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How to Refuse a Counter Offer and Leave on a High Note

If you’ve spent the last five or six years building a biotech career at one company, you may be ready to move on to another organization and role that more closely aligns with your goals. However, every move has its own complications, so it’s important to consider what leaving your current employer will look like, and how it will affect your career and professional relationships.

The biotech space is currently very much a candidates’ market, and the industry’s fluidity has created an environment where managers are accustomed to employees working out their notices. But the dearth of experienced people in the field means there’s a good chance that, once you say you’re leaving, management will make you a counteroffer to keep you on board.

How you respond may be influenced by many different dynamics. If you’ve been happily employed (at least for the most part) you may be comfortable staying right where you are. If that’s the case, it’s incumbent upon you to remember why you began the job search in the first place.

As I usually remind candidates, a counteroffer may be appealing, but it’s essential that you keep your motivation in mind. Salaries are highly competitive, so money isn’t usually the deciding factor. Your employer wants you to stay because you’ll be an expensive asset to replace. If the counteroffer, for example, includes a £10,000 ($12,700 USD) raise, the company is still saving money.

The factors that compelled you to look elsewhere – lack of recognition, bad work/life balance, difficult personalities, removal of remote working options, etc. – are unlikely to change if you remain with this company. You may have even already brought up your dissatisfaction with your employer. But without any concrete offers of change, you may be in a tough spot. Even still, if they’re only making change now that they’re forced into a corner, it’s not being done on your behalf, rather to save face.

Resigning is awkward though, it can feel a bit like a breakup. Keep in mind that you’re departing a place of business, not a community of friends. Just by making it known that you have an outside offer, you’ve already changed your office relationships. If you choose to stay, a wary manager may no longer want to include you in significant or confidential projects. Your colleagues may perceive your acceptance of the counteroffer as a lack of loyalty, or a ruse for a higher salary or promotion. At worst, your actions will wind up in an HR file, where the information could be used against you in future negotiations, very possibly stymying your career within the organization.

It will almost always be in your best interest to refuse the counteroffer, and prepare to move on. Err on the side of caution though, as even the most solid offer can fall apart at the last minute. When planning your notice, don’t say anything to anyone until you and your future employer have signed an employment contract.

If you tell everyone you’re off, and the new employer then changes their mind, the consequences of the fallout could be adverse. Everyone now knows that you’ve been looking for a new job. It’s possible that management may ask why you want to leave, but it’s unlikely that the discussion would lead to substantive change. Colleagues may question your commitment to projects. If you’re a manager, your team may no longer be as receptive as they had been — and you’ll still have to show up every day.

Once a contract has been signed, create an exit strategy that’s professional, and conflict free. Don’t go around shouting about your great new role. The final weeks at work should round out your contribution to the organization, not detract from it.

There are basic steps, which are generally accepted as a course of action for giving notice; sticking to them will be the most effective and efficient path toward departure:

  • Write an email to your manager requesting a brief meeting
  • Schedule the meeting for that day, or a few days in advance
  • Manage the meeting by keeping it simple and brief
  • Remain polite, professional, and confident
  • Tell your bosses that you’ve accepted another offer
  • Provide some pertinent information about your new role
  • Express how much you’ve enjoyed working for the company
  • Adhere to organizational requirements or guidelines for notice time frames
  • Specify the final date of your employment
  • Say, “Thank you for the opportunity to work with you,” and leave the room

It’s also important to leave a paper trail that accurately supports your timeline. After the meeting, follow-up with an email. Even though emails are automatically dated, be sure to date yours as you would a letter, or even attach a dated letter as a PDF.  The note may mostly repeat what was said during the meeting. Reiterate that you’ve accepted another position. Thank them for the opportunities they’ve given you, and let them know that you’ve enjoyed working for the company. Be clear that it’s time for you to move on. Finally, give them the date of your last day of work.

Even with a plan in place, leaving a familiar environment can be a daunting experience. If you’ve spent at least half of a decade working with the same people, and have attended their weddings and children’s christenings, your impending absence will be felt.

After informing management, you may want to tell the colleagues who you’re closest to. But, keep the news as quiet as possible, as your employer will most likely send out their own notice announcing your departure. If you’re a manager, tell your team. They may be relieved to find out that you won’t be leaving right away, and that you’ll remain on board for the time frame that’s been agreed upon. Communicate openly with them about the process, and be receptive to answering any questions they may have.

For the length of your notice, continue to show up and do the job well. Be present for your colleagues, and fulfill all of your current obligations. By working through your notice gracefully, your bosses and colleagues could turn out to be critical members of your professional network, as well as possible future references.