"Take this job and shove it! I ain't working here no more." Oh, the late Johnny Paycheck sure sang it right. Good thing he made his living as a country singer, because in this tight job market he might have been singing a different tune.
Quitting with grace and professionalism is a non-negotiable part of being a success in the workforce. If you follow a few guidelines, you can feel great about leaving -- and, perhaps most important, know you have maintained good ties in case you need to hit up your old boss for recommendations, help or maybe even another job someday.
1 Be diplomatic. "People always remember how you left a job," says Ann Rhoades, president of People Ink and former executive vice president of people for JetBlue Airways. Translation? Leave with the same positive attitude and helpful ideas with which you came. Telling your boss how her management style leads to festering resentment, that her chief lieutenant does a perfect imitation of her, and that her secretary is stealing copy paper will only make her happy you are leaving. That doesn't mean you should skip saying what could be improved -- just do so constructively. Once you have left, Rhoades says, don't "talk about your employer. It always gets back to them. Be positive about who you worked for."
2 Give a lot of notice. While two weeks is standard if you're a lower person on the totem pole, many companies need more time -- and it may be in your best interest to give it to them. Leaving your company in the lurch might be necessary at times, but giving short notice can be seen as unprofessional and unfair. "Today it takes much longer than 30 days to find a replacement," says Rhoades. The occasional company will make a departing employee be out of the office before lunch to protect its treasure chest of trade secrets. But, for those of us who work in less-guarded environs, it's only fair to give your employer enough time to find a replacement or figure out how to make due without you.
3 Help with the
transition. If you are a key employee or simply have knowledge that nobody else in the organization has, don't plan on disappearing without sharing your secrets. Organize your contacts so that your replacement can understand them; write explanatory memos about each of your files; forward any needed e-mails and include clearly labeled subject lines. Basically, make it as easy as possible for someone to pick up where you left off. Even if it takes nights and weekends, it's the smart thing to do -- and such an attitude can harbor goodwill that may be handy later in your career.
4 Know your place. Simply because you're over the job, that doesn't mean the job is over. While you're still on the payroll, remember that your duty is to your employer and not to yourself or to your new company. Check in with your boss about how to tell your peers about your departure. And don't even think about copying, printing or e-mailing documents that belong to your employer without asking permission. If documents you want haven't been sent out to the public, you can't have a copy. Finally, if your job deals with client lists, the general rule is that you shouldn't contact clients before you leave or copy your employer's client list on your way out. But "an employer can't prevent an employee from taking what is in his or her head," says Damien G. Stewart, a lawyer at Holland & Knight in the District. So whatever client list you can re-create from memory is yours to use. Remember, too, that you may be bound by a non-compete contract -- governing for whom and where you can work. So check out all the fine print before you get yourself in trouble.
5 Keep in touch. Maintaining contact with your former employers is essential, and old bosses can make great mentors. E-mail them once in awhile asking for career and life advice. Check in at the holidays. Share industry news by sending online links. People love to give advice and feel like they've made difference in someone's life. Let your old boss do that for you, and you will both benefit.