Changing jobs can be exhilarating, especially when you’re exiting a negative environment for something seemingly more positive. But when you consider that every job, for better or worse, is a critical building block to your greater career, you need to be prepared to play the long game.
Even if leaving on unfavorable terms, remember that your job has been more than just that: it’s been an opportunity. More so, it’s been an opportunity that you entered into willingly.
Like it or not, you chose your current job, and you likely chose it for many reasons. Despite any issues you may have experienced since, there are still reasons it was a great choice.
At a minimum, most jobs are a good choice. For your time, you’re rewarded in the form of a regular paycheck and benefits. These incentives allow you to live more comfortably than most people on the planet.
Beyond that, even in the most challenging of situations, you have reaped other rewards. Your job has afforded you opportunities to:
- Learn new skills and further develop your experience.
- Build credibility in your field.
- Form deep trusted relationships as well as surface-level connections that may dovetail into future career opportunities.
It’s important to remember these types of rewards when preparing to resign, even if the job fell short of your expectations. If your exit is inevitable, you should aim to avoid putting any of these high-level rewards in jeopardy.
If you decide to go out in a blaze of glory and quit on the spot (or be highly disruptive on your way out), you may be behaving as some would only dream. But this fantasy is not one that ends well for you. Your actions and words will be remembered by others, many of whom are potential gatekeepers to future opportunities.
Even if certain colleagues commiserated with you during your tenure, they will remember a toxic exit and what it says about you as a professional.
At some point, everybody must quit a job, but not everybody can quit with class. Below are six ways to do just that and make your exit memorable for the right reasons.
#1 Be sure it’s the right move and the right time.
It’s healthy to be open to learning about new opportunities. Reading, researching, and networking within your market is critical to understanding trends as well as potential companies and roles that could be a good fit for you in the future. If you’re starting to feel stagnant in your current position, keeping a pulse on the market will at least give you some data around alternatives. Before making any moves, make sure you’ve thought it through:
- Do your research. Learn about your options. So often, people run from one job to the next resulting in a cycle of poor choices. If you have experienced a series of negative jobs during your career, chances are the problem lies with you and your approach.
- Talk with mentors. Never make a career decision without getting perspectives from others. Talk to family and friends if you can. Also, seek mentors inside and outside of your company.
- Perform an assessment. What are the benefits and drawbacks of your current company and role? Many people leave jobs due to one or two reasons and they fail to see other benefits. They also fail to see the myriad benefits of working in a challenging environment. Only through discomfort do we truly grow.
- Determine if you’re falling into any “grass is greener” traps. Many prospective jobs will look shiny and new when you’re going through a tough period. Before deciding to move, ask yourself if you’re in the right mindset to assess your current role. Sometimes it’s better to make a career change when riding a high versus a low so you can be sure you’re seeing clearly.
Additionally, make sure your timing is optimal. It may be in your best interest to see any significant projects through to the end, assuming this would require a limited number of weeks or months of your time. At many companies, it can be poor form to leave mid-project, especially when you play an essential role. Leaving mid-project may also prohibit you from fully capitalizing on the experience of participating in a project end-to-end.
Beyond project considerations, think about any upcoming bonus or promotion periods. Ask yourself if you have thought through future opportunities in your current organization, even if there’s a waiting period to get to the next step.
As a rule of thumb, don’t leave any money, experiences or relationships on the table.
#2 Do your homework.
From a practical standpoint, consider a few technicalities before starting your formal job search. Most employees are required to sign some form of an employment agreement with any job. Be sure to re-familiarize yourself with any contracts you signed at the start of your employment (or any additional agreements signed during your tenure).
Below is a full checklist of data you should gather before making a move to ensure your exit is thoughtful:
- Non-compete and non-solicit agreements: Have you signed anything that could put you at risk depending on what you decide to do next? Read these carefully before entertaining new employment.
- Clawback provisions for bonuses: Have you received any discretionary bonus that is subject to a clawback period? Would you lose some or all of the bonus if you exited before a specific date?
- Pending bonuses: Are you eligible to receive any additional bonus income if you stay at your current company longer?
- Healthcare: How long will your healthcare and other benefits continue after you resign?
- 401(k): Has your 401(k) been matched, and when will the match be vested? Is it worth staying at your current company until you meet the vesting requirements?
- Vacation time: If you are not on an unlimited PTO plan, will you be paid out for vacation time or other types of unused paid-time-off?
- Final pay: Many states have stipulations around how your last check is paid out. If not, check your employment agreement.
Knowing these data points before considering an exit will empower you to make informed decisions about your next step, timing, and how you manage your actual resignation.
#3 Provide transparency and sufficient notice.
