By definition, when you decide to resign from a position, there is a certain amount of discontent with the status quo – you might even be actually miserable. It can be tempting to let your negative feelings show as you prepare to leave a company. You think to yourself, “What difference does it make? I’m out of here in a few days, anyway.” But your attitude and conduct during the last weeks of employment are under closer scrutiny than you imagine; you can do lasting damage to your career by leaving a company under a cloud. On the other hand, leaving with grace and dignity can help your career by positioning you as true professional.
Leaving a position, even one you love, is a difficult and sometimes emotional event. As with most complicated social situations, this means you should err on the side of communicating more often and more formally than you might in a casual situation. Most companies agree that a minimum of two weeks’ notice is required when you resign from a position. If you are a valued knowledge worker, manage people, or have been with the company more than five years, you should consider giving more notice – even as much as a month, if possible and if you’re on good terms with the company.
Generally, managers appreciate a face-to-face meeting when you are telling them you’re leaving. Quitting by email or voicemail is the equivalent of breaking off a romance by leaving a post-it on the windshield. For this reason, you should work hard to avoid timing a resignation when your supervisor is out of town. Most companies require a formal letter that states your departure date as part of the resignation process. HR offices keep the letter on file to document that yours was a voluntary resignation. It’s a good idea, though not required, to add a line or two to the letter saying that you have enjoyed your time with the company and thanking your manager for his or her support during your employment. If it happens to be true, it’s a nice thing to say, and if it’s not true, you leave a gracious last impression.
One of the best things you can do in your last days on the job is to create a plan for turning over your responsibilities. Spend some time organizing your desk and your files. Make a list of pending projects and deadlines, along with key customer or vendor contacts. These resources will be invaluable to your supervisor and your replacement. Offer to train the interim worker of your supervisor’s choice, and to show him or her how you have organized your work. You can also offer to draft a plan for notifying customers of your departure, although your company may want to manage the process on its own.
As you’re departing, resist the temptation to give anyone a piece of your mind. You can never go wrong by taking the high road and being cordial to everyone. In fact, this is a great time to mend bridges – to tell people what you admire or value about their work. You don’t have to gush; a simple “Jean, I know we haven’t always agreed on the issues, but I have always admired how dedicated you are to your work, and wanted to tell you before I leave” will go a very long way to rewriting what may have been a difficult history.
One very good reason to leave on good terms with your coworkers is that you never know when you’ll meet them again. Your supervisor or coworker could change companies and be in a position to make hiring decisions about you in the future – or become your new boss. If you walk away from your current job in good standing, your coworkers will remember you as a class act. Last impressions can be as critical as first impressions on the job.