Archive: The Right Way To Resign – Most viewed Career Opportunities column

This column (Actually originally a series of 5 columns) ranks as the most viewed column of any I have written in 14 years of the Career Opportunities column. I present it here to share it with those who might not have seen it in the archives. — Douglas

Career Opportunities podcast logoThe Right Way to Resign

November 1998

Most times we are so busy looking for a new job that we put no thought towards leaving our current one. Often, how you leave a job can be just as important as how you get one. This month I will talk about a few ways to make sure that you don?t burn bridges that you may need later in your career.

Worst case scenario

Most everyone has a job horror story where the only thought was getting out of the company as quickly as possible. While companies like this do exist it is far more common to leave a job on good terms. This is especially true today when most people change jobs every 2-3 years and most understand of the need for “moving out to move up.”

Even in the worse case, you can ensure that your resignation goes as smoothly as possible by following a few simple rules. The first of these is to be professional, regardless of the situation. If a company has already shown itself to be less than ideal you will be wise to not add any fuel to the fire.

Fight no battles

Too often we are determined to settle old scores when we finally have found a new job and are ready to resign. We make a point of telling everyone exactly what we think of them. We let people know how right we were and how wrong they were. Sometimes it seems we want to do as much damage as possible before we leave. In truth, we do more damage to ourselves than the companies we are leaving.

Engaging in petty reprisals only makes your departure more difficult. You do not want to give the company any reason to hassle you more than they already have. They might hold up your final paycheck, dispute your unused vacation or take a hundred other tiny power trips.

You will find that it is best to let the sins of the past be forgotten, release your anger towards them and move on. It is not worth the energy to fight battles that you cannot win, even if you tell off everyone in the company. Direct that energy towards your new job.

Ducks in a row

The first step to a professional resignation is a formal resignation letter. This should be printed on company letterhead, if available, and include a number of including the date of notification, the final day of work, and mention of any outstanding salary, unused vacation pay or expense reimbursements. This letter should be delivered, by hand if possible, to your immediate supervisor. Don?t leave it in a mailbox or on your boss?s desk. If this means you have to hunt down your boss, do it.

Above all, DO NOT SEND IT VIA EMAIL. While email is fine for most business communications, resignation letters are too important to be sent in that fashion. In the worst case, your boss could deny they ever received the resignation.

Next week: Two weeks or nothing

The most important aspect of any resignation is professionalism. Being professional will ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. Even in the worst case, you owe it to yourself, if not the company you are leaving.

Two Weeks

Your resignation letter (see last week?s column) should always offer 2 weeks notice, regardless of how the company has treated you in the past or how soon your new job wants you to report. Two weeks is common courtesy and nothing will start an argument faster than ignoring this fact.

This is not to say that you will not be asked to leave immediately. In fact, if you have had a contentious relationship with your boss, this will most often be the result. Your boss may even feel betrayed by your resignation and not want you around the office for another two weeks.

Before you actually hand in your resignation, make sure you have removed all personal property from your office and your hard drive, as discretely as possible. This insures an easy exit, should it be necessary. Be very careful not to take company property, even by accident. You may have to do some research about the status of such items as rolodexes and paper files. While you don?t want any squabble over your personal property, you don?t want to be accused of trying to steal company property either. It is a fine line to walk but definitely an important one.

Conversely, do not let yourself be pressured by your new company to give less than 2 weeks notice. They would expect nothing less from their employees and they shouldn?t expect less from you. You might be able to report to your new position earlier but don?t make that assumption.

In fact, I highly recommend that you take a short vacation between jobs. You will need some time to relax and recharge your batteries before facing the challenges of a new job. This will also give you a chance to check out any new commute routes, the neighborhood around your new office and the location of the coffee bar with the best Caffe Mocha.

Staying Connected

Just in case you are escorted out the door as soon as you hand in your resignation letter, it is important to have laid the groundwork. If there are co-workers you feel you can confide in, ask them to prepare letters of recommendation for you. In reality, you should have asked for these letters long ago, (See Getting some recognition?, June 1998, but it is imperative you get them now.

Make sure you have address, phone and email information for everyone you may want to contact in the future. You can never be sure who might be able to help you in your new job or the one after that. Staying in contact with your past co-workers helps to build you network and could even by the source of a new job in the future.

