Are you considering quitting your job? Is it a fleeting thought that creeps in on Tuesday mornings when your to-do list seems impossible and the weekend is an eternity away? Or is the thought of giving your resignation a constant, all-consuming distraction? If it's the former, we get it, but your early week frustrations shouldn’t prompt you to actually quit. Those pangs will follow you to any other job you choose. But if you no longer find joy in any aspect of your job, then it’s time to develop an exit strategy.
Whether you’re leaving your job because of a problem (e.g., you don’t see a growth plan for yourself) or because you’re not challenged by the job anymore and it’s simply time to move on, you should always leave on a high note. Even if you have a deep yearning to hand it to your boss à la Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary, resist the urge. This world is too small and too digitally connected for you to burn bridges. Quitting your job may be one way to improve your career, but damaging your reputation with a sour exit can be the ultimate act of self-sabotage. In order to quit your job gracefully and preserve your reputation and business relationships in the long term, practice the art of leaving on good terms. Careful planning and a commitment to taking the high road will leave a strong final impression on your colleagues and make it easy to work with former co-workers in the future.
If you’ve decided that you are definitely ready to quit, take a moment to make sure your life is in order. If you’re leaving because of another job opportunity, don’t take the leap until your new employment papers are signed, your benefits are secured, and your start date is set. If you’re leaving without a new job lined up or are taking a risk and starting your own business, make sure that you’re financially stable for at least the next six months. You want to know exactly how much money you have saved, know what your burn rate will be going forward, and always have a rainy-day fund in case something unexpected and costly happens while you are a free agent. Also, make sure you have updated all of your contacts and saved performance reviews and/or your most important work on your personal computer so that you have performance data to show future employers. Putting yourself in a strong financial position and making sure your network is up to date will keep you from feeling resentful of your company in the future or regretful of your decision to leave.
In fact, you should always quit from a position of strength. Don’t abruptly give your two weeks’ notice when you’re at rock bottom. Wade through the storm, and wait until you have a moment to settle your emotions and present yourself as a confident professional. You never know how your manager will respond to your resignation. Some employers are kind and accepting and will treat you with the utmost respect and pleasantness during your final two weeks. Some employers may expect you to stay for two weeks but give you the cold shoulder. You may be disinvited to meetings, office events, or other job perks. Others may ask you to leave immediately, for security reasons. You should be ready for all of these potential outcomes before you request a meeting with your immediate supervisor. If you work remotely and can’t schedule a face-to-face meeting, request a phone call.
Go into that meeting with a clear reason for why you’re leaving the company, and bring your resignation letter. If you have to quit over the phone, follow up the conversation with a brief email and your resignation letter attached. Think of your resignation letter like a thank-you note. It should be short, convey how grateful you are for the opportunity to work at your soon-to-be former company, mention how much you learned from your immediate boss, and include the date of the last day at your job.
In your meeting, you should deliver your story: the reason you’re quitting and what led you to that decision. For example, “I’ve learned so much here, but I have been given a wonderful opportunity at X company that is too good to turn down. I hope we can keep in touch and possibly work together in the future” is a positive way to tell your boss that you’re leaving. The key to the resignation story is positivity. Never be negative when quitting. Also, know how you would react to a counteroffer before your deliver your resignation.
Make sure that you are consistent with your story to all colleagues as well. Office gossip has a way of spreading like wildfire, and if you’ve told different co-workers different reasons for your departure, the most negative, exaggerated story is sure to reach your boss’s ears—and cloud their judgment if you ask for a letter of recommendation in the future.
Once you’ve given your notice, work harder than ever. This is not the time to slack off. Last impressions are the strongest, and you want your colleagues and manager to remember you as an excellent employee—not a slacker.
“Departing employees often reason that they’ll never use a previous employer as a reference, but tales of last-day behavior spread via ‘backdoor references,’” David Lewis, president of OperationsInc, a human-resources consulting firm, tells The Wall Street Journal. “If [prospective employers] hear ‘he’s kind of a good guy but he handled his exit extremely poorly, they’re going to think twice.’”
Use your final days on the job to tie up as many projects as you can. Work with your immediate manager to plan an off-boarding strategy for your workload. To make the transition as easy on your team as possible, write out a detailed set of instructions for whoever may be filling your role after you. If your next job allows, offer to be available for questions during the first few weeks of your replacement’s trial run.
Your exit interview is usually scheduled for your last day at the office. While these interviews are technically confidential between you and the HR person interviewing you, senior managers have a way of finding out what you said—especially if it’s very negative. Be honest in your interview, but don’t use it as a venting session. Save your long list of complaints for your friends once you’ve left the office. It’s also becoming more and more common for millennials to return to companies that they’ve worked for in the past. Before rehiring someone, companies often look at these exit interviews for red flags. Make sure you keep your reputation clean and explain your reasons for leaving as constructive criticism, not blame.
Finally, make sure you thank everyone you’ve enjoyed working with at the company either in person, via email, or with a handwritten thank-you note. Delivering a note to the head of your company is always a strong way to leave. It shows that you value the opportunity you’ve had, you’re confident enough not to just disappear, and you have great office etiquette. On your last day, leave with a smile on your face and good wishes for the future.
Leave a positive lasting impression with one of our favorite thank-you notecards below.
This story was originally published on May 9, 2016, and has since been updated.