t think it requires anything ‘tricky’ . . . but being snarky and passive-aggreassive in a comment thread probably doesn’t move your letter to the top.

    4. KarenT*

      I don’t get the cynicism. Alison gives career advice and it makes sense that people who would solicit her opinion would be people who value it. If people are following Alison’s advice, and it is working for them, why shouldn’t they thank her?

    5. FD*

      Spoilers: People are more apt to do you favors when you’re nice to them. And Alison is doing us a favor, remember. She doesn’t get paid for this, and she clearly puts a lot of time and effort into it.

      Also, you know how if you bother a hiring manager enough times they tend to decide you’re not worth the trouble as a candidate? You might consider if the same phenomenon here. If you’re reacting like this about not having your questions answered, what exactly would one expect to have happen if she did answer and ended up criticizing you?

      You really might want to look more closely at yourself and ask why you feel you’re entitled to have your questions answered, to the point where you’re willing to be rude if you don’t get a response.

      1. Greg*

        I love Alison and this blog , but I disagree that she writes it as a “favor” to us. She’s a professional writer. Writers write. Sometimes they get paid for what they write, sometimes they do it to establish their reputation as an expert and open up other opportunities for themselves. And she benefits from us being readers, both in the form of ad inventory (see the right-hand column) and in terms of providing her with an audience that provides her with market power (publishers want to hire writers who can demonstrate they can deliver readers). It’s a transaction: her content for our attention.

        I appreciate the service-y nature of what she writes, and I certainly think that readers of this blog get more from it than, say, NY Times readers get from Thomas Friedman columns, but I’ve never thought that I owed her anything other than my continued attention.


        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That is true. I make money from blogging (through ads and ebooks). That said, I also answer far more letters than I need to in order to maintain that revenue (including letters that I answer privately and don’t publish here since publishing them all would be too many posts). I do that both to help people and for the sheer joy of doing it (so both selfish and unselfish reasons).

          But I do think that the fact that this is all free to readers means that being rude/demanding about it is a little silly.

          1. Greg*

            Certainly agree with your last sentence. I hope I was clear that my point wasn’t to defend abc. People shouldn’t be rude to you, not just because the blog is free, but because that’s the nice (and professional) way to treat anyone. My comment wasn’t even really about you — I don’t know a ton about your revenue model, and was mostly guessing based on the little I do know.

            It was more a philosophical point/pet peeve of mine, as both an occasional writer and someone well-versed in media business models. I find the notion of a writer doing readers a “favor” to be condescending and demeaning to the product that writers produce. The fact that you’re able to make a living off of your expertise and writing ability is, IMO, a strong point in your favor.

          2. Ruffingit*

            Even if it wasn’t free, rude and demanding would not be appropriate. People with crappy attitudes rarely get the results they truly want.

        2. FD*

          From what I understand, she’s not a professional writer, I.E. a person who makes the majority of her income via writing. Alison is a management consultant who also writes this blog.

          Now, it is certainly true that there are benefits to her for writing this blog. It means that a prospective client can get a sense of what she’s about, and has a bit of a sample of work. As you say, she also does get ad revenue, and we might buy her book if we like her advice.

          However, the fact remains that we, the questioners, do not pay her for answering our questions. We get (admittedly on a smaller scale) her consulting expertise pro bono.

          For example, one can volunteer and get something out of it, such as making connections you want to use for job hunting. But that doesn’t change the fact that the group you work for is getting your labor for free, and should be respectful of that.

          1. Greg*

            Eh, point taken. I guess it’s just a matter of which prism you look at it through. I would view the blog as more of a “loss leader”, but nonetheless central to her business model in a way that volunteering isn’t. Anyway, I think it was just the word “favor” that stuck in my craw. (Again, not that I don’t appreciate everything she does for her readers.)

          2. Forrest*

            I disagree with the implication that someone needs to have writing be their primarily income in order to be considered a writer. I don’t doubt that consulting is AAM’s bread and butter but this blog does serve as a PR tool, which is important in consulting.

            1. FD*

              Oh, I agree. A person can be a writer without getting their income primarily from it. I was simply saying that a PROFESSIONAL writer is one who gets their income primarily from writing. An amateur writer can absolutely be as gifted or more than a professional.

              My point was simply that while Alison’s blog is certainly of very high quality, she isn’t writing it as a primary source of income. That means that her high post volume and the number of questions she is able to answer is something we should appreciate even more because this isn’t her primary job. Which is why it’s particularly inappropriate to gripe at her because she didn’t choose a particular question.

              I seem to have phrased some things badly, and I am very sorry if I offended any writers. I certainly don’t mean to demean anyone’s work. My point was simply that when you aren’t paying someone to do something for you, you really don’t have any call to complain about something they’re giving you for free.

