How to Resign Gracefully

February 11, 2013

Even those with a higher calling know when it's time to move on, as evidenced by the shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign the papacy at the end of the month—the first pope in 600 years to do so. While your decision to change jobs probably won’t warrant national news coverage, how you handle your last days at your current company can have a lasting impact on your professional reputation. Here are some often overlooked Do's and Don'ts to set you up for a clean, damage-free breakup.

Don't vent. You may be absolutely right: your boss is a jerk, your company is mismanaged, your co-workers are incompetent, but now's not the time to point that out.   Keep in mind that while you may be on your way out the door, the person (or even worse, people) you're sitting across from aren't.  The trick is to make the 'I'm leaving' conversation as quick and dignified as possible.   I say quick because I've seen even the most rehearsed professionals stumble with even five minutes too many.  Plus, if your parting words are, "You're the most incompetent person I've ever worked for,” you can be sure that’ll be top of mind during your reference check.  This is especially important if you’ve been asked to leave.  Repeat after me: Thank you for this opportunity (to learn how I will never, ever manage a team.)  I have learned a tremendous amount (about why you shouldn't take credit for your co-workers ideas.)   While getting all your grievances off your chest may feel cathartic to you, I promise that weeks or months later when you see your colleagues at an industry event, or are sitting across from that former boss in an interview years later, you'll be wishing you reined it in. The world's a small one.

Do replace yourself.  While on some level it would feel kind of good to think that we are utterly irreplaceable and that the company will fall apart without us, the truth is the quicker you replace yourself with someone even more stellar than you, the better.  The easier your departure is on your boss the more fondly you will be remembered and, if your replacement is even smarter than you are, you’ll be basking in her glow too.   One of the best things you can add to your  “I'm quitting” conversation is “and I have the perfect person to replace me.” Talk to friends, go out to your professional connections, use an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn to track down the perfect fit.

Don't change your mind. If your announcement is coming as a shock to your boss and you are, in fact, an invaluable employee you can expect shock, fear, (maybe even crying) and almost always a counter-offer.   With promises of how she’ll be better, more supportive, give you a raise, etc., it's a lot like a personal breakup.  While the burn of “I can't live without you” is strong,  the day after you agree to stay, they will be working out their plan for your departure.  Resist the urge to reconsider. Much like a breakup, you want to have your bags (desk) packed, give invested people some warning or at least some recent contact so you can keep the relationship warm, and know where you're going to live (work) before you set foot out the door.

Do continue to sing their praises. Just because you’re leaving doesn’t mean that the company, and those who still work there, are now dead to you. Once you’re gone, continue to post positive stories about your former employers on LinkedIn, comment on others' posts and stay connected to your old colleagues.  Doing so shows that you’re a professional who isn’t shortsighted.  After all, you never know when you might find yourself back there someday—in a much higher position.