If Leaving the Company, Do So in Good Standing

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, September 6, 2007 5:00 PM

At some point, every worker is faced with the dilemma of whether to leave their current employer for a better job. If you do decide to jump ship, you are then faced with the question of how to do it right.

Even if you dislike your job, you should still make every effort to leave on good terms. You never know if you'll need a reference later on or, if staying in the same field, your paths will cross again.

Here are a few tips that'll help you remain in good standing with a former employer:

Breaking the News

Once you've decided to quit, compile a list of people who you want to personally tell the news first: Your direct supervisor should be at the top of that list. Next, your supervisor's manager (assuming you have had professional contact with this person). You will also want to include any mentors that you have at the organization. If you have close colleagues that you trust won't spill the beans too soon, you can tell them as well.

After telling your manager, submit a brief resignation letter explaining that you are leaving and when your last day will be. Next, talk with your supervisor about how the news will be shared with the rest of the company. Your supervisor will likely confer with you about what to say when asked why you are leaving. Be prepared with a response.

There are few instances where quitting over the phone or via e-mail are acceptable. Unless you and your supervisor rarely see each other, due to geographical distance, for example, it should be done face to face.

How Much Notice Should You Give?

The amount of notice you give depends on several factors:

What does your new employer want? Your new employer may want you to start right away. You may not, however, be able to leave so soon. Most should be willing to accommodate the need to give an appropriate amount of notice. Usually, two weeks is the minimum, but up to four weeks may be more realistic considering other factors (mentioned below). Being conscientious of how you leave can actually help the new employer to see that you're a loyal and professional worker.

How long have you been with the current organization? The longer you have been there, the deeper your roots. You have likely accumulated a great deal of institutional knowledge that isn't necessarily written anywhere. If you want to leave on a high note, it's best to give your employer a sufficient transition period.

How anxious are you to go? Do you see the new job as the next in a series of progressively more exciting opportunities or as an escape hatch from a dungeon? If it is the latter, the less notice you are compelled to give.

Does Your Current Employer Have Different Plans?

In rare instances, your current employer may ask that you stay on for a longer period after giving notice. They may desperately need you to complete a project in which you are the lead. You can choose to be flexible, but aren't required to. Be careful as to not get sucked into a prolonged goodbye.

Also keep in mind that if your current job deals with sensitive company information or you are leaving to join a competitor, your employer may decide to end your employment effective immediately. If your job falls into one of these categories, make sure you are financially prepared.

Wrapping Things Up

Get your story straight. Quitting is likely not a decision that you came to lightly. Expect for co-workers to inquire about why you are leaving. Don't make up reasons for loving your current employer, but rather focus on the allure of the new opportunity. Be honest, but keep it brief and consistent. People will talk and you'll seem disingenuous if their accounts conflict.

Don't try to be a hero. Be realistic about what else you're able to get done in the remaining time. Share your list of priorities with your supervisor and allow them the chance to provide input on what is most important.

Tie-up loose ends. After giving notice, shift from getting work done to getting work organized. Whether you've provided two or six weeks for your transition, the time will go by faster than you expect. The best way to leave your employer in good standing is to provide a solid transition plan for the next employee. Make a detailed list of projects and their status, draft a memo describing important technical facts about your job, leave behind a list of key contacts and organize the files on your desk and computer.

You might find yourself working longer hours during this period, and that's OK. If you are working double the hours, however, that is not acceptable and you should discuss alternatives with your manager. Ensuring that you aren't being taken advantage of is a critical element of a dignified departure.

The Final Hour

The last hour of your last day has finally arrived. You've cleaned out your desk, surrendered your security card, and made your way down to human resources for an exit interview. When the HR manager asks for feedback on the organization, however, what do you say?

If your experience has been positive, the answer is easy. But if you have concerns about your manager or someone else at the company, how honest should you be?

The information gathered in the exit interview, theoretically, is to be used to make improvements. With that in mind, be skeptical of any guarantees of confidentiality. Therefore, you should ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by raising any concerns. If you believe that what you say may contribute to a positive change, it may be worth taking the chance. Otherwise, keep quiet.

Whatever you decide, make sure your comments are constructive. Don't use the exit interview as a venting session. If you decide to speak up, be tactful with your criticisms and come prepared with concrete suggestions for improvement.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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