    6. Mimi*

      Alison has answered several of my questions. I don’t see how expressing gratitude for her advice constitutes ego-stroking. What do you imagine she’s thinking, as she goes through her inbox?

      “Meh, I don’t feel like answering this one……although it does thank me for my advice at the end……oh, what the hell! I’ll answer it.”

    7. EM*

      I wrote in once and Alison sent me a reply extremely quickly — I was honestly very surprised at how fast she responded. She did not post the question here on the blog, but she privately emailed with me about the issue. I thought that was pretty cool!

    8. Rana*

      It’s Alison’s call as to whether the question is worth answering, not yours. Maybe your question is boring? Or easily answered with Google? Or very similar to a question that’s already been answered?

      All of that seems far more likely than Alison feeling like her ego’s not been stroked enough.

    9. Amy B.*

      I feel she comes across as humble when it comes to praise. I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that she only publishes a small fraction of the “ego stroking” emails she recieves.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That is true, although occasionally I post them in the What Readers Say section linked at the top of the page. Usually, though, I actually edit out praise from letters since I think readers prefer it when they get straight to the issue. So this has been amusing to me.

  6. Michelle*

    You did not mention how you responded to you manager when he asked you to talk to him prior to accepting another offer. Did you say you would? If so, I strongly feel you should honor that commitment even if it is just a courtesy.

    Once upon a time, a long, long time ago I worked for a great manager in a non-profit. He knew I wanted to make the move to corporate and I was fully transparent with him. He didn’t want to see me go, but was also very supportive and helped me land a position at a major corporation. If you have that kind of relationship with your boss, I think talking to him about the opportunity could be beneficial and he might have some good advice.

    Good luck and I hope the job really is your “dream job”. :)

  7. Lanya*

    Personally, out of loyalty, I would give him the courtesy of talking to him in advance. Just be very firm that you will not be accepting any counter-offers, if he should bring up the subject. Then, later, when he does try to counter, you can thank him and reiterate that you’ve already made up your mind, and it will feel more like a compliment that he tried to keep you anyway.

  8. Mike C.*

    One thing I’ve always hated about counter-offers:

    If you’re so valuable to the company that they’re willing to throw more money and benefits at you to stay, why haven’t they done so already?

    I understand it’s a rather cynical way to look at things, but if we’re going to believe that folks should be paid “what they’re worth” to the company they’re working for, the risk of losing the employee should have been rolled into the current compensation structure. The fact that they’re willing to give you a counter offer means that they’ve been compensating you the entire time.

    How does that make you feel?

    1. tesyaa*

      I once got a “counteroffer” when I accepted an internal offer. The “counteroffer” wasn’t more money (both jobs paid the same), but an offer of different/better work. I KNEW that was just a desperation measure that would never be upheld, but it made me wonder why I wasn’t doing that better work in the first place.

      1. Former Usher*

        At OldCompany, I had the same experience as tesyaa. For over a year, I had been requesting a small change in my position to more of a consulting role. On the day I was offered an internal transfer, I was finally granted my request by my soon-to-be-former department. If they had been serious about it, they could have at least offered it once they knew I was interviewing for the internal position. Sheesh.

    2. Jamie*

      I don’t think it’s cynical and I totally agree with Mike on this.

      If I’m thinking of leaving I have issues, even if only because I want more money. If I wasn’t worth it before, but now you want to throw it at me to keep me…am I worth it now?

      Because it’s one of two things. Either you thought I was worth this much money but didn’t want to bother paying me a fair salary until I had a foot out the door, or….you still don’t think I’m worth it but don’t want me to go because I’m a PITA to replace so you’ll pay it but resent me.

      Neither scenario will end well. Negotiating is one thing, I refuse to be happy with money I had to shake someone down to get.

      1. PontoonPirate*

        Yep. I resigned on Tuesday, and my boss told me he was disappointed I hadn’t come to him before I accepted another offer… what for? To what end? He isn’t going to be a better manager, which is a huge issue. He can’t improve the culture because he doesn’t realize he’s central to the problem. And if he could offer me more money and better benefits, he already should have based on the fact that he keeps saying he doesn’t know how he’s going to replace me and I’m so good at what I do. Guess he shoulda thought of that before now.

        1. Jen*

          Oh, this sounds so, so familiar. My boss didn’t tell me he was disappointed, but he still tried to talk me into staying… no way, especially since *he* was the main reason for my leaving!

    3. Cat*

      It depends – if it’s money, this is probably the case, though there’s always going to be some limited “mismatch” times even in companies that pay their employees fairly, and the situation might be more complicated in not-for-profits and other employers that pay below market for a reason (I make significantly below “market” but it’s because there are serious lifestyle benefits and I believe in the work we do).

