Resignation 101: The Dos and Don’ts of Quitting Your Job

Feb 24, 2014 -

The author of this post, Alexandra Levit, has generously offered to give away a copy of her book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World. Leave a comment to enter, and we’ll choose a winner by March 1!

After the stressful process of looking for a new job while you’re still employed, you finally got an offer. At last, you’re free! You probably can’t wait to share your good fortune with the world and tell your boss where she can shove that evil assignment she gave you last week.

You might think that because you’re leaving, you don’t have to worry what people think of you anymore. This is not the case. Unless you want to erase everything you’ve accomplished since your first day on the job, your departure must be as strategic and deliberate as your arrival. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

Don’t jump the gun

This starts with your resignation. Under no circumstances should you let on that you’re leaving before you have a signed agreement and official start date from your new employer.

If you blab to everyone and your job offer falls through, your best-case scenario is that you’ve got egg on your face. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that your boss is insulted enough to fire you.

Follow these drama-free departure musts

Here are some other suggestions to make a smooth exit:

  • Tell your supervisor first. You want your boss to hear the news from you, not from someone else in your department.
  • Give two weeks’ notice. Stay for the entire two weeks, unless your company requests that you leave sooner.
  • Be modest. Don’t alienate your colleagues by bragging or chattering incessantly about your awesome new gig.
  • Don’t insult anything or anyone. Whether it’s true or not, make a point to show your regret at leaving such wonderful people behind.
  • Stay on top of your responsibilities. Remember you’re accountable for your work until 5 p.m. on your last day.
  • Continue to adhere to office protocol. You worked hard for that professional persona, so leave them with the right impression.
  • Review your employee handbook. Understand what benefits and compensation for unused sick or vacation days you’re entitled to.
  • Organize your files. Make it easy for your colleagues to find materials so they can more easily transition your work and won’t need to call you at your new job.
  • Train your replacement well. Your organization paid your salary for as long as you worked there, and you owe it to them to leave your job in good hands.
  • Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. This includes office supplies and any work product you did not personally develop.

Beware of the exit interview

Many companies request that departing employees do exit interviews with HR. The person conducting the interview, who probably doesn’t know you from a hole in the wall, will usually expect you to divulge why you’re leaving and how you feel about your experience with the company.

When it comes to exit interviews, stick to official business as much as possible, provide constructive criticism and proceed with tact and caution.

Although it may be tempting to use the meeting to spill your guts about the company’s difficult personalities and insufferable policies, hold your tongue. Airing your grievances won’t do you a drop of good. The risk of offending people and burning bridges is too great.

Resist the urge to “burn, baby, burn!”

Your most important move when you leave your job is to fireproof your bridges. It’s a smaller world than you think. You never know when might need these people again (or they might need you).

And who knows? Maybe you won’t even like your new job and will want to come back someday. At the very least, you want to be able to count on one person in the organization to serve as a reference for you in the future.

During your last few weeks, do everything you can to leave behind a squeaky clean reputation. Be conscientious and thorough as you’re wrapping up or transitioning projects. Even if you’re leaving because you can’t stand your department, act like a team player and keep your negativity to a minimum.

If your colleagues take you out for lunch or throw you a going away party, congratulate yourself. It means you’ve handled your departure in exactly the right way.

Alexandra Levit is the author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World (new 10th anniversary edition out February 2014). Her goal is to help people succeed in meaningful jobs and to build relationships between organizations and top talent.