In your mind you have played it out a thousand times in glorious detail-what you will do, say, and write when you finally get to resign. Or quit, if you think of it that way. You will fist pump your way to the door, say what you have always wanted to say to the boss or even just the coworker who played Coldplay in the next cubicle. You, triumphant, on your way to the next job, the one where you’ll be paid what you’re worth, or more, and where everything is all new and shiny.
Okay, don’t do that. It looks funny on YouTube, but doesn’t work out the way you hoped, in real life. In real life the way you handle the end of a job is a critical career skill. The idea is to make friends, to build your network, and to ensure your future references will glow exactly when you need them to shine that little light on you. You’ll want to stay in touch with those bosses, managers, and executives who have a way of showing up in your future places of employment. Headhunters call them to ask who they know who might be a good fit for ABC Co. They often get to pick a dream team for their own new gig, though you may not want that opportunity. But it’s good to be asked; choices are better than no choice.
Here’s how you leave well:
1. You tell your immediate boss your plans, first, before anyone else around you or above or below her or him. Apologize for the terrible inconvenience, and offer whatever help you can, but at least two to four weeks notice depending on conventions in your industry and position.
2. Do not criticize anyone at your soon-to-be-erstwhile place of employment from the point of resignation on. Not. Anyone. Ever again.
3. Write a beautiful letter of resignation and appreciation, thanking everyone for every courtesy and kindness ever extended to you, and humbly hope in the letter that you will have such good fortune in coworkers again in the future. Do not once offer the notion that anything or anyone or any circumstance at the company you are leaving prompted or had anything to do with your decision to leave.
4. Write personal thank you notes to anyone who might have ever thought himself or herself a mentor or a friend. We all know that workplace friendships don’t usually last a long time, but paths do cross again, and your former coworkers are the most likely sources of referrals and opportunities in your future. So don’t do anything to burn your bridges.
5. Work even harder than you did before your notice period. First one in, last one out, though you can take time for the good-bye lunches or coffee breaks. And offer to pay your share for each one, though one offer is enough and this does not apply if someone said, “I’d like to take you to lunch (or buy you coffee).” Your work ethic will be fondly remembered, because everyone is expecting you to seriously slack off. It’s what they would do, but not you.
6. Do not call off sick during your notice period unless you are near death. Do not go on vacation as your notice.
7. Do not fail to meet with the human resources folks to make sure your paperwork is all in order, and don’t wait until the last minute and then casually drop by. Leave the impression that you care about their time, need for clean administration, and desire to establish closure.
8. If the Good-bye Meeting involves an Exit Interview during which you are asked about all things Management, or working conditions, or anything other than how much you like the color of your new company car, DON’T DO IT. The fact is that nothing is really confidential, they don’t really want to know what you thought or what you think about XYZ or Mrs. Big’s Brilliant New Project. This is your formal and last opportunity to praise everything and everybody and you are crazy if you don’t do exactly that. Blow this at your peril. Your need for vindication will evaporate soon enough, but every word you say can and will be repeated to someone who will use it to hurt someone else. You will be quoted. DON’T. DO. IT.
9. Remember the scene at the end of Working Girl where Tess, sitting in her new office, in her big girl business suit (with the shoulder pads) and her door that closes and window that looks out on Manhattan, calls the girls in the secretarial pool at her old firm (the firm that was mean to her)? That is not a good idea. When you leave, leave.
10. Last, make sure that all of your social media matches your stellar departure performance. Your blog, your Twitter feed, your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and whatever else you maintain in cyberspace should all reflect the same level of maturity and sophistication you have shown in person. Across the board, you should set the example for your crowd.
Civility and awareness of how the game is played is an enormous asset in one’s career. In fact, all of the above advice applies doubly if you were laid off, if your job was eliminated, you were asked to resign, or your company is closing. That kind of discipline and self control in the face of stress and awkwardness is often rewarded by the Universe, or even just by folks who appreciate not having to deal with one more cranky departure.