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How to Resign at Work with Grace and Tact

So it’s time to move on to the next step in your career and life. No doubt you’ve prepared for this by researching and applying to new jobs or perhaps graduate school. But have you given any thought to how you should leave your old job? The terms on which you leave your old position can be just as important as the details of your new one. After all, retaining professional connections and securing glowing recommendations from past managers will build your network for future jobs.

Even if you feel that mistreatment, underappreciation, or terrible compensation has forced you to this decision, the manner in which you leave your job should be beyond reproach to maintain a sterling professional reputation. Here is a list of what you should and shouldn’t do when you decide to bid farewell to your old employer.

List of Dos

  1. Clean up your computer. This may seem premature (you haven’t even told your boss you’re leaving yet!), but it’s a wise step considering your manager could ask you to leave the same day you give them notice. Stay a step ahead and delete any personal files from your desktop and any laptops you use. Clear out email messages and caches but be sure to keep contact information (either forward them to a personal email address or print out a list) for anyone you want to keep in touch with after you leave. If you use any company electronics like a smartphone or tablet, also be prepared to surrender them the day you tell your boss you plan to leave.
      
  2. Talk to your manager. Before you submit a formal resignation letter or email, it’s best to speak in person with your direct supervisor. No need to make a formal meeting request with an ominous title, simply swing by their office or desk and ask if it’s a good time for a quick chat. Your conversation should include the same points that your follow-up letter will: your reason for leaving (keep it positive—and general, if you like), an offer to help with the transition before and/or after you leave, gratitude for the growth opportunities you’ve had at this job, and the date you are leaving.
      
    Typically, you would give two weeks’ notice before your intended last day. If you’re working under a contract or labor agreement, you may need to give more advanced notice. Check your employee handbook or contract for details. The two-week time frame is convention and courtesy more than anything else. Note: If your contract describes you as an “at-will employee,” your employer can ask you to leave immediately, so be prepared.
      
    When you email or submit your official resignation, be sure to keep a copy or BCC your personal email address when you send it—this ensures you have a record of what you said in case it ever comes under dispute.
      
  3. Talk to HR. Your next stop is your HR rep. You’ll want to discuss unused paid time off (PTO), moving retirement funds, total vestment in any matched contribution plans, and continuing health insurance coverage through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) or the government's Health Insurance Marketplace.
       
    Your HR rep, and possibly a manager, will want to conduct an exit interview with you at some point. Prepare for this by researching commonly asked questions and consider what your answers will be. Remember the key is to be diplomatic: you won’t solve any of the company’s problems by venting about them at your interview, but you can suggest what might help the next person in your position succeed.
      
  4. Ask for a reference. Even if you’ve already secured your next job, ask your boss(es) and colleagues if they’d be willing to give you a reference. They can easily do this by writing you a LinkedIn recommendation on your profile—that way their reference becomes available to more than just your next employer.
      
  5. Send a farewell message. Once you’ve spoken with your manager and HR about your move, you can send a farewell email or otherwise notify colleagues and work friends of your plans for the future.

List of Don’ts

  1. Don’t tell friends at work that you’re leaving before you tell management and HR. Again, it’s bad form and can leave a bad taste in the mouth of your boss if they hear about your planned departure while at the water cooler instead of directly from you.
      
  2. Don’t be negative. In all of your interactions leading up to and after your resignation, keep your communications with managers, coworkers, and HR positive, even if you don’t feel that way. Professional circles are alarmingly small in this hyper-connected world, and any badmouthing done today could come back to haunt you years later.
     
  3. Don’t brag about your new job. It’s just bad manners.
      
  4. Don’t assume your current company won’t ask you to stay. It’s not uncommon for a company to fight to keep its valued employees. Your boss may ask you to reconsider. They may offer increased benefits or a bigger salary. Before you give your two weeks’ notice, decide ahead of time what—if anything—could make you stay.
      
  5. Don’t forget you could one day return. There are many stories out there of employees returning to former employers years later—sometimes to a higher position. Keep this in mind when tempted to let a manager know how much you really loved their weekly meetings!
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