Handling Your Resignation with Style

Last Updated May 8, 2007 4:14 PM EDT

No matter what your reasons for resigning, you want to leave on good terms; the relationships you have developed in your present job may be of value to you in the future. If your decision to leave is based on "pull" factors, you may decide to handle it differently from a decision based on "push" factors. Pull factors draw you toward something—perhaps an exciting job or self-employment opportunity. Push factors drive you away from something—perhaps work that offers no opportunity for advancement, or a supervisor with whom you have a stressful relationship. Whatever your reasons, you need to handle your resignation carefully.

What You Need to KnowI've given two months' notice, but I'd like to leave in one. How should I go about this?

If you have a carefully thought out exit plan, your employer may be willing to consider an early departure. Your plan should include a detailed report of the stage at which you leave things, who is assuming what responsibilities, and what training is necessary. Finally, it's wise to have a plan in place for maintaining key relationships, in case people find it necessary to consult you after you leave.

I've submitted my resignation but have heard nothing since. What do I do?

You first need to know that your employer received your letter, otherwise you may not be able to leave on the date you requested. Ask your manager to confirm your date of departure. If you still don't have a satisfactory answer, go to your human resources department. If your resignation is on file, you are free to leave as planned.

I've handed in my resignation but realize that I've made a mistake. How do I remedy this?

You have put yourself in an awkward position. If you resigned out of anger or because of a disagreement, you will have to both rebuild your relationships and convince your boss to reinstate you. This will depend on your being able to assure your boss that there will be no repetition of your unprofessional behavior. On the other hand, if you quit for sound reasons that no longer apply, your employer may graciously welcome you back.

I don't get on with my boss and know I need to move on. How can I resign without adversely affecting the rest of the team?

You may be tempted to tell you coworkers your intentions before you inform your boss. However, if the news should get to your boss before you do, it could make matters worse. You need to talk to your boss first. Look for a lull in the work schedule to make your announcement, and while your boss is mulling it over and considering a response, you can take your coworkers aside and give them the news.

What to DoKnow the Terms of Your Employment

Before you hand in your resignation be sure you understand both your responsibility to your current employer and, if you have accepted an offer of a new job, the basis on which that offer was made. The terms of your present employment are governed either by a personal contract or by company policy. Either way, review the terms carefully. For example, your new employer may want you to begin work in two weeks, and you may find that your present employer requires a 30-day notice. Your new job may be contingent on satisfactory references. If you submit your resignation before your potential employer has approved your references, you may have no job at all. So before you resign, have a written offer in hand.

Be Tactful

Before a potential employer asks for a reference from your current organization, find someone in your organization who knows your skills and accomplishments, who you can trust, and who you are confident will support you. Be certain that when you ask this person to recommend you for the job that you are not asking him or her to compromise his or her position in the company. Remember—you are asking a favor.

Even if you are resigning because of a stressful personal or ethical environment, you want to leave behind feelings of good will. Behave professionally and resist the temptation to vent your frustrations with your work experience in either your letter of resignation or exit interview.

People will remember you by the last impression you make. So make a good one.

Submit a Carefully Composed Letter of Resignation

Your letter of resignation should be short and simple. All that you need say is that you are submitting your resignation, effective on a particular date. It should be delivered personally or sent—not by e-mail—to your boss with a copy to the human resources department. You may want to include your reason for leaving, but do so only if you can do it briefly and in a positive way. If you want to say more, save it until you and your boss have an opportunity to sit down together and talk.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Circumstances may influence your employer's reaction to your resignation. If, for example, you are leaving to work for a competitor, you may be asked to pack up your belongings—under the supervision of your manager—and vacate your office immediately, in order to prevent you from taking company secrets with you. Being escorted from the building may seem like an insult, especially if you have been a loyal company employee for many years. But think of the situation from your employer's viewpoint: your manager has the company's best interests in mind, and you are no longer part of the team.

Under different circumstances, the same employer might be happy for you, for example, if you are leaving to resume your education or begin a new career. In either case you may want to return to the company at sometime in the future; or if you start your own company, your former employer may become your client. Whatever the circumstance, it is in everyone's interest that you part company on good terms.

Consider What Might Happen After You Leave

Think about the implications of your resignation on the organization. How might your job be managed? What can you do to make the transition to a replacement easier? You may have already been grooming a coworker to replace you, but you should not make that person any promises or raise his or her hopes—someone other than you will be deciding who replaces you.

There are some things you can do, however. If you have clients, begin reassigning their accounts to people you think are a good fit. Encourage your clients, who will be disappointed to see you go, to build the same cooperative relationship with your replacement as they had with you. Remember (and perhaps remind your replacement and clients) that business relationships are built on the quality of the product and/or service, not the individual. Remember, too, that by taking your clients with you, you may be in breach of your contract.

As your colleagues get accustomed to the idea of your leaving, they will become far more independent and will eventually stop consulting you. Do not take offense—it means you have met your goal of training the staff to take over after your departure. At this time of transition, you should expect to feel a little unsettled and sad.

Be ready for an Exit Interview

If you have and exit interview, you may be asked your reasons for leaving. Use this occasion to give constructive feedback, not as an opportunity to air all your grievances. Be professional and respectful of your coworkers and of the organization you have been an integral part of.

What to AvoidYou Reveal Your Plans to the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time

Some people are unable to resist the temptation to tell coworkers of their plans to leave before they inform the boss. The political fallout resulting from one indiscreet employee revealing the information to the office rumor mill can be avoided if you follow the proper procedures when you submit your resignation.

You Lose Your Cool

If interpersonal relationships and conflicts are the reason for your resignation, you may feel you have nothing to lose by letting off steam and being totally candid about your bitterness, but you do—your reputation for professionalism and self-discipline. Stay in control and leave with your reputation intact.

You Resign on Impulse

Some people resign in anger or in a fit of depression and regret it immediately. In order to avoid the difficulty—or even the impossibility—of retracting a resignation under these circumstances, approach your resignation rationally, in a way that supports your long-term career objectives.

You Threaten to Resign as Leverage

Never threaten to quit as a means of getting something you want, unless you are prepared to do it. Your boss may be tempted to take you up on it. Instead, go through established company channels, using rational and persuasive arguments backed up with data. If you need to appeal, do so, but do not put you job or credibility on the line.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Bolles, Richard N. What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2007.

Web Sites:

About.com: jobsearch.about.com/cs/careerresources/a/resign.htm

I-resign.com: www.i-resign.com/uk/resigning/how-to-resign.asp