When you leave an employer, whether you leave on your own accord or are forced out, you’ve got to take control of what gets said about your departure. Internal and external colleagues, subordinates, friends and contacts in your network (as well as nosy journalists and bloggers like me) are going to gossip and speculate about the reason you’re leaving. To nip the gossip in the bud and to prevent the rumors that will inevitably circulate on the web and in the real world from damaging your reputation and hurting your chances of finding another job, you need to have a single, clear and concise message about your departure to deliver to the world.
Essex Partners, a provider of career transition services for executives, offers the following advice for managing the messaging about your departure:
1. Take a breath. Before you begin informing everyone in your network that you’re leaving your company, take some time to process what’s happening to you and to craft a public statement about why you’re leaving. Once you start communicating this information, you can’t take it back so it’s important to give it some thought and to get it right.
2. Figure out what you want to say. You know colleagues and recruiters are going to ask you why you left your job, so when you’re working on your messaging, start by answering that question. Follow up that answer with a statement explaining what you plan to do next. The career advisors at Essex Partners say explaining in one sentence why you left your job and what you want to do next will satisfy most people’s curiosity.
They also recommend you consider what follow-up questions people might ask you about your plans or your last job so that you can prepare responses to them. After all, you don’t want to be caught off guard. At the same time, however, you don’t want to give out too much information. So it’s better to be succinct and to answer precisely what the person is asking you in one sentence than to go into a tall tale or sob story and risk saying too much or bad-mouthing your previous employer (as tempting as it may be).
3. Have a say in what your company communicates about your departure. High ranking executives (like CIOs) should be involved in crafting the message their employer distributes internally to employees and externally to business partners and customers about their departure. (In fact, you should always try to negotiate this into employment contracts.) You want to make sure that this message doesn’t contradict the story you’ll be sharing with networking contacts and that you’ll be communicating to the marketplace when you begin hunting for your next job. You won’t want recruiters or prospective employers who call former co-workers for informal references to get a story that’s completely different from your own.
4. Don’t burn your bridges. Leaving on bad terms will sabotage your effort to control your message and to make your exit from your company look clean even when it may be a complete mess.
5. Make sure your references are on the same page as you. Talk with your references to make sure your stories are aligned before you give recruiters and prospective employers their contact information. Nothing will kill your credibility more quickly than a reference whose statements don’t match up with yours.