Finding the Good in Goodbye: How to Resign with Grace

You just landed that new job.  You received your new employment contract, and your mind is now filled with the great possibilities this next step in your career will offer — new challenges, new colleagues, new location.  Perhaps this new post will bring a better title, better pay, more responsibility, and any number of things that your current position may be lacking.  Yet, there is still the matter of telling your current employer that you are moving on, and that conversation may be no easy task.

Of the many skills we hone during our years in the working world, resigning from a job is not among them because we do it so infrequently.  Accordingly, you may be unsure of the precise etiquette surrounding resignation.  This is particularly true when you do not know if your departure will be met with surprise or even hurt feelings.  In addition, you are leaving your job because you feel it is no longer a fit, so you may have some negative feelings as well.  

Not to worry.  Leaving a position is a time for you to be thankful for what the company has meant to your career and your friendships.  In that spirit, you can use the following 10 steps to make sure that your departure is upbeat, leaves no hard feelings, and avoids burning any bridges.

1.   Lock down the new job details before giving notice.  You should never give notice with your current employer until you have signed your contract with the new position and established a start date.  Like any good lawyer will tell you – it’s only official after you have signed on the dotted line.

2.   Plan the narrative for why you are leaving.  Rarely is there only one reason for moving on in your career.  So, be sure to take a little time to think about the reason you want to give for leaving. That reason should be a positive one, focused on how the move is right for you and your career. This is not a time for sour grapes or settling scores.  Rather, you want to have a positive, consistent story to tell your co-workers.

3.   Consider how much notice to give.  Two weeks is the customary notice period.  Yet, if your job responsibilities, or case demands, require more time for your employer to accommodate your departure, then you should be prepared to give more than two weeks.  Again, you want to make your departure as seamless as possible for your manager and co-workers.  In that vein, wait until you give notice before you clean your office/desk.  Try to avoid sending a message before your employer officially knows the score.

4.   Draft a resignation letter.  Be sure to draft a letter confirming your resignation.  The letter should be simple, and you may want to use it as an opportunity to thank your employer for the development of your career.

5.   Tell your manager first.  Once you have decided your notice period, it is appropriate to let your manager know that you are leaving first, in person, and with your resignation letter in hand.  It does not have to be a long conversation, and you should use this meeting to express gratitude for his/her part in your career development.  Also, you can use the meeting to ask how, or in what order, you should let other co-workers know.  Finally, you should make it clear what your last day will be.

6.   Give the news to your other coworkers.  Break the news to others in the organization based on the order you decided with your manager and/or in the order of your relationships at the job.  For those close to you, it is always better to do so in person.  Keep your narrative consistent, upbeat, and be thankful for what those colleagues meant to you.

7.   Wrap up as much work as you can yourself.  To the extent possible, try to leave as little unfinished work as you can.  Use your final weeks to resolve all of those outstanding projects.  Your manager will thank you, and you will depart on a positive note.

8.   Make the transition of unfinished projects easy.  Of course, you will have projects or matters that cannot be completed in your final weeks.  To make it as easy as possible for your manager to transition your work, you may want to draft a Transition Memo that covers the status of all of your projects, specifying what has been done, what needs to be done, and the relevant personnel.  This can serve as a master document your manager can refer to once you leave.

9.   Work up until the last day.  We all may have experienced “senior-itis” in our last semester in high school; but in the workplace, it will inure to your benefit to work hard and be productive up until your last day.  It will leave a good impression with your employer that, no matter what, you behaved like a pro.

10.   Be prepared to leave immediately.  Some employers may not want you to stay after giving notice, particularly if you are going to a competitor.  Accordingly, it may be a policy of the employer to have you leave the same day.  Do not be surprised by this but rather remain upbeat and follow your employer’s requests.

The 10 steps above are a great way to make sure that your departure is done gracefully and professionally.  As noted, the goal in leaving is to make sure that the last impression your employer has of you is a positive one.  You never know when you might need a reference, or assistance from former colleagues in the future.  So, use your final weeks at your job to thank your co-workers, leave no hard feelings, and keep the door open for future contacts.  Then, with a clear conscience, you can take the next step in your career!

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