How to Resign Gracefully

how-to-resign-gracefullyReader J has a question about how to resign your job with grace…

Any chance you can do a post on how to gracefully resign? I have been interviewing for other jobs (attorney), and anticipate that one of those interviews with eventually turn into an offer. I have not disclosed to anyone at my current employer that I am looking elsewhere; it’s a small office, and I expect that news of my departure will be poorly received. Any thoughts on how to best navigate the tricky waters of transitioning from one job to another would be most appreciated!

Good luck to you in your search, J! I think we’ve all had daydreams/fantasies of screaming “I QUIT!” and rushing out the door, cardboard box in your hands, wind in your hair, as inspiring music plays. Amazingly, this isn’t the recommended route to leaving your job. For starters, when you go to clean out your office you will be absolutely gob-smacked by how much stuff you’ve managed to accumulate — so that whole “single-cardboard box” image will not work.  (Pictured: quitter, originally uploaded to Flickr by hellojenuine.)

In general, I think resigning your job is a balancing act — you need to assess your future employer’s needs, your current employer’s needs, and your own needs, with the hope of accommodating all three sets of needs, leaving on good terms, and making sure you get whatever benefits are coming to you. Obviously, these suggestions are just for once you have *accepted* the new job offer. Some things to consider to help you resign your job with grace:

– Attitude — have a good attitude when you resign, and do it with a smile — say how much you’ve enjoyed working there (or something that rings true to you — that you’ve learned a lot, or will never forget your time there) but that it’s sadly time for you to move on.  Tell them that you’ve accepted a job with ___ and can stay until ____.  That’s all you need to say.  It doesn’t matter how much your current job drove you away, or how your new job will be so much more awesome — leave on as high a note as you can.  Along these lines, try to finish your projects on a positive note with people, even those coworkers who annoy you. Sunshine! Happiness! You’re leaving soon! Similarly, if you have a going away party, try to avoid getting drunk — in many cases this will be people’s last impression of you, and you want to make sure that you leave a good one.  You may also want to check out our advice for people leaving an internship — a lot of the networking advice there is doubly true for resigning your job!

– Timing. Technically, I think only two weeks’ notice is required, but in a lot of jobs (I would include law/banking in the mix) I think 4 weeks is appreciated.  Timing is a tricky thing, though:  most employers will want you to start ASAP, which may not work if:

  • you have projects on your desk at your current job — you should leave enough time to either finish the projects, or get someone else up to speed to take your place.  This is one of the key things — don’t screw over your old employer when you leave.  Leaving on good terms is the goal here: you still want recommendations and the ability to network with your former colleagues and bosses.  Make sure that your employer sees whatever efforts you make to bring someone else up to speed — cc: them on the emails or memos, or send them updates along the lines of “I showed Y how to access and find the documents she might need for tasks A, B, and C.”
  • you have a bonus coming to you.  A lot of law firms are giving spring bonuses now (congratulations to everyone getting one!) and my advice to you, if possible, is to wait to resign until the money has cleared your checking account.  I’ve heard far too many stories of someone resigning after bonuses were announced but before they were actually paid out, and then not getting the bonus and kicking themselves.  If it’s just a spring bonus (which, from what I understand, is just in the low 4 figures), it may not be worth it if your new employer really needs you; you may also be able to negotiate with them to get a signing bonus or something comparable.  On the other hand, if it’s tens of thousands of dollars, think long and hard about resigning before you get that money.
  • you already know you need/have a vacation planned after your start date.  If you have a two-week trip planned, be up front with your new employer about this — they may want to delay the start date until after that time.

Finally, this is a very different question from what reader J asks about, but I’ll mention it also — if you’re pregnant, planning to quit when your maternity leave ends may not be a good idea.  Every office is a bit different, though — for example, I knew one woman who had a very intense first-half of the year, and then went on maternity leave — she came back to the firm for about a month, collected her bonus, and then quit, leaving on good terms.  On the other hand, I’ve heard of one friend who took her maternity leave, fully expecting to return to her job, and then realized she just couldn’t leave her baby at home, so she quit — her bosses were not happy.  I know one pregnant friend was directly told by her bosses that it was better to let them know in advance if she wasn’t planning on coming back, with the promise that the next time there was a job opening she would be the first person they called.

– Other details. Do not leave the cleaning of your office until the very end (see above).  Similarly, look at what benefits you have at your current job before you leave — do you have money in your flexible spending account?  have you talked to HR about what will happen to your accrued-but-not-used vacation days?  if your current job has certain perks that your future job does not (for example, free continuing legal education classes), do your make use of them before you leave.

Readers, what factors should one consider when quitting?  How do you resign your job with grace?

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