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How to Leave Your Job Gracefully

The long, sappy goodbye email is not a good look

Of all the counterintuitive, seemingly horseshit pieces of career advice you might ever encounter (“skip college,” “work a job you hate”), here’s one that actually rings true: The best time to get a new job is when you don’t need one.

Being fulfilled in your job makes you a more discerning and desirable job candidate, according to professional recruiters. You’re unlikely to leave for anything short of an ideal gig, and employers will view your employment as proof of your value (kind of like how women are more attracted to men with wedding bands). You also don’t have much leverage in salary negotiations if you’re unemployed and earning no income.

The difficulty is how to maneuver that transition process. Many people daydream about leaving their jobs in a profanity-laden blaze of glory — middle fingers to the air, finally giving their boss a piece of their mind. Few actually follow through on making a Jerry Maguire exit, but many do bungle their departures, says Coleen Bentley, a human resources executive with more than 30 years of experience making personnel decisions.

Bentley has watched thousands of employees take and leave jobs during her time as a recruiting consultant and in-house HR executive, some of whom hurt their career prospects by making inelegant exits, she says. The boss you disrespect on your way out the door could end up being the hiring manager for a job you want years down the line. Bentley herself is an example — she once worked for the same boss who had laid her off years prior at a different company. She never would have gotten the new job had she not handled the downsizing with poise, she says.

So how do you leave a job gracefully? MEL spoke with Bentley, now the vice president of human resources at Orora Packaging Solutions, about how to leave a job without burning a bridge.

Don’t job-search on company time

The conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t job-search on a company-owned computer or mobile device, but Bentley says those fears are overblown. “I don’t think that’s an issue,” she says. “Because often now, your personal computer is also your work computer, your personal phone is your company phone.”

What is important is that you don’t let your search come at the expense of your performance at your current job. Surf Monster and revise your resume on your own time, not the company’s, and don’t adopt the attitude of having one foot out the door — your colleagues will notice if you’re unhappy and unengaged.

Use PTO when going on an interview

Wearing a suit to your jeans-and-a-T-shirt workplace is a telltale sign that your “lunch” is really an interview, so leave your formalwear in the car and change your clothes on the way, Bentley says. (There are few things less dignified than changing in the backseat of your Taurus, but it’s better than upsetting your boss.)

Or better yet, don’t go to the office at all — use paid time off instead. “I would never call in sick [to go to an interview],” Bentley says. Phone interviews, on the other hand, can be (discreetly) handled during your lunch hour.

Tell your boss that you’re leaving in person

The only time you should send your supervisor an email about your departure is to ask them to speak in person, Bentley says. Otherwise, speak to them in their office, or if they’re in a different location, on the phone. One of the worst exits Bentley has witnessed involved an employee leaving a resignation letter on their boss’s desk.

And when you do break the news, do it professionally. “The most common mistake is a person decides they’re going to say everything ugly they’ve ever wanted to say.” Don’t do that. If you feel you must voice reasons for your leaving, do it respectfully so as to maintain the business relationship.

Create a transition plan

For the average worker, it’s customary to provide two weeks’ notice, during which you’re expected to delegate all of your responsibilities, Bentley says. Oftentimes, your employer will aid in this process, but if you really want to leave a good impression, you’ll handle this transition yourself.

Don’t send a long, sappy goodbye email to the entire company

A good manager will organize a goodbye lunch for you, or you might want to schedule a farewell, after-work happy hour for you and your team, Bentley says.

But she advises against sending one of those saccharine, company-wide goodbye emails that have become common in some office cultures. “I never understand why people think that’s appropriate,” Bentley says. “It only makes [the person leaving] feel better. It doesn’t add any value to anyone. … Usually the intent is nice. I just think it’s a little much.”

Instead, write a quick thank-you and goodbye email to your immediate co-workers, including your personal information should they ever want to contact you. Slack or in-person notices are fine, too. Whatever you do, just don’t say you’re leaving because “this place sucks.”

“You might be working with these people again,” Bentley warns. “And even if you don’t, you want them to be good references.”