A longtime reader has sent along an interesting question for biopharma people who have switched jobs at some point. That’s a pretty common process in this business; turnover is high by the standards of many other industries, especially at the job levels we’re describing. But there are some tricky parts to moving around. It often happens that when someone announces that they’re going to leave, their original company makes a counter-offer to try to get them to stay. Here’s the question, though: what happens if they turn around and accept that counter-offer? That does happen.
And when it does, I always wonder what life is like for the person involved. Here they are, getting paid more, very nice – but they also have announced their intention to leave the company and then indicated their willingness to be bought out of it. That seems to me to be two consecutive mistakes. People certainly can want to leave their biopharma jobs for new ones at other companies, of course (I’ve done it myself). Everyone realizes that, just as everyone realizes that not everyone is coming to work every day purely because they’re just altruistic team players who, gosh darn it, just want to help everyone else succeed. Fine. But walking around with your eye conspicuously on the exit is another thing entirely, and how (after an episode like this) can a person not be seen in this light?
So my own belief is that this is a career-limiting move, in the long run, especially if you see yourself moving up into the managerial ranks. Who’s going to choose the person who’s already threatened to walk, and changed their mind because they got paid more? The only time I can see it (possibly) working is when the better counteroffer had to do more with a change of position or responsibilities rather than pay or ranking: then you could at least imagine that the person is staying because they finally got the job they’d been wanting to have all along. But still.
Things get even worse when the person involved accepts the counteroffer after they’ve already told their new company that they’re coming. And yeah, this happens, too, especially in places like Boston/Cambridge and the Bay area where there are a lot of startups. One of the reasons that there are so many startups in these places is the number of experienced people available to help get them off the ground, and these people, in many cases, are going to be leaving their current positions to take on the new ones. A lot of poaching and persuasion goes on, and sometimes people are persuaded back. But if you do this (stick with Company A after all) after telling Company B that you’re going to work with them, you have likely just made two consecutive mistakes. Your original company may not ever quite trust you again, and the VCs you were talking to about leaving probably won’t trust you again, either. Lotsa luck to you if your original company re-orgs after a year and you call back wondering about another chance.
No, my advice is that moving companies can be a good idea, but if you’re going to move, move. Similarly, if the new company’s offer doesn’t quite cut it, tell ’em (quietly) and stay (quietly). If doubts and indecision plague you, then go get plagued where no one else can hear you – if people want to see Hamlet, they’ll go watch someone who’s already learned the lines. My own correspondent’s view on people who do this “I’m not coming after all” move is that they belong somewhere between the 8th circle (fraud) and the 9th circle (treachery). It’s worth noting just how far down Dante put both of them