So you're looking to resign gracefully. You’ve decided it’s time to take the next step professionally and after hard work establishing what it is that you want, refining your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile, executing a job search, going through countless interviews, negotiations, and quiet moments of introspective thought, you’ve accepted a new role — congratulations (and phew!).
You’ve even gotten past the sometimes awkward or nerve-racking moment of telling your manager and HR team that you’re leaving and you are developing an exit strategy so to not leave your team in a bad spot.
You’re done — right? Not quite.
There’s one last thing you should do before you turn in your badge and walk out door to bask in that feeling of little to no professional obligation for a weekend or maybe a week or two. (Side note, there’s nothing like that feeling.)
What’s that last step? Send a goodbye email to coworkers. This is different from writing a resignation letter, but in my professional opinion as a leadership and career growth coach, workplace consultant, and university professor, as well as from my time managing programs, teams and people, and also just being a thoughtful human — it is arguably more important.
First, let’s talk about what these letters are all about. A resignation letter is formally communicating to your Human Resources department that you will be leaving the company. You should do more than just scrap something together but this letter is mostly a formality.
The goodbye letter on the other hand is sent by you to anyone you like and might be the last communication someone receives from you at this organization (or ever). You want to use it to communicate your departure and leave on a strong note. So how to do this? Read on for my framework to bid adieu flawlessly.
Yes, you really do need to send a resignation letter and a goodbye email.
I recommend something that’s consistent with your personal tone — if you’re silly this is the time to show that! The twist on this email, as compared to every other one you’ve sent your colleagues, is that you may not see many of these people ever again so as long as you still keep it within reason you can fully do you here.
Communication 101: Be upfront and clear about what you’re sharing. In this case it’s that you’re leaving. Something like this works: “As most of you know my time at [COMPANY NAME] has come to a close. I’ve truly enjoyed partnering with each and every one of you and [BRIEF SYNTHESIS OF YOUR WORK, FOR INSTANCE — expanding our portfolio of clients].” Now, you have a main message here (that you're leaving) but notice a second part. You also want to upfront sincerely thank your colleagues for their partnership. Never underestimate the power of expressing appreciation.
After making it clear that you’re leaving, and acknowledging your appreciation for your soon-to-be former colleagues, you want to toot your own horn a little bit. Why? You want to leave on the best possible terms. Don’t expect everyone to remember all the great things you’ve done; in fact, they likely will not remember unless you tell them. Just like you focus on your best accomplishments in your resume you want to focus on your best accomplishments when leaving and remind everyone of how valuable you have been. Remember, this might be the last time you communicate directly with some of these people and since you’re in control of the message, capitalize on that!
Slightly uncomfortable doing this? Consider this: You’re in the middle of a change, yes. But more than likely you will likely have more professional changes in your future. Who knows — the recipients of this email might recruit you for your next position some day or you might want to recruit them. You want this last communication showcasing your best work and your best, honest self.
Tell them what you’re doing! Sometimes you may not want to reveal too many details for various reasons, which is fine. But sharing what you’re comfortable with is key to make people feel connected with you and your plans. Try something like: “What’s next for me? I’ll be starting with [COMPANY NAME] next month where I’ll be [WHAT YOU’LL BE DOING]. I’ll be staying in the [CITY, STATE] area so if you’re ever in [WHERE YOU LIVE / WHERE YOU’LL BE NEWLY WORKING] give me a shout. OR I’ll be relocating to [NEW CITY, STATE] for this opportunity. If you are ever in the area or want to get together give me a shout.”
Sign off and make sure your soon to be former colleagues can get a hold of you if they want — via channels you’re comfortable with! Your email and LinkedIn profile are pretty standard but if you’re comfortable sharing a phone number, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook link go for it.
Tip: QA your links — for real, the very last time I sent one of these before running my business full time my LinkedIn profile link was wrong. It happens and I just laughed it off, but I was also pretty mortified and likely lost out on a lot of connections. Don’t make the same mistake! And with that, you’re drafted! Just a few more nuances to consider before hitting send…
No one on this recipient list needs to see everyone you’re sending this to. Plus, you may want to include people who might cause a stir or you want to leave a few people off. Remember, you can really do you in this email but it’s never bad to show up polished and thoughtful so when in doubt, go with the BCC.
Assuming you actually want to stay in touch, copy your personal email address. This is a subtle way to reinforce you’re leaving. Also, if someone sees your note after you leave (when you no longer have access to your email address) they’ll have quick access to this info.
Plan out who should receive this message in advance. If you’ve been at a company for a while this will be a long list. I’m a fan of beginning to capture this list a few weeks before your departure. Tip: If you realize after hitting send that you forgot someone simply send him/her a separate message on BCC — they’ll never know.
Have a mentor, client you’re close with, or an executive who you has a strong connection with — or WANT to have a strong connection with in the future? Send this person a slightly different version of this note. This can be virtually the same message but it might be subtly nuanced; sometimes I’ve simply sent a personal message forwarded “on top” of my mass email. The point here is to wholeheartedly send a kind, thoughtful, personalized note to anyone who warrants it.
Put it this way: If someone is important to you, your farewell email should not be the first time they find out you’re leaving (this assumes you’ve had a period of notice, that is).
Often you want to exit the office a tad early, or at least on time, on your last day, so if you want to be able to field questions or have quick conversations before you head out to give yourself a little bit of time.
This is the reason for the timing recommendation but I recall being surprised by all the emails, calls, and IMs I got when leaving my first corporate departure after four years and three different roles. I actually ended up showing up late to my own farewell happy hour because I was busy responding to messages or sending them to my person email. This is another mistake to not make. Here are some tips on how to control your email inbox to help.
No one knows your peers and organization like you — maybe you’ve observed a few great emails in your day, maybe you’ve received bad ones. Strive to emulate the good especially if there are some cultural or communication quirks at your organization that you want to take into consideration.
Sometimes you may not have the opportunity to do this (like if you’re leaving for a direct competitor and are asked to leave upon giving your notice). That’s okay — things happen and life certainly happens. But when you can, sending a note like this makes you more human, more approachable, reminds people of your contribution, and will lock in maybe your last contact with them in a positive light.
Every company, culture, and person is different but a part of career growth and success is directly influenced by relationships. You don't need to feel guilty about quitting your job — just communicate so you don't burn bridges. The point of this type of communication is to help lay the foundation continue those relationships long after your departure.
Jane Scudder is a certified leadership, personal development, and career growth coach; she helps individuals and groups get unstuck and achieve positive, sustainable change. In addition to one-on-one coaching she builds and leads original workshops and training programs, and consults with organizations of various sizes. Find out more at janescudder.com.
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