      If it’s not money, I think it depends on whether you’ve brought the issue up to your employer. In this case, if the boss is saying “come to me before you accept an offer,” I’d take that to mean “come to me if you’re dissatisfied and we’ll see what we can do.” I wouldn’t literally interpret it as “I will only change anything about your job if you have another offer in hand.”

      1. Bea W*

        He could have said “Come to me first if you’re ever thinking if leaving.” Telling someone to come before they “accept an offer” implies there is an actual offer to accept.

        1. Cat*

          Sure, but OP says she has a great relationship with him, and not everyone in the world is great/super precise with language, even otherwise wonderful managers. So it’s possible nothing would have happened (assuming the OP was leaving her job for fixable reasons, which it sounds like she’s not), but it’s also entirely possible he would have taken whatever it is into account.

    4. Bea W*

      This! The LW says her boss always counter offers, and he wants to know before she accepts so they can “work something out”. If he thinks she’s worth the higher amount another company might offer, why wait until she’s got one foot out the door?

    5. Ruffingit*

      Agreed. But, the thing is most people will do what is financially advantageous to them. And, if they’ve found they can pay X amount to an employee and that employee has stayed for 1 or 2 or more years making X amount, they aren’t going to bother upping it without some provocation (employee leaving or asking for a raise) because they’re getting what they want (that is, the employee keeps working there). Not saying this is right, but it’s the old principle of people doing what works for them until something external makes them change it.

    6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      But if I, as an employer, make an offer to a candidate and they accept, and I give them merit-raises each year, I don’t really know if that is “enough” for them, unless they say something.

      In other words, a company could have a very fair compensation process and still want to be given the opportunity to make whatever it is right before an employee leaves. After all, announcing to your team that you want to talk before anyone accepts an offer elsewhere is very different than saying “We will match any outside offer for any employee.”

  9. Greg*

    If you have a good relationship, I don’t see many reasons you wouldn’t go talk to him beforehand, even if it’s just to say, “I’ve got this offer and I’m planning on accepting it.” And hey, if he does counter-offer, you can just take it as a nice ego boost even as you turn it down.

    Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to go to him as soon as you get the offer. Especially if you feel like there’s going to be a significant amount of negotiation with your new employer, you may want to wait until you’ve gotten the package to the point where you’re reasonably certain you can accept it. The last thing you want to do is tell your manager you’re planning on leaving and won’t accept a counteroffer, then have to come slinking back after it all falls apart.

  10. Working Girl*

    Remember you are in negotiation, you do not have another job until you are given the final offer and they ask you to accept it. Keeping this in mind, do you want to talk to your boss about taking another job when he could be offended and say thanks for letting me know you are leaving, hand you your pink slip and then the other job offer doesn’t come through and you go from having two jobs to none. When you get the final offer from the new company, then tell your current boss you are leaving. If you have already made up your mind then stick with in. Also, find out from others if the dream job is a dream to people that currently work there before taking the leap.

  11. Bea W*

    I think your boss made that request because he intended to counter offer. If you are sure you will not accept a counter offer there’s no need to approach him early. It depends on what you feel most comfortable with doing. You know best how he might react. Congratulations!

  12. OP*

    Hi, OP here with an update.
    In the end, I accepted the formal offer and then spoke with my manager about it. He was fine with me not coming to him earlier, and just said that he wished there was something he could offer to entice me to stay, and that I will be very hard to replace.

    On another note, I am dissapointed by all the negative comments regarding my “dream job”. I’m not naive – I realize that no job is perfect. This new job is in a field I’ve been trying to break into for a few years, with a reasonable salary, good benefits, at a company with a good reputation, and with a team that appeared (during my interviews) to be a good fit for me. “Dream job” was simply an expression I used to convey how right I think this new opportunity is for me right now.

    1. Diane*

      OP, congratulations on your new job, and best wishes for a smooth and happy transition!

      The comments about the term “dream job” aren’t directed at you, personally. You seem to have a reasonable grasp on what makes this job a good fit for you, and you understand that no job will be perfect every instant. The comments are in reference to the number of people who use “dream job” without that understanding and without having done the as much diligence as you. A job description alone might seem perfect, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg of management, hours and flexibility, other duties nobody thought to mention, potential for growth, etc.

  13. Jazzy Red*

    A young guy at my company just accepted a new job and gave his manager a months notice. He has a good relationship with his manager and he wanted to be considerate, but he was told that today (Friday) would be his last day. So, he’s losing just over 3 weeks of pay that he was counting on.

    1. Brooks*

      In that case, it might be worth calling up the new company and saying, “Hey, my old company didn’t like me giving them a month’s notice. Any chance we could move my start date up a couple of weeks?”

      When I accepted my most recent job, they actually specifically mentioned that my start date was flexible and changeable so long as I gave them a couple of weeks of notice.

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