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Want to Preserve Your Professional Rep When Leaving a Job? Do These 7 Things
Adobe Stock / ASDF
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Leaving a job, especially if it’s your first one, is an exciting but scary step. You’re eager to tackle the challenges of what comes next, but you may also be apprehensive about the future and starting something new. Moreover, you might be anxious about leaving your current job, wondering how people will react and whether they’ll be upset or mad at you for resigning. Perhaps you've been there for a long time and it feels like you're leaving your comfort zone.

Take heart: People leave their jobs every day. Most employers expect a certain amount of turnover on a regular basis. While they may be sad to see you go, particularly if you were a valued employee, they’ll most likely understand and wish you the best (of course, there are some exceptions to this). That’s especially true if you follow this advice for resigning gracefully, without burning your bridges.

1. Tell your direct boss first.

Before you tell anyone else (and that includes your work bestie), ask your direct manager to speak in private to inform them that you’re leaving. They should be the first person you tell. You don’t want them to hear the news through the grapevine — it should come from you. Your boss will be able to tell you about the next steps, such as notifying HR.

2. Give at least two weeks’ notice.

It’s standard in most industries to give at least two weeks’ notice — that is, informing your employer of your resignation two weeks prior to your final day at work. However, some organizations may have specific rules that differ from this. Check your contract and employee handbook to make sure you’re covered; you may be contractually obligated to give more notice.

There are some situations in which it may not be possible to give a full two weeks’ notice — for example, in the case of a family emergency. If you can’t, do your best to be as accommodating as possible, explaining the urgency of the situation to your manager and offering to assist with the transition.

3. Write a formal resignation letter.

There’s some debate as to whether it’s essential to write a formal resignation letter. It may not seem necessary if you’ve told your manager and HR, but it’s a useful step for, at the very least, creating a paper trail. If there are any problems later on (in terms of benefits or COBRA, paychecks, unused vacation days and so on), you can point to this letter as proof that you handed in your resignation on such-and-such day. This also effectively initiates the formal resignation process.

In your letter, include the current date, your intention to resign, your last day of work and other pertinent information. Some employers may require you to submit this letter and may ask for you to include certain things, such as your reasons for resigning and a way of contacting you should they need to in the future. 

4. Finish up everything you can.

It may not be possible to tackle everything on your to-do list before you leave, but do your best to tie up as many loose ends as you can. If there are certain projects you know to be high-priority, work on those first. You may end up staying later in the office during this period to accomplish everything you need to, but think of it as a means of leaving on good terms. Your boss will certainly appreciate the extra effort, and you never know when your paths might cross again or you’ll need to ask for a reference.

If you’re not sure where to start, sit down with your boss to review the work you still have on your plate and what they’d like you to prioritize. They might also ask you to train your successor in that time, so if you feel overwhelmed, let them know what you think you can and can’t do realistically by your last day.

5. Leave plenty of resources, information and a how-to guide for your successor.

Make sure your successor has access to anything they need to do the job, whether or not your replacement has already been hired. For example, you might share pertinent documents and a list of passwords. You should also create a guide with your main responsibilities and the general steps for completing them. Let’s say, for instance, one of your responsibilities is to create Facebook ads. In that case, you should outline the general process, including whom you need to ask for approval, where to source images and so on. 

If you’re feeling extra generous, you could also leave your phone number and/or email address in case of emergencies. While this isn’t essential (you’re moving on, after all), it is a thoughtful gesture that shows your employer that you still care about your job, even though you’re leaving.

6. Send goodbye emails to your colleagues, clients and contacts.

You’ll want to notify your colleagues and clients of your departure and give them time to respond before you leave. This will not only allow you to express your gratitude to the people who have helped make your time there successful, but it can also be helpful to those who may have questions about workflow, whom to contact in the future and so on. This guide gives you the full rundown on how to properly send a goodbye email at work. Some of the most salient points to bear in mind are:

• Tell some people, such as close colleagues, mentors and, of course, your managers in advance (don’t let this be the first they hear of it).

• Provide information about procedures for moving forward, such as whom to contact for help with different issues and responsibilities. 

• Offer your personal contact information should you wish to stay in touch.

7. Thank your manager and colleagues.

Even if you’ve sent a goodbye email, you should go the extra mile and thank key players in your time at the company in person. You don’t have to go around hugging 100 people, but speaking to a handful of close colleagues and your manager is a nice gesture that will help ensure you’re leaving on good terms. 

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