by Rich Hein

Tips for leaving your job the right way

Nov 26, 20129 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

Who hasn't wanted to throw up their hands and just walk out of the office? Don't do it. Learn the proper etiquette for leaving your job and ensure that your career and reputation remain intact after you leave your current position.

Happy Farmer Walks with Box full of Vegetables Through Industrial, Bright Greenhouse.
Credit: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff

Leaving a job can be a tricky proposition. Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the IT unemployment rate at 3.3 percent, the job market isn’t great. Deciding to resign takes courage, direction and confidence. Leaving with your dignity, reputation and network intact is the end game. So how do you get there from here? interviewed industry experts to help make the transition out the company door easier.

Know Why You’re Leaving

“Even if the situation at the old job is bleak, take some time to reflect on the great experiences you had during your time there,” says Stephen Van Vreede, Solutions Architect and founder of ITTechExec, a company that offers career lifecycle management and personal branding services. “This includes opportunities for advancement, professional development and leading high-profile projects. It also should include the network of friends and colleagues you’ve had the chance to develop,” Van Vreede says. “This is vital, as your network will be one of your most valuable assets as you progress through your career.”

Be honest with yourself and try to be objective. Just saying this job is terrible and I want to move on– while it may be true– isn’t necessarily helpful. Think hard about your reasons and try to remove your emotions from the equation. Understanding these reasons will help you in your job search and career-planning strategies.

When Should You Deliver the News?

Knowing where you are going is the key to answering this question. If you don’t have a position lined up or a clear path, you really need to consider if it’s the right time to move on or not.

You know your company culture best. Some outfits are fine with employees job searching, but many will want your resignation when they find out. “Being discrete is a good thing,” says Van Vreede. The best time to drop the bomb is when you’re planning is done. A best case scenario would be already having an offer from another employer but that’s not always possible. Planning ahead will make this time of transition less stressful.

How to Deliver the News

General office etiquette is to tell your direct supervisor in person. Something as important as this should not be trusted to email or phone calls. It’s always professional to prepare a resignation letter before making your announcement. Do your best to keep things positive.

There may be other people who you would like to deliver the news to personally. Make the request to your direct supervisor. “It is often appropriate to tell whomever you first give notice to let you tell some key others directly,” says Howard Seidel, from Essex Partners, a company that specializes in senior executive and C-Suite career transitions.

How to Respond to Counteroffers

Some say it’s never wise to accept a counteroffer, but it really depends on why you’re leaving. This is another reason to understand the reasons behind your decision. “Be prepared for it [counteroffers] by knowing what it would take the current company to keep you,” says Van Vreede. If money is the main reason and your company offers you what you desire, then perhaps you should consider it, but if you’re leaving because you don’t like the company culture or management style, than no amount of compensation will fix that.

The bottom-line: Have a straightforward message, “I’m leaving, all ahead full.” If a counteroffer is something you might consider know exactly what it will take for you to stay.

How Much Notice Should You Give?

It seems like common sense, but it needs to be said: You should never walk out on a job. While conventional wisdom says two weeks, you must take into account the complexity of your position. Is this something you can turn over in two weeks? Will it take more time to find and train your replacement?

“It often doesn’t sit well with companies to have someone leave at a critical time–then again, sometimes that can’t be helped,” says Seidel, “Be prepared if you do give notice that a company may terminate you early anyway.”

You don’t always have the luxury of providing more than two weeks, but if it’s possible then consider it. Your new employer should understand and appreciate that you are willing to go above and beyond for your former employer.

Prepare a Proper Transition

A solid transfer of knowledge will be remembered long after you’ve gone. “Before giving notice make a list of things to know and pass it along; the list should be one that anyone in your department can understand. This could be status reports on projects, a development punch list you’re working on, notes on knowledge you may be the primary (or only) holder of,” says Van Vreede.

Update Resumes and Online Profiles

If you aren’t moving directly into another position then you need to consider your portfolio and online presence. “You definitely want to have your resume, cover letter, online profiles and other job search documentation completed and live before launching your job search,” says Van Vreede. This will include your resume, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ pages. Trying to get this done after the fact could leave you scrambling.

Secure References From Colleagues

If you aren’t moving directly to a new job, contact two or three people whom you’ve worked with and ask them for a recommendation immediately after leaving, while memories are still fresh. You’ve got to put some thought into this. Whose testimonial will offer the most bang for the buck. It’s also wise to ask these colleagues to mention specific areas of your expertise that will help you reach your goals. For example, if you’re a content manager, but you are also a knowledgeable SEO person and you want to work as an SEO specialist, guide your colleague to talk about your proficiency with SEO.

Another great resource for recommendations are clients and former employees. “If you have left a company and no one will talk on your behalf, that can be a problem. Have a reason to explain it and other references outside the company that are very strong,” says Seidel.

The bottom-line–ask for recommendations and guide your referring colleagues.

Keep Things Positive and Low Key

Making a scene or bashing the company may work great in the movies, but in real-life these things are remembered and can come back to haunt you. It’s often best to avoid the conversation altogether, but if you must then keep things on a positive note. “Use common sense and decency when exiting a company. Even if it’s a bad situation, try to take the high road,” says Seidel.

We’ve all heard the stories about people posting stupid things on Facebook or Twitter. If you work in IT and you don’t think your next employer will peek at your social media profiles, then you’re making a mistake. Announcing your new position is fine, but belittling your old boss or berating your former company will surely come back to bite you. Success is always the best revenge, and burning bridges is never a good idea, regardless of the situation.

Be Cautious of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews can be a tricky maneuver. While they are meant to be confidential, they are often shared. Be as diplomatic as you can. “No matter what you are told, assume that your feedback will get back to people. It is often a tough and personal decision as to whether you should use an exit interview to call out behavior in an organization you consider to be wrong or abusive. One question to consider in making such a decision–do I think the issues I experienced were an anomaly or part of the culture?” says Seidel.

Often times it’s best to just say you’re leaving because you’ve been offered an opportunity that you simply couldn’t pass up. Bad-mouthing bosses or company policies can lead to missed opportunities down the road.

“You need to be careful not to come across as negative. Even if the company was terrible, your boss was a jerk and all the projects you were a part of failed miserably, you still want to portray yourself as someone that learned a lot from those challenges,” says Van Vreede. Stay positive and upbeat.

This is also the time when you can ask questions regarding health care benefits, 401K transfers and any other questions that come up. If you’re not sure whether your company does exit interviews, then schedule a meeting with you HR people to discuss these matters after you’ve delivered the news.

Maintain Your Reputation and Career

Leaving your job with poise and etiquette can open up opportunities for you in the future. If you remove emotion from the equation, are objective and honest with yourself, then you are on the path to a successful transition.

More on exit strategies: