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What is a “Buy-Back” ?

What is a “Buy-Back” ?

When you resign from your job it is pretty likely that your boss or other partners will attempt to persuade you to change your mind. This can take many forms: a pay rise, reduced working hours or a promotion are the most common. This process is called a “buy-back”. It happens in law firms, accountancy firms and industry, but is most prevalent in fee-earning environments.

Who is susceptible ?

In short, anyone. The tax market is under-resourced at present – firms and corporates are hiring extensively and there is a dearth of qualified professionals. If you resign and have to work out a 1 or 3 month notice period then it is almost certain that your employer will not find a replacement for you before you leave. As a result buy-backs are not exclusive to senior tax professionals and in fact just as common amongst tax assistants and seniors who perform compliance work.

Should I feel flattered ?

Partners should be able to charm you – let’s face it, the tax services market is all about sales so in this day and age a tax partner should be able to do a pretty good job of convincing you to turn down an offer from a competitor and stick with him/her. Also, many partners are specifically trained in handling resignations and have a checklist of strategies to change your mind. At the end of the day they are running a business and if you leave you affect their bottom line. For them (however pleasant and honourable their intentions) buying you back is a commercial decision, not a personal one.

What can I expect ?

- lots of praise and reassurance about how great you are
- an explanation of how vital you are to the team and how you are needed
- the promise of a swift career path with lots of interesting projects
- an attempt to match or improve the offer you have received
- lots of charm, flattery and smiles
- an attempt to make you feel guilt for proposing to leave the team/your partner
- a reminder of the time and effort that has been put into your career
- some horror stories about staff who resigned, left and came running back a month later
- promises to address your concerns with your current role
- lots of meetings with different partners and senior staff and a conscious attempt to wear you down
- to be sworn to secrecy in the short term until an opportunity has been afforded to your boss(es) to counter-offer.
- If the above does not work you may experience sulks, histrionics, threats, dire warnings and hostility. Some partners take a resignation as a personal affront to their own abilities to manage staff and react accordingly.
- Lots of verbal promises, but rarely anything in writing. Beware !

How should I act ?

- As a matter of courtesy it is difficult to avoid at least listening to a buy-back, so there is no point trying to avoid this meeting.
- Keep the conversation polite, amicable and professional. If expressing your concerns about your current role, don’t be tempted to get too detailed or personal as this will only draw out discussions
- Stay firm – if you want to leave and take this new job then do not offer your boss any hope of keeping you. If he/she sees a chink in the armour they will work on it mercilessly and you will end up having many meetings that are emotionally exhausting and unnecessary.
- If you are asked to meet with other partners or HR, or have lunch with a senior partner, you should politely say that there is no point. Flattered though you are that the Firm wishes you to stay, further meetings/lunches would be a waste of everyone’s valuable time.

What else should I consider ?

- Bear in mind that the organisation that has offered you a job will want to know that the resignation is going through. They will probably expect a buy-back and it would be a good idea to call them once you have resigned, explain that you are receiving pressure to stay but reassure them that you still intend to leave.

- If your new offer has been arranged by a recruiter or headhunter, keep in touch with them and explain what is going on – they might be able to give you some tips and keep you positive (it can be a depressing and draining experience going through a buy-back, especially if it lasts some weeks).

- In my recruitment experience, 80% of candidates who are persuaded by their employer to stay put and turn down an offer, end up back on the market within 12 months. This tends to be because the same frustrations exist, or verbal promises about changes to work/pay/hours are broken.

- Should I worry if I am not bought back ? Tough one. In this current market then, yes, maybe you should be concerned if your boss just shakes your hand and shows you the door. Still, there is nothing you can do about this so just think positive about the next job. We can’t all be superstars.

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