The Ultimate Guide to Leaving a Job Gracefully

I’ve never liked to deliver bad news, and being seen as a good employee has always been very important to me. So, as you can imagine, it’s really hard for me to leave a job. I’ve come up with a checklist of sorts for anytime I find myself faced with a new opportunity I just can’t pass up. It’s not only helped me keep my anxiety in check as I prepare to start a new chapter, but has also landed me two offers to return to past employers in the future.

If you’re preparing to leave a job and want to keep your options open, check out this guide for steps to take when giving notice, before you leave, and after your last day.

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Giving notice

The most basic part of leaving a job gracefully is also the simplest — giving proper notice. This is an easy way to show respect to both your supervisor as an individual and your company as a whole. Here are a few things to always consider.

Provide at least two weeks notice. It’s standard to give notice at least two weeks before your intended last day at a job. In some situations, you’ll need to give more, specifically when your contract requires it. If you’re in a situation where you know well in advance, such as leaving to go to grad school or relocating for a significant other, and have some flexibility, it can also be a goodwill gesture to give your notice sooner.

When I took my first job out of college, I was hired specifically to replace someone who was moving the next year for her spouse’s military assignment. While a year is an extreme example, it was incredibly helpful to learn directly from my predecessor, and it showed the rest of our coworkers that she cared a great deal to give such advance notice.

Talk to your supervisor in person. While you’ll need a formal resignation letter, you should always schedule some time with your supervisor to give them the news face-to-face. They will likely want more detail than what’s included in your letter. Telling them in person allows for this.  

Questions you should prepare for include: “Why are you leaving?” “Where are you headed next?”

“Is there anything we can do to change your mind?”

Be sensitive to how you share the news. When you’re talking to your boss, ask about their preference for how you share the news with others. If it’s reasonable, follow their request. For instance, I’ve had a supervisor ask for two days to notify the rest of the senior leadership team before I spoke openly about it with the rest of the staff, and I obliged.

Before you leave

It can be tempting to slack off during your last days, but you never know when your paths will cross with a former coworker or supervisor again. So, whether you love or hate the job that you’re leaving, there are steps you should take to leave the door open for future opportunities and encounters.

Personally address those you work most closely with. Let anyone who you’re close to know personally that you’re leaving. Don’t let them find out on social media or through office gossip. If your supervisor is OK with it, ask to announce it at a team meeting so everyone in your immediate workgroup finds out at once. Or ask your work bffs to join you for lunch so you can tell them all at the same time and squash office gossip.

Keep your social media positive. Even if you’re leaving because you’re frustrated or unhappy, focus on the positive when you share information publicly. For example, on your last day, post about being excited for what lies ahead rather than sharing a laundry list of all the reasons you’re getting out of there.

Keep working to capacity. You may want to mentally check out, but keep in mind that many places aren’t required to let you work the full two weeks after you’ve given notice, so your behavior can still have consequences. This includes financial ones if you find yourself with fewer remaining paychecks than you expected. Also remember that how you handle your last few days has the power to leave a lasting positive, or negative, impression.

Make it easy for the next person. No matter why you’re leaving, the person taking your position is likely not the reason. Make their life easier by keeping your files organized and tying up any loose ends. Let any customers, clients, or other contacts know that you’re leaving and direct them to a new point of contact. Aim to leave a full list of tasks you handled, especially the ones that are more in your head than in your job description, so that everyone understands exactly what needs to be taken care of when you’re gone.

Paving the way for a smooth transition can really pay off. In fact, I’ve had a member of a senior leadership team several levels above me offer me the opportunity to do consulting work for the company after seeing the detailed notes and organized files I left behind.

RELATED: From Full-Time to Freelance: How I Became My Own Boss

After your last day

Once you’ve clocked out for the last time, the work of leaving a job gracefully isn’t quite done. Maintaining professionalism and connections can help open doors for you down the road.

Take your exit interview seriously. If you’re offered the chance or required to participate in one, give the questions serious thought. Don’t use this as a time to air all of your grievances. Do provide helpful feedback and constructive criticism so the company can continue to grow. What you say could be considered if you ever decide to go back to work there.

Don’t burn bridges. Connect with coworkers and others from your professional network on LinkedIn and provide them with new contact information after you transition to a new company. Ask anyone who serves as a mentor in the company if you can continue to connect after you leave and ask those in leadership positions if they’d be willing to serve as a professional reference for you in the future.

Originally published September 4, 2018.

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