You are signed, sealed, and ready to be delivered to the next chapter of your career. A new job awaits and so do those first-day-of-school butterflies that are already building in your stomach. It’s exciting, fresh, and new! But before you take that giant leap, there is a final exit door you need to pass through: leaving your job.
You spent many hours writing and rewriting your resume and cover letter and preparing for job interviews, but it’s also important to have a plan in place for leaving your current employer properly and professionally.
Just as my camp counselor always said when we packed up our campsites, “Always leave a place better than you found it.”
Here are some tips on leaving your job with grace and civility.
Queue up these three steps
Before you give notice, it’s best to have your next job firmly in place. Still looking for a new job? If so, you’re likely jumping the gun on exiting your current position.
Once you have established your new position, have these three steps queued up and ready to deliver:
- Verbal notice to your immediate supervisor that you are departing.
- A recommendation on when your last day of employment should be, from your perspective.
- A simple but polite resignation letter that says you’re going to resign, sets your departure date, provides a brief explanation of why you’re leaving, and expresses gratitude for the opportunity. This letter should be shared with your immediate supervisor and your organization’s human resource manager.
Be courteous, concise, and truthful in your reasonings. An example would be, “I’m ready for a new beginning and want to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
Avoid sharing the news widely
Leaving your job will be an emotional event for everyone involved. Organizations don’t like to be fired by their employees; they like to be in control and on their terms. Because it can be such a sensitive event, keep the matter confidential until you provide notice to your immediate supervisor.
Sure, it can be tempting to share your news with trusted friends and colleagues, but try to abide by this rule so word doesn’t reach leadership before you do.
If your boss learns you’re leaving your job before you’ve told her, it will likely set the wrong tone for the whole process and may even impact the reference she provides to future employers.
How to give notice
As far as timing goes, it’s fine to default to the standard two-week notice. However, there are a couple of caveats: first, if you have a contractual obligation that must be followed, and second, if your type of work demands a longer transition period.
Regardless, your organization may try to reduce or expand your transition period. For example, you may provide two weeks’ notice and find your employer only wants you for a single week or, in an extreme case, walks you to the door that day.
Prepare for such a pivot and roll with it, remembering that your next bridge to cross is waiting and it’s not worth burning the one behind you.
It’s important to formalize your resignation in writing. This allows you to document that you took the initial step to depart the organization and explain it in your words.
Again, it should be a concise letter (a PDF attachment to an email with a copy forwarded to your personal email account might be a best practice) expressing your gratitude for the organization and its people, naming the specific end date for your job, and expressing a willingness to assist during this transition.
If you were displeased with your job or your boss, save any explanations or feedback for the exit interview (we’ll discuss that in a bit).
Wrap up your work
After the dust settles and you’ve established your departure timeline, work with your supervisor to review the projects, matters, or clients you’re currently handling. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in your remaining time, what could be passed off to others, and what specialized knowledge you need to convey before you cart it off.
Be prepared with an outline of such tasks (including a recommendation of what you can get done), but let your boss have the final say.
You may be called upon to detail your job processes for your successor. Your institutional knowledge is an intangible asset that employers will want to extract from you while they still can. Creating a process map that lays out the steps in your work activities can greatly assist in getting a new hire up to speed when you’re gone.
Remember, the legal profession is small and all about connections. By staying engaged and demonstrating a strong work ethic during your final days, you can solidify a positive lasting impression among your colleagues and superiors.
The final curtain
Whether you view an exit interview as the opposite of a hiring interview or not, it’s good practice for any organization. If your organization doesn’t use exit interviews, consider asking for one, be it formal or informal.
Exit interviews are a good opportunity for you to address specific behaviors or concerns that led to your departure (as a reminder, these shouldn’t be included in your resignation letter).
Prepare for your exit interview. Focus any constructive feedback on how it will benefit the organization and your replacement. Offer examples of what you’ve learned in your time with the organization and how the organization has evolved.
Walking out of a positive and constructive conversation will do far more to help you than an explosive rant attacking the failures of others will.
Just as you gracefully planned your exit from your employer’s perspective, don’t forget to do the same from your teammates’ viewpoint.
Don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm and excitement for your plans, while reiterating that leaving your job was a difficult decision.
Take time to thank your colleagues and mentors for all they’ve taught you and the privilege of working alongside them. If appropriate, share your personal email address and desire to stay connected, especially to your mentors.
Lastly, if you’re an attorney leaving a law firm or similar organization, there are special considerations (yes, even ethical ones) you need to take into account such as the fiduciary duty you owe your firm and the interests of your clients.
My post “6 Things to Consider When Leaving Your Law Firm” will help guide you through some of the Rules of Professional Conduct and other particulars that demand your attention.
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