The Art of Leaving Your Job

What makes a bigger impact on your colleagues — the first weeks at your new job, or the last weeks at the job you’re exiting?

First impressions are important, but last impressions…will leave the most lasting impression. — Shep Hyken, customer service oriented speaker with the amazing title of “Chief Amazement Officer”

First impressions open doors in your immediate future, but last impressions have the potential to help your career for years to come. There’s no shortage of advice on how to find the right job, but people seldom speak openly about how to leave one.

I was glad to see that Harvard Business Review recently published a thoughtful piece on executive exits. They defined three types of exits in their framework: timing-focused, relationship-focused, or scattershot (aka no focus). If we were to look at non-executive exits, I would suspect a higher percentage of folks in the scattershot category.

I’m a firm believer that no matter what level you operate on, there’s much to be gained from a little strategy during your last weeks at a job.


Here are some tips to consider when it’s time for a transition.

Do:

  • Be as mindful as you can about timing. Depending on how much your departure will affect the company, time it to minimize negative impact. Future employers almost always prefer to have employees start ASAP, so it’s up to you to manage your start date for the greater good. That being said, start date negotiations won’t always land in your favor.
  • Be gracious to every single person on your way out. Without being fake. The professional world loves to remind you how small it is, and with reputation traveling at the speed of emails and texts, you never know which hiring manager will tap which of your former colleagues for a “blind” character assessment. This is also a nice opportunity to clear the air with any colleagues you’ve had friction with at your company.
  • Take responsibility for the integrity of your own two weeks’ notice. Once the ink has dried on your new offer letter (yay!), don’t tell a soul until you give notice to the person you report directly to. Ask your boss if you can inform your immediate teammates no later than 1–2 weeks before your last day to ensure a smooth and un-shady transition. Managers are only human and can try to keep exits under wraps, either to put off an unsavory task or in a misguided attempt to be sensitive to morale. But the truth is that exit gossip stays under wraps for, at best, a couple of days. Take it upon yourself to let the cat out of the bag swiftly and positively.
  • Document your role excellently. Identify every type of task you currently perform at your job and document it in a way that can be easily understood. Don’t limit the scope to executional tasks; think through all daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly interactions you have with people. This exercise not only benefits the next person taking on your responsibilities, it serves as a retrospective ritual for you. Resist the urge to withhold information, even if you don’t feel like you owe it to your employer. You never “win” by taking personal frustrations out on your replacement.
  • Schedule quality time with the colleagues you admire. You adore your coworkers, but it’s time to move on and say goodbye to seeing them every day. Instead of pulling an Irish exit, schedule meaningful lunches or happy hours to celebrate the great relationships you’ve built. Let people know how they’ve inspired you!

Don’t:

  • Tell untruths about why you’re moving on. I can’t remember everyone’s reasons for leaving their jobs, but I’ll never forget every single person who lied about it. Don’t claim that you’re leaving work to spend time with your family if you’re bouncing to the next job in a few months, and don’t claim to be changing careers if you’re not. People aren’t dummies and don’t appreciate being treated as such. Furthermore, it shows a glitch in your own integrity.
  • Badmouth anything or anyone during your last weeks. You’ll be surprised who comes out of the woodwork to try and commiserate with you over whatever they’re unhappy with at the company. It’s false to assume that exiting employees are guaranteed confidantes, yet plenty of disgruntled employees use them as such. Don’t indulge this toxic behavior! If you’re feeling cornered and can’t politely wiggle away, sometimes you have to use the ole “I’m so sorry, but I really have to run to the restroom” trick.
  • Sing too many praises of your next job to colleagues who clearly aren’t coming with you. When asked why you’re leaving, frame your future job as aligning to your personal goals, without making anyone feel bad about staying at the current company to pursue theirs.
  • Divulge too much (good or bad) about the job you’ve just left once you’ve transitioned into the new one. So many people make this mistake. Your new colleagues will immediately feel alienated and wonder why you left in the first place. Imagine how you’d feel if you had just married someone who wouldn’t stop talking about their ex. Don’t.

Good luck with your exit! Hope this post gave you a new way to think about how to live out your last weeks (of your job, not your life). Did I miss anything? Feel free to discuss in comments.