Depart with dignity: How to leave a job the right way

I quit sign

How to get a job is always topical; advice on how to land your dream job abounds. But what about the other half of the equation? How can you ensure you leave a job without burning that proverbial bridge? Everyone talks about making the right first impression but what about making the right last impression?

Having spent the past 16 years in the recruitment industry, I’ve been privy to the circumstances surrounding hundreds of resignations. Most resignations are delivered well but many are not and it’s often due to completely avoidable gaffes. Whatever your reasons for leaving an organization, the importance of maintaining positive, professional relationships should not be overlooked. 

In a region as small as Atlantic Canada, chances are you will cross paths with your employer again. In fact, you might even end up working together again someday. Beyond this potential reality, there is the very practical concern of having positive references for the future. Most conscientious employees do their best to meet or exceed their employer’s expectations. However, the resulting goodwill earned throughout your employment can all be lost in an instant by resigning without the same care and consideration you used in accepting the job.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve witnessed is found in how people choose to communicate their resignation. Some of the worst examples include resignations over email or a phone call rather than sitting down, face-to-face, and explaining your decision in a respectful and professional manner. The better approach should be obvious, but people sometimes choose to take an easier route, which may seem more convenient and less stressful but lacks professionalism and integrity. The result is a black eye on what might be an otherwise unblemished employment history.

Another pitfall when resigning is either intentionally or unintentionally entering into a counteroffer situation. I believe these scenarios serve no one’s best interest and are to be avoided. Early in my career I made the mistake of telling my employer that I had been made another offer which I intended to accept. Being young and inexperienced, I found myself in a counteroffer dialogue I didn’t want to have in the first place. In the end, I still left but it was far more awkward than it needed to be. 

The preferred way to communicate your resignation is by informing your employer that an offer has been made and accepted rather than communicating your intention to resign. The difference may seem subtle but it is not. Sharing with your employer that you have already made the decision and acted on it establishes a dramatically different dynamic. Since your decision has been formalized with a signed offer, your current employer would need to ask you to go back on your word in order to convince you to stay. This is something no employer should ask of you and certainly something you should avoid, as it calls into question the integrity and character of both parties.

Providing an adequate notice period is also an important consideration. The standard two weeks is seen as a minimum notice period but often 3 or 4 weeks’ notice is warranted depending on your current workload and commitments. This period can seem like an eternity but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a fraction of time that can allow you to exit as positively as possible while leaving the absolute best impression with your employer and colleagues. 

During your working notice it’s critical for you, as the departing employee, to be as positive as possible. Now is not the time to air your grievances publicly. Feel free to offer honest feedback to your direct supervisors if they seek it but aim to be constructive in a way that won’t damage future rapport. The temptation might exist to share your enthusiasm about your new role, but in doing so you might convey excitement about leaving your current employer and this can have an adverse effect on morale. Excitement is only natural but it’s important to balance this with respect for the team you are leaving.

In addition to staying positive, it’s important for departing employees to remain as productive as possible. These final few weeks will, in many ways, dictate how you are remembered by your employer and colleagues for years to come. You have the opportunity to strengthen your reputation by ensuring you execute on as many deliverables as possible and leave your responsibilities in the best possible condition. It’s only human to mentally switch gears once the new employment arrangement has been secured. However, it’s important not to abandon your employer during your notice period – instead, remain focused on and committed to the job at hand. 

Finally, consider how you will say goodbye. Handwritten notes to your boss and everyone else who supported you while you were there is a very nice touch. I’ve received a few of these notes over the years and I can attest to the positive final impression they leave. 

It’s important to take the long view of your career. The journey is often unpredictable and may have more twists and turns than you anticipate. However, you determine your impact on others and you have a direct influence on how people perceive you. Your reputation (good or bad) will follow you. So, take care to leave a positive last impression.

Previously published by the Chronicle Herald, Thursday, April 14. 

Kevin Stoddart
Kevin Stoddart, MBA

With access to a deep network of some of the best and brightest candidates, Kevin has the knowledge and experience required to help clients evaluate their talent needs and identify hard-to-find candidates for difficult-to-fill roles.