Giving more than the standard two-weeks notice can help build longer-term trust with your current employer. This is especially true if you’re in a managerial role or valued individual contributorship.
Far too often, valued employees give the customary two-week notice, even when leaving on generally positive terms. In this highly interconnected world, it can work in your favor to give more than two weeks.
If you have a positive relationship with your company and feel there is some level of trust, communicate even earlier in your process. Many modern work environments welcome transparency, and discussing your plans early may earn you points that could help you now or later. Below are a few best practices around providing notice:
- Ideally, talk to your manager about your intentions before you have an offer in hand. Employer and employee relationships are a two-way street. Letting your manager know beforehand can go a long way in building trust and may even benefit you in the near-term. For example, your manager may offer increased flexibility when it comes time for your transition, or he/she/they may even support you in your job search. Letting your manager know early can also give you more power later in controlling the narrative around your exit.
- If you feel more comfortable waiting until you’ve accepted an offer, talk to your manager in person before anyone else. It’s a bad look when your manager finds out from the water cooler that you’re planning to exit. It’s also careless to pitch your resignation letter over the fence to your manager and HR once you’ve accepted an offer elsewhere. To build trust, communicate your plans to your manager in person before submitting a formal resignation letter.
- Submit your resignation letter. Keep it short and professional. This is not the time to get into details about the “why” behind your decision. Submit to only “need to know” parties, which is usually limited to your manager and HR.
Providing more notice and transparency will demonstrate a heightened level of respect for your manager and your colleagues, which may result in greater respect for your decision.
#4 Collaborate on your transition plan and avoid temptations to coast.
Typically your manager will help direct a transition plan, but you must be part of the process as well. Think through all constituents and help round out the strategy.
To go above and beyond, perform your own assessment of any project, knowledge, or process gaps that might exist despite your transition plan. To close the loop on these gaps, consider implementing the following working with your manager:
- For project gaps, create a document outlining each project, the most recent step, and critical next steps. Link any essential documents or recent emails related to each project. Include key points of contact and other resources necessary to properly hand-off.
- For knowledge gaps, talk to your manager about performing a few training sessions on these areas before your exit. For example, if you have unique knowledge about a particular IT system used to perform your job, conduct in-person or virtual training, or record a walkthrough of the system.
- For process gaps, create outline-style documentation for each process. Time permitting, it may be more impactful to have colleagues shadow you on these processes. Your colleagues can ask questions throughout, making the sessions interactive and more relevant. People typically learn better by doing versus following a checklist.
#5 Express gratitude.
I once worked with a woman who wrote everyone personalized thank you notes before her last day. Granted, the company at the time was about 20 employees, but this nevertheless took a lot of effort. I cannot think of another time in my career where I witnessed something like this and she will forever stand out in my mind as a class act.
Expressing gratitude doesn’t mean you have to go the extra mile and write thank you notes to everyone in your department. In your last few weeks, you can show gratitude by committing to your transition plan until your last day, demonstrating appreciation through your words and actions, and maintaining a positive attitude.
#6 Refrain from gossip.
If your reasons for leaving are negative, it can be tempting to engage in gossip before your exit. Gossip is highly unproductive and will, unfortunately, create the most stress for your coworkers who remain on the bus. A dramatic exit will at best have a negligible, point-in-time impact on the company.
If you feel you need a place to vent when going through a resignation, consider turning to close friends and family, or even a therapist, but do your best to keep it outside of work with the exception of HR.
The same people who gravitate toward gossip in the workplace will also typically take to social media in the days or weeks following an exit (if not earlier). This also accomplishes little. Writing a negative review of your company or posting about your experience on LinkedIn will likely not make much of an impact on your former employer. You’re doing more harm to the employees who remain working there and worse, putting your own reputation at risk. The only party that looks bad when you lambast your employer on social media is yourself.
Instead of responding to the urge to write something negative on social media, turn that energy into a positive. For example, consider writing LinkedIn recommendations for one or two colleagues. This will go a long way in continuing to foster strong relationships with your valuable connections.
Even if you’re working in a toxic environment, two wrongs don’t make a right. Responding to a toxic environment with an equally toxic exit is only hurting you long-term. Your colleagues, who will eventually leave that same company, will forever remember your actions and words.
When you resign, lay the right foundation, and your relationships will continue to blossom long after you leave. Be sure to follow your former company and stay connected with colleagues on LinkedIn, making a point to check-in with your connections from time to time. Maintaining relationships will likely pay off somewhere down the line.
Every resignation is about the long-game, whether in favorable or unfavorable conditions. Hardly anyone will remember your first impression, that one that you made during your interview process or during your early days on the job. But most people will remember your last.
What will your last impression look like when it comes to your next resignation?