So you’ve done it. After what may have been weeks or months of sneaking out for job interviews and sending follow-up emails to the hiring manager with witty yet professional responses, you’ve gone and gotten yourself a new job.
But after the excitement of negotiations and the high of saying “I accept” dies down, a feeling of dread might sink in. Now you have to inform your current employer in a way that keeps all your business relationships intact and leaves both you and the company in a good place. How to do it without feeling awkward or guilty?
Here’s how to make your exit the right way.
Telling Your Boss and HR
Once you confirm the details of your offer letter and set a start date (and not a minute sooner), it’s time to tell your manager. Make sure you do this before you tell anyone else in the company, including your direct reports or close coworkers. “Your boss should be the first to know you’re leaving, and he should be told face-to-face,” says Nicole Williams, CEO and founder of career consultancy WORKS.
But whether you deliver the news in the morning or at the end of the day is up to you. “Consider your boss’s style,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of the Career Center at Northeastern University. “Is it okay to pop in first thing in the morning for a chat, or does your manager prefer that you request an appointment? Do whatever seems natural and appropriate as if it were just another meeting you are setting up.”
Depending on your company policy, you may also have to write an official resignation letter to submit to HR. “The letter should be brief — simply state that you’re resigning without listing any reasons and include your end date. Finish with a positive statement about the company or your experience there,” Williams advises.
Give at Least 2 Weeks
In most cases, the standard two weeks is more than enough notice, but be aware that some employers may ask you to leave your position sooner. It’s their prerogative, says Ryan Naylor, CEO and founder of LocalWork.com, but most will probably want you to complete your last two weeks to wrap up projects and train your replacement, if possible.
If you’re in the middle of a particularly important project, you may want to consider giving more time (say, an extra week), assuming your new employer is amenable, to ensure a smooth transition. This might be necessary if you’re crucial to, for example, a large sales proposal closing or you’re three weeks away from the launch of a site redesign you’ve been leading for a year.
Remember, “You never want to leave your boss in a bind. You may need to rely on her for a reference in the future,” says career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen. Same is true for your team members. Dumping a project on them at the final hour isn’t going to help in sustaining future friendships once you’re no longer in the same office.
Telling Your Team
Whether you manage a large group or just one person, once your manager has been informed, it’s time to fill in your team. But before you do, make sure you’ve ironed out the details of a transition plan with your supervisor, including who may become their interim boss while the company searches for a replacement. “The first thing employees will want to know is who they will report to now that you're leaving,” says Naylor.
“Depending on the size of your team and your relationships with each member, talking one-on-one with your reports might be helpful,” Naylor adds. “It can be a very difficult, sad, and confusing time for employees when their manager leaves, so addressing them personally and answering any questions they have, without badmouthing the company in any way, can be helpful.”
Overall, stay positive, answer questions neutrally, and provide as many details as possible about your transition plan and how the responsibility will shift to each team member over the next two weeks. And prepare for things to start to feel different in the office once the news is out. “The office dynamic will change when you give notice, so you have to be prepared for that and not feel disappointed or offended if you are no longer included in certain meetings or emails,” says Aisha Quaintance, president and CEO of Fillmore Search Group.
Your Transition Plan
This is a crucial component to making sure you leave your team and company in the best possible place after your departure.
The details of this plan may be covered in the meeting with your boss when you give notice, or in a follow-up you schedule after he or she has absorbed the news. Naylor recommends doing the following to help formulate your plan:
- Catalog all your current responsibilities.
- Work with your manager to assign those duties to others on your team and perform training as needed.
- Determine with your manager how to notify any customers, clients, or outside vendors with whom you interact, and introduce them to their new point of contact within your company.
- Organize your digital and physical files and ensure that your team understands your filing system.
- Wrap up any lingering projects to the best of your ability.
- Help write an accurate job description for your role so your replacement knows exactly what you do.
- Help recruit, hire, and train your replacement if asked by your manager.
Remember, those last two weeks aren’t a time to coast. “As you begin the final countdown to your last day on the job, you may be tempted to cut corners, take extra-long lunches, or leave an unfinished project for your eventual replacement,” says Pamela Eyring, owner of The Protocol School of Washington. “However, adopting this type of attitude can alienate your coworkers. By remaining an active member of the team, you will ensure your reputation remains intact long after you clock out for the final time.”
The Exit Interview
If you’re asked to do an exit interview with HR, err on the side of being positive (or just neutral, if the position was particularly challenging). Concentrate on thanking the company for the experience and staying professional. Even if you’re asked direct questions about your manager or teammates, answer neutrally, says Naylor. “Even if you can't stand your manager, you have nothing to gain, and quite a lot to lose, by complaining about them at this point.” What could you lose? Positive references, a future position with that same company, or even just a ding to your professional reputation.
Your Last Day
It may be bittersweet. Depending on your reasons for leaving and how long you’ve been with the company, your last day will likely be a combination of nervous excitement, a little bit of dread (who likes good-byes?), and a twinge of sadness.
A checklist for your last few hours in the office should include:
- Addressing any outstanding questions with your boss and colleagues.
- Collecting your contacts and alerting them via email or LinkedIn that today is your last day. If you’d like, provide your new contact information so they can stay in touch.
- Wiping your computer of all personal files or information. Be sure to save all company files in a shared drive that your team or manager can access.
- Updating your voicemail and email auto-responder with contact information for whomever will be covering your position after you leave.
- Turning in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc. to the appropriate people in your office, likely your manager, HR, and IT.
- Graciously saying good-bye and thanking everyone for the experience.
- Celebrating! You’re off to a new adventure.