HOW TO LEAVE YOUR CURRENT JOB WITHOUT BURNING BRIDGES!
Every few months, you’ll see an example in the news media of someone who left their job in a dramatic fashion. Remember the flight attendant who famously deployed the emergency chute on the runway?
These stories catch our attention because they showcase an over-the-top way to exit a company — but they are also cautionary tales for jobseekers. When at all possible, don’t burn bridges at your current employer. You never know when you’ll run across your co-workers — or current supervisors — in the future.
How embarrassing (and humbling) would it be if the last face you see as you stomp out of the office yelling "I quit!" is the same person you have to ask for a job two years down the road?
Take your time, think things through and make preparations to leave your current job gracefully.
Before You Start Your Job Search
Take the time to review your old files and make a list of your accomplishments in your current position. If you've been doing this all along, then give yourself a hand. Most people never think of it. This information will be helpful in developing your resume and during interviews. Make copies of documents that support your accomplishments (unless company policy prohibits it). You may not have access to this information once you submit your resignation — especially if you’re asked to leave immediately.
The first thing to consider when you’re ready to resign is whether your company has a policy or guideline about how much notice you should provide. Check your employee handbook and any employment agreement you have with the company. If you’ve worked at the company for a while, you should have some idea of how resignations are handled. Does your boss ask the resigning employee to leave immediately, or do they generally ask him or her to stay on until a replacement is found? How much time is it customary to offer to stay? You should always offer to stay two weeks, but have a contingency plan in place if you’re asked to leave immediately.
Before you notify your supervisor of your resignation, make sure you are prepared to leave. You don’t want to tip anyone off that you’re leaving — things like taking your photos off your desk or boxing up personal items on your bookshelf are noticeable — but you can quietly clean out your desk and files.
This includes cleaning off your work computer. If you have personal documents on your computer, save them to a jump drive, then delete the originals from your computer. You can forward any personal email messages you want to save to your non-work email address, and then delete the originals. (Be sure to delete messages in your “sent mail” folder too.)
If you have online accounts (e.g. LinkedIn) that use your business email address for the log-in, change the accounts over to your personal email. If you downloaded software to your computer that isn’t related to your job, be sure to uninstall it. And, finally, learn how to delete your computer’s browsing history, cookies, and saved passwords from your Internet browser.
When cleaning out your desk and files, shred or trash old files that won’t be needed by your successor.
If you bring home a few personal items at a time, it won’t be as noticeable. The goal is to be able to easily bring home all of your personal belongings in one or two boxes — and, to be able to leave your job without leaving behind any personal information.
Conducting a Job Search While You’re Employed
Research shows it’s easier to find a job when you have a job, but there are special considerations you must take into account when conducting a job search while you’re still employed.
In correspondence with prospective employers or recruiters, mention that you are conducting a “confidential” job search. You can use a phrase such as “I am contacting you in confidence about this position.” Know however, that prospective employers are under no obligation to respect your wishes. Also be careful when replying to blind advertisements (ones that do not provide a name for the prospective employer). More than one jobseeker has accidentally submitted a resume to his or her current employer this way.
Don’t conduct your job search on the company’s time — or dime. Relegate job-seeking activities to before and after work, on during your lunch hour. If necessary, take personal leave (not sick time) to go on interviews. Simply say you have an appointment. Don’t use your company computer (including accessing personal email accounts) for your job search.
Don’t take employment-related phone calls during work time (return calls during breaks or outside work). And don’t list your employer’s phone number or your business email address on your job search documents.
How you dress during your job search can also be tricky. If you work in a “casual” workplace, wearing “interview attire” to work can be a red flag that something is up. You may want to change into your more formal clothes before an interview (don’t change at work!) — or schedule job interviews on a day when you’re not working.
Providing job references can also be an issue. Even if you’ve told the prospective employer that your current employer doesn’t know you’re looking, you may still want to mention that you do not want the company to contact your current employer for a reference until they are ready to extend an offer, so as not to jeopardize your current position. In this situation, you may need to provide several references outside your company who can speak to your credentials and expertise.
