Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”
In my work as a career and leadership coach for mid- to high-level professional women, a key focus is supporting clients in planning the best steps to accelerate their growth and advance in their fields. Many are wanting to leave their current roles and employers to assume new positions that grant them greater advancement, compensation, flexibility, leadership impact, wellness and mental health, balanced work-life integration and other desirable career components.
They often have questions about the way in which to engage in the resignation process so it’s the most professional and beneficial for all involved, and so that no bridges are burned irrevocably. As there is a great deal of movement in the workforce today, these steps are more important than ever.
When it’s time to resign, the key questions on my clients’ minds are often:
‘How do I resign in a way that…’
- Is fair for me but will also preserve the goodwill I’ve generated these past years
- Is professional in my approach, and doesn’t burn bridges but also doesn’t violate my own boundaries or my right to privacy
- Helps me hold my head up and know I’m leaving in the best way possible
- Allows me to focus on starting the new role in a positive way
- Ensures my mentors, sponsors and colleagues (and even my former bosses and managers) will feel comfortable continuing to remain in touch and be in my support community in the future
- Helps my team members and staff deal with this change in the least disruptive way
Below are 7 key steps that will help you resign from your job in the most effective way so you’ll have no regrets, and can leave feeling confident, proud and excited for the future.
#1: Prior to resignation, get fully prepared
Make sure that, before you resign, you are fully ready to leave that day (or that moment) if they decide they do not wish you to remain on the premises (which is not uncommon in certain jobs and fields).
Access critical information – Have all the information, records, documents that are your property and that you need to take with you, including information you’ll need to refer to in the future.
Understand all your benefits and what you could be losing – In advance of resigning, you should verify where you stand in terms of benefits, 401K, stock options etc., and be fully in the know about what you may be leaving on the table if you depart.
Don’t make the mistake of not fully understanding the financial impact of your quitting (such as leaving right before stock options vest, or walking away from a potential bonus, etc.)
Once you inform your manager and submit your letter of resignation, you will want to verify the employee benefits you’re entitled to, including remaining salary payments, 401K rollover information, etc. But again, you should know this information before you submit your resignation.
Have written confirmation of your new employment/role – Before you resign, make sure you have in your possession an official, written confirmation of employment from the new company, with all the critical terms laid out. In the past 16 years of coaching professionals, numbers of clients have come for help who have not taken this step and their new employer suddenly rescinded the job offer after the individual had resigned, which makes for a difficult and stressful situation.
#2: Craft an appropriate resignation letter
The resignation letter is a critical element as it’s in your permanent record, with your supervisor and with HR. If you send an email to resign, it should be addressed to your manager directly, with a pdf version of your resignation letter attached.
The most important elements of a resignation “letter” (or email) are:
– Date of your letter
– Your full name and address
– Name of the individual addressed to (typically your manager) with company name and address
– Your statement of your official resignation with date of your last day
– Contact information if they need to reach you
– Your Signature
Additional suggested additional elements/information if appropriate, include 1) your thanks and appreciation for your time there (and anything else that you’re appreciative of – the experience, learning, growth, etc.), and 2) your offer to help as much as you are able with the transition of your projects and tasks, through your completion date.
An example of the letter might be:
Dear (Name of Manager),
Please accept this letter as my formal notification of my resignation from the role of [Position Title] with [Company Name]. My last day with the company will be [date of your last day].
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to work in this role for the past [years of service in the role]. I’ve truly appreciated [share some of what you’ve enjoyed in the role] and the chance to learn and grow.
Before I leave, I will do my best to complete any outstanding tasks and projects as far as I am able, and I am happy to offer my assistance during my final days to support a smooth transition.
I wish the company continued success.
Thank you and all best wishes,
(Your printed name and contact information)
The letter should be a factual statement of departure, without emotion, anger, threats, or reasons for leaving. Avoid discussing where you are going in the letter or any other superfluous information. Never share things that are not true. Be honest but there is no need to be overly forthcoming about your future plans. And be as positive and professional as possible.
#3: Don’t blindside your manager
Wherever possible, you should set up a meeting to speak with your manager, then resign in person (or directly), to your boss, before submitting the letter of resignation.
Of course, there are situations where quitting in person isn’t possible—for instance if you’re working remotely far from the office or have employed a lawyer who is the designated point person for you.
