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Leaving a Job Without Burning Bridges

As you grow your skills and seek out new challenges and opportunities for work, you may find yourself progressing from one employer to the next.

How you leave a job will be the last thing your employer remembers about you. And what your employer remembers about you can affect your career moving forward.

How you leave a job matters

Here’s why:

  • You’re not the only one who changes jobs from time to time. In the future, you may find yourself working with—or for—someone from the organization you just left.
  • You are more likely to get a positive job reference from your employer if you take a professional approach to resigning.
  • People within and across industries talk. You’re going to want them to have good things to say about you.

Creating a positive last impression is the savvy, professional way to leave a job.

Follow these guidelines:

1. Give proper notice of your intent to leave

No matter what your job is, your employer and co-workers are going to be affected by you leaving. Don’t leave them scrambling to try and backfill the job because you left abruptly. That’s unfair and unprofessional.

Notice of your resignation will give the company an opportunity to recruit someone to take your place. It’s a professional courtesy in some positions and a legal requirement in others.

How much notice you have to give usually depends on how long you’ve worked at the job:

  • If you have worked less than 3 months, no notice is needed.
  • If you have worked more than 3 months but less than 2 years, 1 weeks' notice is needed.
  • If you have worked 2 years or more, 2 weeks' notice is needed.

If you’re not sure how much notice to give, check:

Tell your supervisor first—and in person

Be sure to tell your supervisor that you’re going to be leaving before you tell your co-workers. You don’t have to explain your reasons in detail. But be prepared to say something about why you’re leaving because the question is likely going to come up. When you do tell, keep things positive and professional.

Telling your supervisor face-to-face about your decision to quit your job demonstrates respect. Being up front also shows that you’re confident in your decision to leave.

Submit a formal written letter of resignation

Your letter of resignation formalizes your intent to leave. It is a written document that puts all the information your employer requires in one place. By writing down the information you can avoid any misunderstandings.

Your letter of resignation should include the following:

  • The date
  • The name of the person you’re sending it to
  • The position you are resigning from
  • When your last day of work will be
  • A note of gratitude for the opportunity to have worked for the company.

Remember to:

  • Keep it professional. Stick to the facts. Avoid a detailed explanation of your reasons for leaving.
  • Keep it positive. It’s never a good idea to use a resignation letter as a way to vent frustration or point fingers. If you really didn’t enjoy working for the organization, your sweet revenge is your departure. Let it go.
  • Sign your letter. The signature makes it official.
  • Keep a copy. For your records.

Check out this sample letter of resignation to help you prepare your own.

2. Consider doing an exit interview

Your employer might ask you to participate in an exit interview before you leave the company. You are free to decline, but you’d be missing out on a great opportunity to confirm what a great employee you’ve been.

What it is and why you should care

An exit interview is an employer’s way of gathering employee feedback. They hope to hear about your experience as an employee. If they can understand what’s behind your decision to leave, they might be able to make changes so others stick around.

Your answers could help the company improve its operations and the employee experience. Though you won’t be around to get any direct credit, you will have made a good lasting impression, and that will serve you well into the future.

Exit interviews can have a huge impact—not only on the company, but also on your reputation.

If your experience with the job was truly awful and you doubt your ability to keep your composure in an exit interview, don’t agree to participate. Constructive feedback or bust.

If you agree to participate, here are some pointers to think about.

Plan ahead

Companies that conduct exit interviews are usually after a certain type of information. Search online for typical exit interview questions so you can get a feel for the types of questions you may be asked. If you can anticipate ahead of time the nature of questions you might be asked, you can prepare to answer them professionally.

Keep it positive

Your feedback should be professional at all times. Avoid blaming, naming, and complaining. Your employer will respect and appreciate objective honesty, but edit your thoughts. Emotion-charged language will destroy your credibility.

Stick to the facts

Exit interviews seek to learn about an employee’s first-hand experience on the job. Stay on topic and stick to your direct experience and opinions. Guessing what others think or feel has little value.

TIP: Throughout the exit interview, keep in mind that while your employer is asking your opinion about your job and the company, they are also taking note of what kind of person you are. The opinion you leave them with could either help you advance in your career or hurt you.

Throughout the exit interview, keep in mind that while your employer is asking your opinion about your job and the company, they are also taking note of what kind of person you are. The opinion you leave them with could either help you advance in your career or hinder you.

3. Tie up loose ends

How you handle yourself during your last few weeks on the job speaks to your character as an employee. This is not the time to mentally or physically check out. This is the time to make sure that the last impression your employer and co-workers have of you is solid, gold-star material.

Here’s how to finish up:

  • Prepare a work plan that includes details about projects you will complete before you leave, the status of any ongoing work, and any written instructions that might help the person who replaces you.
  • Offer to help train your replacement, if this is appropriate.
  • Clean and organize your workspace and tidy up your emails and electronic files and any important paperwork so it will be easy for others to find and work through.
  • On you final day, pack up any personal items and return any company property, such as company access cards, keys, or supplies.

4. Think carefully before you review your employer online

Online sites like Glassdoor provide the opportunity to anonymously post your opinions about your employer for all to see. These reviews can prove genuinely helpful to management and job seekers if kept professional. There’s that word again: professional.

Thinking you can’t be identified might tempt you to share your feelings with brutal honesty. But you’d best think again.

Anonymity is never guaranteed. Your emotionally charged comments may reveal your identity to management and co-workers. If those comments are slanderous or breech conditions of your employment contract (e.g. non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality), lawyers may track you down.

Before you post anything online, you might want to ask yourself:

  1. Why is it important to share?

If you’re simply venting your emotions, maybe don’t.

  1. Are my words going to help and not hurt?

If your feedback might either help improve the workplace or help job seekers gain meaningful insight into the company, then great. If your words can do harm, you might want to keep them to yourself.

  1. Would I put my name on it?

Think about whether or not you’d be OK with your name appearing alongside your review. If not, why not?

Going public comes with risk. Your online comments, including anything posted to social media, can prop up your reputation as a stellar human being and a valuable employee or destroy it. You may be gone from a job, but your online posts linger. Positive or negative, they won’t be forgotten.

Be professional when you leave a job

When you handle your resignation professionally and considerately, you increase your chances of leaving your job on good terms. This kind of positive approach will help ensure a smooth transition to the next step in your career.

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