Update or set up your LinkedIn profile sooner rather than later. If you wait until you need it to create a LinkedIn profile, you might tip off your supervisor (or co-workers) that you’re looking for a new position. But routinely updating an existing profile is not as suspicious. In either case, you can always tell anyone who asks that you’ve been made aware that LinkedIn can be a great tool for helping you build the company’s business and you decided that you’d better learn how to use it.
How — and When — to Tell Your Supervisor That You’re Leaving
There’s rarely an “easy” way to let your current boss know that you’re leaving the company. This is especially true if you have been with the company a long time, or if you have a strong relationship with your supervisor.
If you’ve had discussions with your supervisor in previous performance evaluations about your desire to move up, but these opportunities don’t exist within the company, your departure may not be a surprise. If your company was recently sold or acquired — or if your department has had a lot of recent turnover — the fact that you’re leaving may not be unexpected. But if you are a key player, your resignation will be a surprise, and may even cause big problems for the company.
The simplest guideline is to let your current supervisor know as soon as you can. For most jobseekers, that means as soon as you’ve landed a new position (including getting the particulars of the new position in writing, if possible).
Should You Write a Resignation Letter?
Is a letter of resignation necessary? It depends. Many jobseekers simply tell their bosses verbally that they are leaving — but there are a couple of advantages to actually writing a resignation letter. First, it can help start the conversation about your leaving the company. You simply give it to your boss and say, “I’ve prepared this letter of resignation to let you know I’ve accepted another job.” Second, it can help you leave the job on the right foot — without burning bridges, and keeping the door open for future opportunities, should they arise.
What to write in a Letter of Resignation
Letters of resignation should be positive in tone. This is not the time to air your grievances. Your resignation letter will likely become a part of your permanent file, so choose your words carefully. If at all possible, hand-deliver (don’t email) your letter of resignation.
In the future, the person verifying your employment with the company might not know you and will be reviewing your file “blind.” You want him/her to have a good impression of you so they can pass that on to anyone who asks.
A strong recommendation is also important, so you want to recap your biggest contributions in the resignation letter to have that information in your file. Just don’t go overboard; this is about you leaving the company, not angling for a raise or a promotion.
What to include in your letter of resignation:
The date you are leaving (if at all possible, give at least two weeks’ notice).
A thank you for the opportunities you had and the relationships you enjoyed with your team.
A forwarding address for snail mail and an email address where you can be reached.
A sample resignation letter might look like this:
Dear (Supervisor Name):
This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from my position as (job title) with (company name), effective (date). I plan to stay on for two weeks — until (date) — in order to provide a seamless transition for my replacement.
I have appreciated the opportunity to learn from you and contribute to the company in this role. Being part of the team that launched the (name of project) which led to the division achieving its highest revenues ever is something that I will always remember.
One of the most difficult things about moving on is the loss of your guidance. I have benefited greatly from your leadership and mentoring, and would welcome the opportunity to keep in touch in the future, as I sincerely value your knowledge and experience.
We will need to work out my final work schedule as well as disposition of my accrued vacation/leave time and employee benefits; I will await your guidance on handling these issues.
Personal correspondence can be sent to me at my home address (list address), or via email at (personal e-mail address).
I wish you — and the company — all the best.
“A conscientious employee should be a team player until the last day. For example, your exit can create a career opportunity for a deserving co-worker as well as assure your boss you do not mean to leave them short-handed. Recommend a trusted co-worker take over your position, perhaps with a promotion or a raise. Give the boss a copy of the coworker’s résumé and mention that you already trained them to fill in for you during travel or other absences to prevent work stoppage. An additional benefit of this magnanimous approach is that you will most certainly receive a great departing reference. Preliminary work includes preparing your colleague for your eventual departure by sharing your standard operating procedures and any client lists with them.” - Roleta Fowler Vasquez, CPRW, CEIP
Making a Successful Transition
Don’t neglect the details when making a job transition. Even when you initiate your departure, there will be paperwork and other steps to complete. This can include:
An exit interview. Many companies conduct a brief interview with departing employees to see if they can identify areas of improvement to help them retain more employees. NOTE: This is NOT the time to air your grievances, no matter what HR says. Doing so can ruin your chances of landing or keeping a new job if someone with an ax to grind decides to call your new employer or give you a terrible reference based on your exit interview. If you agree to the interview, be calm and polite, reiterate how much you enjoyed working with your boss/team and how much you learned. Make it clear that leaving is more about you than the company.
