by Sarah K. White

4 tips to help you resign without burning bridges

Dec 15, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Skills

Leaving an executive position will require more than just two-weeks' notice. The process can take months. But these four tips will help you resign without burning any bridges.

No matter where you rank on the totem pole in your company, it’s important to resign from your job gracefully. However, for executives, the resignation process looks slightly different. There is a lot to consider before leaving an executive position and going about it the wrong way can quickly become career-damaging down the road.

“The tech industry may be large but it’s also a community, so as difficult as this sounds, you need to try and make this a win-win for both you and the organization you’re leaving. The number 1 rule is, don’t burn any bridges when you leave and resign in a constructive way,” says Ian Cluroe, director of Global Brand at Alexander Mann Solutions, where he works with organizations to help attract, engage and retain top talent.

When a new offer springs up, it can be tempting to leave as soon as possible to start on a new path, but it won’t be that easy. Even if you are leaving because of a toxic work environment or unhappy working relationships, the last thing you want to do is burn any bridges on your way out.

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Forget two week’s notice

Typical advice for employees is to give your employer at least two weeks’ notice when you’ve accepted a new opportunity. But executives play by a different rule — you need to give anywhere from one to six months’ notice, depending on how involved the transition will be.

You’re going to need a lot more than two weeks to get everything ready to hand over to your replacement, not to mention, the company will need more than two weeks to find your replacement. Cluroe says you also need to be prepared to help with the transition once they do find the right candidate. In fact, it should be one of the things you bring up when you broach the subject of resigning with your colleagues.

“Document all the major projects you were working on, their status and what needs to be done to bring them to a successful completion. Maybe even suggest who on the team is a good candidate to take over the team. If it’s possible, offer to stay on a little longer to help smooth the transition and maybe even help to onboard your successor,” he says.

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Never leave in the middle of a project

Greg Cruikshank, CEO of LabRoots, a scientific networking site for industry professionals, learned a few things eight years ago when he left his role as vice president at another company. His biggest advice for executives looking to resign is that, if you’re overseeing large, long-term projects, it’s not fair to leave everyone in the lurch three months into a nine-month project. And he says that executives have no excuse to leave in the middle of a new initiative because they have plenty of insight into long-term projects.

However, finishing projects with the company before you move into your new role doesn’t mean you are done with your former employer just yet. Even if you create a detailed transition plan, it’s likely that questions and concerns will still pop up in the few months after you’re gone. Therefore, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with your old employer and successor in case something should occur.

“That will go a long way supporting your reputation as a good person, keeps that bridge strong and sturdy as you never know if you will need your back scratched one day. Give that advice and assistance when you can. It’s good karma and there is really no harm in helping out your old employer who has supported you for a number of years,” says Cruikshank.

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Remember eyes are on you

Executives are often the face of company, so your resignation might kick up a flurry of industry speculation. “Resigning at the executive level may be a career decision, but the world will always assume it was about politics,” says Mario Almonte, president of Herman & Almonte PR firm that specializes in business public relations.

Even if your resignation is on negative terms, ensure your statement to the public doesn’t reflect your dissatisfaction. There will already be enough rumors floating around, the last thing you want to do is add fuel to the flame. Almonte recommends that, in any public statements, you emphasize the choice is a personal decision, and that the move is not a reflection of the company’s success.

“The bottom line is, as an executive, assume ‘everyone is watching’ your resignation and make sure to absolve the company, its people and its market strategy of playing any part in your decision,” says Almonte.

Cluroe adds that it’s not just industry professionals watching, your employees will also have a close eye on the process. How you handle it can have a ripple effect on the business. For example, he says employees might wonder if the company isn’t good enough for their boss, why should they stay there too? Similarly, investors might wonder if your resignation signals the early stages of a failing business, which could affect stock prices. The last thing you want is to trigger massive turnover in your wake by making employees and investors think it’s a “sinking ship” scenario.

Avoid leaving for competitors

Sometimes it’s written into an employee contract that you can’t go directly to a competitor if you leave the company. But, for executives, even if that’s not in the paperwork, Cruikshank says, you should still avoid it at all costs.

“Jumping from one company to another in the same industry can develop into a bad reputation. You become less trustworthy,” he says. Other companies might assume you’re one to just leap at the next best offer, without considering your current position. It goes back to the idea that executive leadership in tech is a small industry, so you always need to protect your reputation.

While it’s typically not a good idea to leave for a competitor, there is some gray area, says Cruikshank. If the deal is truly too good to pass up, and you’re on good terms with your colleagues, he says it’s OK to at least broach the subject with them to get feedback.

Ultimately, when you leave — whether it’s for a competitor or not — you want to maintain as much transparency as possible to ease the concerns of employees, investors and industry professionals. Cluroe says remaining vague is only going to create more suspicion around your departure.

“You need to be as truthful with your team as you can be, without creating heartburn for the company. Talk with your own boss about how best to get the message across. Then, make sure you talk to all your direct reports rather than just dropping them an email, and take time to answer their questions,” he says.