At some point in your career, you’ll likely quit your job a time or two. Knowing how to leave your job on good terms will be important when these moments arise.
Even though quitting happens all the time and it’s a necessary part of the process for career growth, it’s easy to ruffle some feathers during the resignation process and burn bridges if handled carelessly. It’s important to make an effort to preserve a healthy relationship with your employer, manager, and colleagues upon this often-uncomfortable transition.
Who hasn’t fantasized about walking into the boss’s office to say, “I quit!” and then marching straight out the door? The rational side of you knows that that’s the wrong way to resign from a job, of course. Putting in your notice before you get to the point of feeling this way will benefit you and your employer in the long run. Instead, during the process of leaving a job, it’ll be helpful for you to know who to tell first, how much notice you should give, and how honest you should be about your reason for leaving.
How you begin and how you end your job are the most important parts of any professional relationship. People often spend a lot of time preparing for and strategizing about their first impressions, but don’t give much thought to their last ones. Quitting for any reason—whether it’s because you’re deeply unhappy or you’re embarking on a new opportunity —requires sensitivity and planning.
Here’s how to handle it:
Give ample notice.
Once you know you’re leaving, set a meeting with your boss to put in your official notice with a resignation letter. Regardless of how you may feel, do your best to give a minimum of two weeks notice—it is common job exit etiquette. The idea here underscores the importance of Dale Carnegie’s 17th Human Relations principle, “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” Anything less than two weeks could leave your former employer scrambling to find a replacement and frustrate them immediately.
Should your employer request that you leave sooner, accept this respectfully and enjoy the time you have off before your next endeavor begins.
Make the transition as seamless as possible.
Regardless of your reasons for quitting, you have one final responsibility to your company, and that is to create an orderly and positive transition as possible. Begin by making sure all of your responsibilities and loose ends are tied up and have your files organized. Collaborate with your boss about what they may need from you during your remaining weeks and go above and beyond to meet those needs if necessary. After you leave, you want your boss to reflect and feel nothing but positive about your professionalism.
Request an exit interview.
Apply Dale Carnegie’s 22nd principle, “Begin with praise and honest appreciation,” by thanking the interviewer for their time. The exit interview is not the time to give all the feedback you wished you had given while you were a full-time employee, but providing constructive criticism is sometimes warranted. Do not insult any person, process, or thing.
Keep it positive or neutral as you give feedback on your experience.
For example, instead of saying, “My sales goals were always so ridiculous; there’s no way I ever could’ve reached them to earn my annual bonus,” you could say, “One of the greatest challenges for me was hitting my sales targets. I felt that they could only be attained with additional training or resources to support my bigger accounts. Due to budgetary restrictions, those options weren’t viable.” This sends a similar message but is painted in a positive light and demonstrates your consideration, effort, and proactive nature. Avoid venting and emotional conversations.
If you liked your job and had a good relationship with your boss but got a better offer, feel free to talk about it, but don’t feel obliged. Typically, transparency is always best.
Continue to work hard.
When someone exits a company, colleagues typically bear the brunt of taking on the departing employee’s previous work. It’s easy to let responsibilities for your current role slip during the time leading up to your departure. However, going above and beyond your typical duties will lessen the impact of your leaving on your colleagues. For example, you may be asked to document some things from a knowledge-sharing perspective. It’s critical to complete any such tasks because you’ve worked so hard to develop your positive professional impression. Doing the right thing will help protect your reputation over your entire career.
It’s not only an ethical step to take, but it could also benefit you later in your career. You never know where your career will take you, so fireproof the bridge with your current employer instead of burning it. Someday you may find yourself on their doorstep again.
Leave on good terms and be transparent.
While you’re under no legal or moral obligation to reveal your next career move, it’s worthwhile to take the “long view” and be transparent about your future work plans. In today’s hyper-connected world, your former employer and employees are going to know all about your new role and company as soon as you update your LinkedIn profile. When you’re honest and straightforward about your plans, you own the narrative. The more transparent you are, the more likely you are to preserve and build on the relationships you already have. Former coworkers are a crucial part of your network, and you want to keep those relationships intact.
Show gratitude, and avoid speaking negatively of your former employer and colleagues once you leave.
There are no secrets and no off-the-record conversations in the workplace. Even if you’re ecstatic to be leaving your job, you need to adopt an appreciative mindset about the position and the people you’re leaving behind.
Even in the worst situations, there are parts that you have enjoyed and colleagues you’ve liked working alongside. Be grateful and appreciative for the things that went well. Modest farewell gifts or thoughtful notes to your direct supervisor, mentors, and people you worked with leave a good impression.
Not speaking negatively to new colleagues and a new employer will give the impression that you are respectful and the kind of co-worker and employee they would like to have, and you will give them the confidence that if you one day depart their company, you won’t speak negatively of them.
Taking the time to think thoughtfully about how to handle your departure from a job and implementing these tips will help you grow in your career. This part of the job is just as important as the beginning, so handle it appropriately!