How to Quit a Job Gracefully

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Quitting a job is hard. If you have been with a company a long time, it’s often like leaving family. I am convinced that a lot of people are so terrified about the thought of resigning that they just put off finding a new job, even if they aren’t satisfied with their current one. This post is to help you think through the logistics of resigning. Assuming you have made the decision to accept another offer, or pursue something else, follow these steps to make sure you transition from your current role in a graceful and organized way.

1. When To Start Preparing To Resign?

Start preparing for the resignation only after you have a sense from your new employer that you will get the job. You may not have completed all the paperwork yet, but you can start getting organized. Do not resign or speak of resigning to anyone at your workplace until you have actually signed on the dotted line. Or if you are leaving to pursue something else like starting a company, or going back to school — be absolutely sure that you are doing that before you mention that you are resigning.

Sometimes, people also like to get a head start on preparing to leave while they are still interviewing. We strongly advise against that. Colleagues and employers often pick up on subtle queues that you are getting ready to leave. Sometimes its body language, sometimes its the fact that you desk seems tidier than usual. Don’t risk giving someone the impression that you are leaving if there is a meaningful chance that you are not.

2. Start Making Lists

This is the time for a good ol’ checklist. We have provided one in the handy infographic accompanying this article. The 3 lists that matter are:

  1. List of people you want to tell personally. Rank this list in order of importance to you. When you quit, the news will spread like wildfire.
  2. List of projects you are currently working on. This will be useful as you form a transition plan so you can leave on a good note
  3. List of items that you want to take home — these can be physical things like picture frames and plants, but also include important documents like W-2 forms and pay-stubs.

3. The Confidential HR Conversation

Some large companies allow you to schedule a confidential conversation with HR. We would absolutely not advise this at a smaller firm, or if you feel like you have a manager that will take your departure very poorly. But if that’s not the case, these 20 minute conversations can be immensely helpful prior to leaving. Use these conversations to clarify important details like:

  1. Your obligations such as the mandatory notice or garden leave period
    Process around transitioning your benefits
  2. How to address administrative issues like your outstanding expenses, corporate credit cards, and so forth
  3. Understanding your outstanding pay, vacation and how and when that will be settled

4. What To Take With You

Do not take company property or confidential information. Even if you worked on an outstanding presentation for work, don’t take it with you without explicit permission. At worst it can result in a lawsuit, and if not, you still end up tarnishing your reputation. Give yourself credit that you are leaving with your talent, your skills and your network. If your future employer is pushing you to bring documents, or company client lists with you, then maybe they are not the right employer for you.

Do take documents that are truly personal. When starting a new job, we recommend creating two important folders in both your email and your filing cabinet. Call the first one “Acclaim” and use it to save compliments, praise, accomplishments. This can be a refreshing folder to look at after a bad day at the office. It’s also useful when you have to review yourself at the end of the year. Call the second folder “Personal” and keep documents in there like photos, tax documents, and so forth. As we work in an interconnected age, it is inevitable that you will have some personal documents and artifacts at work.

As much as you can, avoid emailing things to yourself, even if they are personal documents. Companies often go back and look at email traffic of employees after they leave and it can lead to awkwardness, questioning or worse. Print out those documents where you can. Gradually take home personal artifacts, since leaving with big boxes on your last day can often be cumbersome, and also distracting to your colleagues around you who are trying to do their jobs.

People often want to take their contacts before they leave. Employers are generally worried about this. It’s easier to just note down the most important contacts and connect with them later on LinkedIn. In this age of inter-connectivity, phone numbers are fairly archaic. Moreover, most companies treat their CRM information as firm property so avoid printing or downloading that.

5. Managing the Actual Conversation

If possible, schedule the conversation beforehand or at least make sure your boss is in the office on the day, if possible. It’s very awkward to resign over the phone. As to the stories of people who quit via email or text message? That’s just bad form. The conversation should involve your manager and potentially HR. Sometimes if you think it might be acrimonious, you can quit to HR but try and speak to your manager soon after.

Prepare your script before hand so you keep your spiel brief and truthful. We find telling the truth is easiest. If you aren’t happy, need a challenge, or looking for a change, be up front but polite about it. Sometimes people who are leaving seem nervous about it or say too much, or articulate a laundry list of what is bad with the current job. Avoid that. Stick to the top two reasons and try and leave gracefully where possible.

Absolutely avoid showmanship, drama, crying and profanity. In the words of the wise Warren Buffet, you can always tell them to go to h*** later. It’s better to be polite and gracious and just point out that the role / company was not a right fit for you in the long-run, even if sometimes, they feel deserving of the profanity you want to express.

We spoke about the transition plan before. It’s really helpful and additive to take a short document with you that details your responsibilities / projects and / or accounts when resigning. That allows you to discuss a short transition plan and helps your employer get organized. Chances are that your leaving is a surprise to them and the easier you make the transition on them, the better the relationship upon departure. If you are angling for a shorter notice period, this can often help you make the case for that.

6. What if They Counter-Offer?

So what if your boss counter-offers? I had a boss look me in the eye and say “Give me a number that will keep you”. This is a conundrum. If the only reason that you are leaving is because of money, then before you accept your new role and quit your current one, you should ask for a raise. However, most of the time, people quit for a wide range of reasons where money is but one component. 9/10 times a counter-offer, even if attractive, isn’t worth it. If they valued you, they would have given you a raise before you resigned. And even if you have an excellent relationship with them, the act of resigning often feels like a rejection and so many employees who have taken counter-offers and decided to stay often end up saying that it just doesn’t feel the same after that.

7. Letting People Know

Letting people know is tricky and requires organization. Stay disciplined and let people know in the order of importance to you so you preserve relationships. If you have client / external relationships, you may want to let them know too but be sure to take permission from your employer so it doesn’t appear like you are attempting to poach these clients to your new job. Have a short email ready to go. You don’t have to state your new job in the email and we often advise against it. In the age of Facebook and LinkedIn, people will find out in short order anyway. It’s better to just say something like “I have accepted a new opportunity that I am very excited about”. Where possible keep your email (and your conversations) brief and positive. If you don’t have a lot of good things to say about your current employer, keep the conversations even briefer.

It’s important to remember that while it might feel like its one big farewell party since its your last day, for many of your colleagues, its another busy workday to meet their targets. So be respectful of that, and try and keep from distracting them. They will appreciate you for it.

Bonus Extra: Odds and Ends

Think through a few of the odds and ends:

  1. If you can, claim your expenses before you leave and if not, make sure to note details, photocopy receipts and stay on top of HR post leaving
  2. Understand your vacation policy. If your employer does not pay you for unused vacation days, try and take them before you resign
  3. Similarly, be organized around your medical benefits and your 401K so you can transition those appropriately
  4. You don’t need to update your LinkedIn and other social media profiles right away, but do so in an organized manner. And if clients or external parties tend to call you or email you on your personal number / address, agree with your employer on what you will tell them

Resigning does not have to be stressful if you are organized. In fact, its usually the start of a new chapter in your life so treat it positively and go out on a good note.

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