How to Leave Your Job on Good Terms

I’ve already talked about our high retention rate at Viget.  However, people do occasionally move on for all kinds to reasons: 1) to scratch an itch and try something new; 2) to move to sunnier climes; 3) to join a startup; 4) to work with a specific brand; or, 5) something else.

Over the years, people have asked about “the proper” way to resign when they give their notice. Because one never wants to burn bridges when leaving a workplace, the following actions are what I consider “good form” when making a professional exit.

  • Give your notice face-to-face, if at all possible. Whether you have your resignation talk with your manager or the CEO, the occasion warrants the courtesy of an in-person discussion. If you’re a remote worker or work remotely from your manager, then set up a Google Hangout appointment on the person’s calendar so you can see one another on camera.
  • Put it in writing.  Lots of people need to know about your resignation for all kinds of reasons -- and word-of-mouth and fuzzy details about your last day just won’t do.  Prepare a formal resignation letter in advance of the above meeting and present it during your discussion. HR needs to know to be able to prepare your exit paperwork, benefits information (you likely have COBRA rights to continued medical coverage), and final paycheck. Your office administrator needs to know to be able to clear/reassign your desk, perhaps plan a happy hour, collect your building keys and parking pass, and be helpful with general transition questions. Your project managers need to plan for transition of your work to teammates; give a heads-up to your client(s), especially if deadlines will be impacted; and ensure that key information is documented somewhere before you leave (e.g., location of files on the server, the status of draft deliverables). Your systems administrator needs to know to be able to shut down various accounts. One letter addressed to your manager will generally take care of all of this -- your manager will pass along the information to those who need to know. Include the following in your letter:
    • The date you’re presenting the letter (at the top).
    • Your last day of work (two full weeks is the minimum notice for most employees; three-four full weeks is appreciated if you supervise others).
    • Some acknowledgement that you appreciate your time at the company and that you are leaving having learned something (a skill, a realization about yourself, a deeper knowledge of your industry … anything) while you’ve been onboard. This is the time to be gracious.
    • Your signature.

A few notes here:

  1. Your employer may ask you to leave immediately. Some employers do. You should already know if you work someplace with this kind of policy. If you work onsite for a Government contractor, for example, and have a security clearance, you very likely fall into this category. Regardless, be mentally prepared for this potential scenario and understand that it’s not personal.  
  2. Your employer may ask you to adjust your final work date, backwards or forwards. Be flexible if you can -- it will be appreciated and remembered as a classy move on your part. Simply neatly draw a line through that part of your resignation letter and carefully print the new date and initial it.
  3. Refrain from the temptation to “go out in a blaze of glory” by documenting all your grievances in your resignation letter (which will become part of your “permanent employment file”). You’ve decided to move on. Let it go and take the high road in your resignation letter. You will likely have an opportunity during a formal “exit interview” to share suggestions for improvement and relay feedback before you leave. (Here at Viget, we typically conduct three types of exit interviews with departing employees: one with one’s manager, one with our People Director, and one with our benefits administrator.)
  • Be productive in your last days. Your teammates’ workloads will inevitably increase when you leave: they will likely be inheriting your work in addition to managing their own workload. They will also be spending time interviewing and then training your replacement. Make sure you leave a decipherable record of what’s on your plate, where it exists, and what needs to happen to wrap it up.
  • Respect the company’s wishes relative to whom/how you communicate your departure. The company’s clients, especially, should be handled very carefully. It is in your best interest to facilitate a smooth transition if you have interaction with clients. The company will most likely want to firm up its transition plan first, so they can introduce your interim or permanent replacement when they relay the news of your departure.
  • Be kind to those you leave behind. This is no time to gloat about that company car, onsite daycare, big raise, or unlimited vacation. Good for you; but, talking glowingly about your new workplace while still at your current workplace is tactless. Save those comments for your close family and friends outside of work (that is, if you must make them at all). Make a point to personally thank anyone who’s mentored you or helped you in your career growth. 
  • No poaching staff or clients. They will find you if they are interested in working with you, don’t worry. Update your LinkedIn profile so you can be contacted easily. But, to solicit either employees or clients is unethical, in poor form, and a breach of your non-compete agreement or employment contract (I bet you’ve signed something along these lines).

The above actions will help you leave on a positive note, ensuring that your professional connections retain a strong impression of working with you. You may run into your co-workers again someday -- in networking circles, at future workplaces, in future client scenarios -- and, you will want your last impression to be a positive, lasting impression.

Cindy helped start Viget and now serves as our Vice President of Operations. She remains fascinated and challenged by an industry that never stops evolving.

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