A counter-offer is an offer from your current employer to rival an offer you have received from a future employer, in an effort to convince you to stay. Counter-offers can take many forms: a straight increase in salary, additional company benefits, a sought-after promotion, a new job title, additional responsibility, a change in role, more involvement in projects that interest you or any combination of these.
If you are an active job seeker then you have motives for pursuing other opportunities. We advise you to first attempt to reconcile these issues with your employer before getting too deep in an interview process. If your employer wants to keep you then they will respond to your requests without your need to leverage another offer. If you feel there is little chance for reconciling your issues, then our advice is to decline any counter-offer resulting from your resignation.
If you are a passive job seeker and you have no reason to leave your employer, then you should strongly consider why you would want to resign from your position. Since you have not imagined leaving your employer, we would encourage you to mentally walk through the resignation process while considering the budding opportunities, the relationships with your co-workers, and the comfort of your routine that you will be leaving behind. If afterwards you feel another opportunity is too great to pass up, then you will have a much easier time processing your options at the time an offer arrives.
The truth is, counter-offers can be confusing. Leaving a job, especially if you have been there for some time, is difficult. Being put under pressure to stay, and having your reasons for leaving challenged or undermined does not make easy listening. As enticing as counter-offers may appear, it is important to keep a clear head, take a step back and consider the options available. Unfortunately, it's human nature to want to stay in your comfort zone unless your work-life is abject misery. Career changes, like all ventures into the unknown, are tough. That's why employers know they can usually keep you around by pressing the right buttons. However, before accepting a counter-offer consider a statistic published by Business Week revealing that nine out of ten candidates who accepted a counter-offer were back in a job hunt within six months, as well, The National Employment Association confirms that over 80% of people who accept a counter-offer, are no longer with their company after twelve months.