Health insurance benefits. You may need to take advantage of COBRA coverage to extend your health insurance benefits until you start your new position. Make sure you have this information from your company’s HR representative.
401(k) or pension rollover, or stock sellback. If you have participated in the company’s retirement program or stock purchase program, you may need to take action to secure these investments once you leave the company.
Don’t tell your boss — or your coworkers — that you are even thinking of looking for a new position. If you can’t afford to be unemployed for any length of time, don’t give your employer a reason to let you go before you’ve had a chance to find a new position. Sometimes, even the idea that you’re looking for a new job is enough for you to jeopardize your current position. For example, your boss might not assign you to a new project because “you’re not going to be here long enough to see it through anyway.”
Don’t tell your coworkers you’re leaving before you inform your boss. Even if you have a friend or confidant in the office, don’t let him or her know you are interviewing for another position, or that you’ve landed a new role. You need to tell your boss first.
Don’t share — or dwell on — your reasons for seeking a new position. Don’t try to justify why you are leaving. If you are leaving to escape a toxic work environment, there’s nothing to be gained by pointing that out. It’s fine to say that you are leaving to explore new opportunities.
Make a good impression all the way to the end. Remember, the last things people remember about you are your last days on the job, not your first.
What should you be doing in your last few days and weeks on the job? Whatever your boss wants you to! Have a conversation with your supervisor. What does he or she want you to work on? Will you be training your replacement? Are there any major projects to complete? Can you document processes and procedures in enough detail that someone else could complete the tasks?
Ask your supervisor for a reference — either a letter or a LinkedIn Recommendation. You can also ask what information will be provided in the future when someone contacts the company for information to verify your employment, or for a reference. Some companies have a policy that they only provide dates of employment, and that all reference checks must go through the Human Resources department — so your supervisor may not be able to provide a reference.
Don’t neglect your colleagues. Although the formal resignation letter is for your immediate supervisor, consider writing separate notes to co-workers to let them know you appreciated working with them. Take steps to keep your connections with your current (soon-to-be former) colleagues. Collect personal contact information for valued contacts and assure them their professional calls and inquiries will be welcome in the future. Connect with them on LinkedIn — you can further solidify your connection with them by providing a Recommendation for them on their LinkedIn profile.
What If They Want You to Stay?
Be prepared for a counteroffer from your current employer. When your employer finds out you are leaving, you may be tempted with an offer to stay. However, most research — and anecdotal evidence — on this subject finds that employees who accept a counteroffer often end up leaving the company anyway, often within a year.
In many cases, your current employer may make a counteroffer out of panic. If you are instrumental to a current project, for example, your supervisor may be desperate to keep you until the project is complete. Once that happens, however, you may find yourself expendable. Also, employees who accept another job offer — even if they ultimately end up staying in their current position — may be perceived as “disloyal.”
You were seeking a new position for a reason. If your motivation was purely financial, you may receive a counteroffer that meets that need, but it may create dissatisfaction with your co-workers if they learn you stayed with the company and received a raise. If you were seeking a new job for other reasons, staying at the company may not resolve those issues.
If you do accept a counteroffer and decide to stay with your current company, make sure you have an open and honest dialogue with your supervisor about any changes that need to be made. Again, look to your reasons for seeking a new position in the first place. Can these be addressed? For example, taking on different assignments, or making changes to the structure of the position (i.e., different hours) can be critical changes. Simply staying in exchange for more money won’t make you any more successful in the same position — which will likely lead to your eventual departure from the company anyway.
The Door Is Always Open
If you handle your departure from the company with grace and tact, you may find the door is open for you to return to the company in the future. New positions don’t always work out, and mergers and acquisitions (especially in smaller industries) are a possibility. You may find yourself working for the same supervisor — or company — in the future.
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