Resigning Gracefully
By GMR

Once you have formally accepted a written offer to join a new company, you must resign from your current employer promptly.  With some exceptions, this rarely is a pleasant experience - no matter what your level, no matter what your circumstances, no matter what you think of your employer.

Under the best of circumstances, professionals develop strong personal relationships with mentors, colleagues or staff members that they never want to leave behind.  Nor should they.  Tremendous loyalty, respect and trust may have built up over the years, which will remain valuable, long after one has moved on.  The fear of this loss generates conflicting emotions for many people.

Perhaps you work for someone who will not want to lose you to a competitor, or doesn't relish the challenge of replacing you with someone of your caliber, or simply doesn't want to deal with the temporary disruption that your departure might mean to a project or the organization.  This person may be strong willed.  This person may be your best friend.  This person may be the most unpleasant person you ever worked for.  You want to neutralize those factors, make a clean break, and exit gracefully, on your terms, not theirs.

First of all, never resign from your current position until you are convinced that the new opportunity is the best thing for you and, if appropriate, your family.  If you are in any committed relationship, before you resign, you owe it to yourself (and your new employer) to thoroughly discuss the matter with your significant other so you know how your decision will be viewed by the people who matter to you most.  Trying to undo a resignation after you have been announced it to the world, is disastrous.  You may be able to undo a resignation with an employer, but enormous damage will be done, and your status there will never be the same, no matter how revered it may have been.  Once you make your decision, commit to it.

Resigning actually is rather straightforward, so long as you remain in charge of your destiny.  To make a professional departure, follow these steps.

Resign with your superior in person, ideally the same day that you signed your acceptance letter with your new employer.  Procrastination only delays the inevitable and is inconsiderate to your current employer, your coworkers and your new employer.  If you or your superior is traveling such that you cannot be in the same physical location for a week or more, you will have to do it over the phone, regrettable as that is.  

Deliver a simple and concise resignation letter to your superior, with a copy to Human Resources.  This makes your decision official (See sample letter in sidebar.)

In both your meeting with your superior, and in your letter of resignation, stay positive in words and in tone.  State simply that you are giving notice and the date of your last day on the job.  Thank your supervisor for his or her support and for the opportunity to have worked with the company.  Depending on your circumstances and your level of importance to the company, you may need to provide more than two weeks notice in order to affect an orderly transition.  Use your best judgment on what is fair - if you need to allow more than two weeks, you'll know better than anyone - but don't allow yourself to be manipulated into a longer period than you, or your new employer, can live with.  Remember, no one is irreplaceable.  Even you.

You are most likely to be pressured to change your decision during your meeting(s) with your boss, or possibly your exit interview with HR.  In both situations, you want to be in charge of the conversation.  You set the rules by what you decide to tell them.  Stay positive about your new position without offering specifics about how it compares to your old position.  Never fall into a trap of negativity about your current job, your boss, your co-workers or the company.  Any negativity might affect future references, or even future opportunities with former colleagues.  Never burn bridges, no matter how tempting as it may be, in some situations, to pull out a flamethrower.

Do not offer reasons for leaving the company, and if asked, don't prolong the conversation.  Being circumspect about your reasons keeps you in charge.  Be cheerful, be polite, but firm.  If you expect pushback from anyone, remember: you don't have to explain yourself or your decision to anyone.  Tell them simply that you have been presented a wonderful opportunity, and that you will be glad to tell them about it in detail after you have started your new job.  To do otherwise, you feel, would not be appropriate.

Your new compensation should remain confidential.  Your new employer extended its offer to you in confidence, and you should respect that.  If anyone asks, tell them simply that it was a "fair offer."  Even if it is true, never give money as a reason for leaving.  At best, it belittles you as a professional, and it belittles your judgment and value to your old company.  At worst, it may give the impression that you are trying to blackmail your employer, which is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

Above all, when you transition between employers, you want to do everything to leave on a positive note.  You have a far better chance of that if you maintain control of what is revealed and the respectfulness of your resignation.  If you leave with grace and professionalism, your odds of reuniting in the future with your most valued former colleagues will only increase, if they remember you as you would want to be remembered.  


Sample Resignation Letter

Please accept this as two (2) weeks formal notice of my resignation from the employ of [COMPANY].  My final day of employment will be [DATE].

[Use positive statements:] I have thoroughly enjoyed the work environment and professional atmosphere here.  Your [management/direction/guidance/counseling/mentorship, etc.] has/have been the source of great personal and professional satisfaction to me.  The experience and knowledge gained during my association with [COMPANY] have provided significant career growth for which I will always be appreciative.

Thank you for your past consideration.

Sincerely,

cc:    [UPLINE MANAGER]
    [HUMAN RESOURCES CONTACT]