But generally, you don’t want to blindside your company or manager with a resignation letter without sharing the news directly to your manager first. Ideally, you’ll first set up a meeting with your boss, and share the news that you’re leaving and the date of your departure, and at the conclusion of the discussion, you’ll hand the letter to them.
And as part of your conversation with your manager, discuss the manner in which you feel is best to inform your team and staff and steps you think are important for a successful transition.
#4: Set the stage for a successful outcome
There are other aspects of the resignation process that need to be in order as well, including:
Give adequate notice – typically two weeks is the standard minimum amount of time, but in some fields and arenas, more notice is necessary.
Connect with your supporters, mentors and sponsors at the organization – Before you leave, do your best to obtain letters of recommendation from mentors and others at the organization who can speak highly of you. Secure LinkedIn recommendations as well, from respected individuals who are happy to endorse you and your work publicly. (This is a great step to take throughout your time at any organization, not just before you’re leaving.)
#5: Keep your cool and demonstrate your maturity, self-mastery and professionalism
It is not uncommon for managers to become upset or express anger or disappointment that you are leaving. Often, in the moment, they are thinking only of themselves or of the status of the department, and their own fears and anxiety can emerge.
Many managers will also worry how they’ll replace you, who will step in and do your work in the meantime, how it will look to others that you’re resigning, and more.
The best way to handle this is to avoid engaging in an emotional discussion, and not to apologize. If they say they are upset to lose you, you can say something like “I appreciate your kind words about my work. I’ve truly appreciated your help and support these past (months/years).”
But don’t inflame the situation by responding with anger or defensiveness. Keep the discussion short, unemotional, and remember – you’ve worked hard at this role and you don’t want to say anything at this juncture that will burn a bridge for you.
How you resign will be remembered, and probably talked about by your manager, HR staff, and others. Always remember too that you didn’t sign away your life to this company or job. You have every right to pursue a new role at a different organizations that represents a great growth opportunity for you.
And remember that if you’ve been a great employee and strong contributor or manager, they will most likely be upset to lose you. Don’t let your manager or others “guilt” or pressure you into thinking that you have to stay in a role that you’ve outgrown, or are fully ready to leave.
But be respectful, courteous and controlled in your departing words and demeanor. How you leave and the professionalism and maturity you demonstrate will be remembered and will reflect well on you for years to come.
#6: Don’t overshare or violate your own boundaries
If you are asked why you are leaving, you absolutely do not have to give a specific reason. But many find it effective and helpful to say something about how the next role or chapter allows for new skill development and career growth that you feel ready for.
For employees who’ve had a great relationship with their managers and want to give a bit of context for the resignation, they might want to share something in the way of explanation. That’s fine as long as it’s a positive reflection on you (not a negative reflection of them and the organization).
A safe and positive explanation is that you’ve found a new, exciting role that offers great new growth potential that you’re very excited about, and it represents new challenges that you’re ready to embrace.
Other positive reasons involve:
– Desiring an exciting career pivot
– Pursuing more growth, advancement and leadership opportunity
– Looking to create greater work-life balance (perhaps shorter commute or more flexibility)
– Wanting to gain expertise in a new industry or field
But overall, keep it brief, factual and positive. If you’re leaving on bad terms, it doesn’t behoove you to air your grievances at the time of resignation. There are appropriate forums to do that, perhaps at the exit interview (but in some cases that’s not safe for you to do either).
Even during those exit interviews, you need to be very prudent about what makes the most sense for you and your future, in terms of what you reveal about your decision to leave.
#7: Finally, if you’ve been mistreated in any way, protect yourself before resigning
If you’ve been mistreated, discriminated against, sexually harassed or otherwise experienced wrongful employment practices in your place of work, before you do anything (and certainly before you quit), consult an employment attorney with in-depth experience in supporting employees who have been wrongfully treated.
In cases where this is potential wrongful treatment, seek legal counsel before you quit, as you may be entitled to compensation for what you have experienced. If you quit before exploring this with an attorney, you could be leaving money and other key benefits on the table.
In the end, it’s important recognize that the manner in which you resign reflects more than your employment situation. There’s an expression that is helpful to keep in mind:
‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’
Remember that how you resign and the way in which you conduct yourself through this (often challenging and emotional) process is a reflection of what you think and feel about yourself, and also how you wish to treat others and be remembered.
In this as in everything, use this opportunity to gain greater awareness about who you are, your core values and what you wish to stand for, and the legacy you want to leave behind. Make sure that how you leave this organization and role is a demonstration of you at your most powerful, confident, and effective.