Next Week: More ways to avoid trouble before it happens.

Over the past few weeks I have give some advice on resigning from a job. Depending on the company, your resignation may go smoothly or it may have a few rough spots. Regardless, you should pay close attention to every step in the process in order to avoid any unwanted consequences. 

Keep the doors open

Almost everyone has moved to a new job only to have it self-destruct before you even get started. It has happened to me and it has happened to friends. Sometimes, everything is not as rosy at a company as you might first believe. Perhaps the job isn?t what you were told. Perhaps the job, or the company, disappears due to financial problems.

Whatever the case, nothing will reduce your stress level more than knowing there is still a place for you at your old company. Keep the door open, if you can. At the very least, maintain contact with those fellow employees who can help you locate other job openings in the future

Taking a “Hands-off” approach

In many technical positions we are privy to a wide variety of sensitive information. This can include everything from supervisor passwords to file servers, ID?s to access high security areas and human resources information on everyone in the company. One of the first things to do when you resign is distance yourself from any sensitive information or locations. This is especially true if you are having problems with your current employer. In some extreme cases, employers have created problems and tried to blame them on the employee. This is an extreme case but it has happened.

Even if your resignation is taken well, you want to insure that there is no way you can be blamed for mishaps that might take place during your last two weeks. If your resignation is contentious you will want to protect yourself from any action, up to and including, litigation. While some of you might consider this an over-reaction, you only need to read the newspapers to see just how nasty the work environment can become.

Distancing Yourself

First, set up a plan that reduces your job duties during your final two weeks. In a personal case, I had myself assigned to the help desk for my final two weeks. In this way, I could still be productive but I had limited access and limited contact with the computer users.

Next, have your supervisor disable or change any passwords that grant you high-level access to network servers or other equipment. While this might not always be possible, it is one more way to distance yourself from blame in case anything should go wrong. `This also has the additional result of showing your fellow staffers exactly what you were taking care of and what duties will have to be taken on by others.

Next week: Walking out the door

Now that you have found your new job, tendered your resignation letter and started your last two weeks there are a few final items to wrap up. These weeks will determine how you will be remembered to your co-workers and especially you bosses. You want to leave with the best impression possible.

Pass it on

Your final two weeks are also a good time to pass on any specialized knowledge you developed in your time with the company. As technical people, we often develop detailed knowledge of specific systems and this should be communicated to other staffers. Passing on this knowledge can help you stay in contact with former co-workers and keeps the doors open, as mentioned above. It can also help to leave your employer with a good opinion of your work.

In some cases, you might have to write up your information since other staffers could be too busy to learn it before you leave. You might even want to make a semi-formal presentation of this information to your supervisor. It is in your best interest to communicate this information, even if others are not receptive. It is more important for you to show initiative.

Keeping your mouth shut

Despite the fact that you may be feeling very happy, even elated, about your new job, it is best to contain your excitement in front of all but your most trusted co-workers. Although it may seem obvious, don?t make disparaging comparisons between your old job and your new one. You may be accused of stirring up trouble and in the worst case, of trying to recruit co-workers for your new company. This may seem like an extreme position but some co-workers may feel jealous of your new job and supervisors may feel you are undermining their authority somehow. The reality matters little compared to how these people perceive your departure.

Are you sure?

Sometimes, the reality of your imminent departure will cause a change of heart in your supervisor. They might even make a counter offer or sweeten a deal previously offered. This can often be the most confusing and frustrating time. You have already made plans to leave. Your ducks are all in a row. Still, it is important to consider any offer with a clear and unemotional head even though your heart may be leading you in another direction.

If you receive a late offer like this there are a few things to consider. What exactly is missing in your current position? Does the new offer meet or surpass your desires? Do you have better opportunities for growth in the new position?

Whatever you do, don?t let yourself be pressured by any time constraints. Consider every item carefully. Also, consider that you have given your promise to a new employer and backing out on that promise could harm you both financially and in your career. Make your decision carefully but make it distinctly.

It is important to remember that the best way to start a new job is by leaving the last one with a clean, clear slate.

This entry was posted in Education, Special. Bookmark the permalink.