How to Leave Your Job Gracefully


Everyone is so focused on spouses getting jobs that they forget an equally important task -- leaving the job you have now.

Finding the right words -- and the tact -- to leave a job before a PCS without burning bridges can be difficult, but with these eight steps, you will be able to leave with good recommendations, not good riddance.

1.  Focus on the project.

Penelope Trunk, co-founder of Brazen Careerist, earned her credentials as a Fortune 100 employee. Trunk knows how to be successful at work and how to be successful when you must leave it.

Trunk says that to master the exit, military spouses need to take a project-focused approach to their careers from the very beginning.

Instead of looking at your resume as a series of short-lived jobs, think of each job as its own project: a time to master X, hone Y, practice Z. Doing this will not only make you better on the job while you’re still at work, but it will relieve you from any guilt you might feel as you PCS.

“Talk in terms of projects when you talk about jobs,” Trunk advises. “If you are project-oriented, then leaving is not a big deal. You do the project you were assigned, you do it well. Maybe you over-deliver, and then you move on.”

Trunk insists that this is the most natural way to approach your job in the first place.

“Many people are project-oriented in their careers. Even if you are not, if you act as you are, the constant moving doesn’t look like a career interruption each time, but rather an opportunity to work on more great interesting projects.”

Even if you are leaving soon, it is not too late to adapt this project-minded focus, and it is a great way to address your upcoming exit with your supervisor.

2. Come up with a game plan.

As soon as you have orders, start thinking about when is the right time to tell your boss. Before I left my last job, I let my boss know six months in advance -- it gave us plenty of time to plan.

Lauren, an Army wife at Fort Meade, also informed her boss immediately, but that was just three weeks before she had to leave. In both circumstances, giving our bosses the most time we could allowed them to come up with a game plan for how to replace us on their time frame.

“Three weeks wasn’t much notice, but it was better than nothing,” says Lauren. “My supervisor was able to get a temp to come in and I trained her. It made it possible for me to leave without leaving everybody in the lurch.”

Leaving your employer in a lurch is exactly what you want to avoid. Sit down with your boss and plot out the projects you have left to do. Be honest about what you have time for and are capable of, and don’t be afraid to put in some more hours before you go just to get the job done well.

Your boss will be able to speak to your next employer about the commitment you displayed throughout exit and how much work you did to make things easy on those around you on the way out.

3. Follow your boss’s lead.

No matter how your boss reacts to your news, let her set the tone for what happens next. If your employee manual requires that you notify Human Resources or another office, let your boss know and ask what help you can be throughout the transition. 

Your boss might not want to share your news yet with the rest of your team, and even if you’re really excited to start showing your co-workers links for new jobs or pictures of potential houses, respect her wishes. Your boss needs to focus on the cohesion of the department you’re leaving, so be as much of a support to her as you can in that process.

Once you have established a priority list of tasks for which you will be responsible before your exit, start thinking of ways you could augment your work in a way that would be beneficial to your boss -- and leave her grateful for your extra effort.

“I knew we had this big event coming up right after I was leaving,” said Lauren, “so I went ahead and got it coordinated. After I finished everything on the to-do list we’d made, I was able to tell her I’d taken one more thing off her plate. I had to work some extra hours to do it, but her reference was worth it. It glowed.”

Remember that everything you do now is what you’ll be remembered most for -- so be as helpful as humanly possible.

4. Write your resignation letter.

Keep it simple. “You are not the president of the United States,” Trunk says. “The world does not need a public record of why you quit and what your aspirations are. Just a simple end date and a thank you will be fine.” This is especially true if you didn’t have a great relationship with your employer.

But if you did, you might want to use this moment to thank your employer for the opportunities this position has afforded you and how much you have grown as an employee under their leadership.

If there were any special circumstances through which they were accommodating -- like a hard deployment, for instance -- be sure to mention it in the letter and thank them for their understanding.

Whatever you write, be sure to emphasize how dedicated you are to a seamless transition for your employer. In print, reiterate what you have said you would do verbally: leave the job with no loose ends and with as much preparation as possible.  

You will want three copies of this letter: one for you, one for Human Resources, and one for your boss. Sign and date all three.

5. Preparing your replacement.

If you know someone who is perfect for your job, do not forget to tell your boss. She may want to enlist you in the process of finding the new you, so make sure you tell people you know that you’re leaving and to put the word out for anyone qualified. Not only does your help make you look invested in your transition, it also might be a huge relief to your supervisor.

Be as helpful as possible to your replacement as they get acclimated to the new job. Even if you are only prepping a temp for your job like Lauren was, your last few weeks -- or even days -- are an important opportunity for you to past the baton to the next person at your desk.

If you find yourself leaving before your replacement arrives, pull together as many helpful materials for them as possible. If you have a manual that tells you how to do your job, go through it and mark down any tricks you have discovered for getting certain things done.

For example, you may know just the person to talk to in Accounts Payable to get a check cut on time -- leave your replacement that information. If there is no manual, think about writing down as much helpful information as you can.

Make sure you give your boss a copy of whatever you leave your replacement and go through it with her before you leave.

6. Keep it positive.

As you get closer to your date of departure, you might find yourself tempted to tell off the employee who has been irking you for the last three years. Or to let your boss know exactly how stupid you think someone else is. Whenever the temptation arises, shut it down.

“I really wanted to just tell this one girl off,” Lauren admits. “She was terrible at her job and she was always screwing up. But the last thing I needed was to be called into some HR office to talk about my co-workers and our relationships as I was trying to leave. ... I didn’t want anyone to remember me that way.”

You will be remembered for your behavior on your way out, so let it be nothing less than your best. Be kind to the co-worker you hate, tolerate the supervisor who drives you batty. Be supportive, helpful and thorough in your work, and take time to thank everyone for the opportunity to work with them.

You never know when you’re going to work with these people again, and there is no sense in burning bridges you might need to cross again at another point in life.

7. The exit interview.

In a nutshell: Keep it professional. This is not a therapy session and it is not the time to list the things that the organization is doing wrong.

More importantly, Trunk says, the exit interview will follow you everywhere. Everything you say in your exit interview can make it back to your supervisor; so don’t say anything you wouldn’t want a future employer to hear about when they are checking your references.

Keep your comments generic, and make sure you take the time to thank your supervisor and colleagues for their support before the interview is over. No matter who sees the notes from interview, you should be able to hold your head high and know they won’t be upset by it before you’ve found another job.

“Especially as you begin to specialize in your career,” Trunk says, "the pool of possible companies gets smaller. So don’t close any doors definitively.”

8. Keep the door open.

As much as you can, be helpful to your boss and your replacement through the transition. You remember how long it took you to get settled in your job, and assume it will take your replacement the same amount of time.

Be willing to field calls and emails after you leave, and let your boss know how much help you can provide as things get settled.

“At the point of quitting, any more work you do for your boss is out of kindness and respect for the custom of giving notice," Trunk says. And it’s this extra work that causes employers to really take note.

If you’ve helped your replacement take control of the reins and fielded her calls while also managing your move, your boss will remember and will be able to tell your prospective employers how committed and helpful you were through the transition.

It’s that kind of effort that sets you apart from other candidates in a job search, so think of any extra work you do as your replacement learns the ropes not just as kindness but also as an investment in your future.

After you leave, be sure to keep in touch. Email your former boss and co-workers on a regular basis just to check-in and let them know where you are in your career. Be interested in where they are in theirs -- they’re part of your network now, and you never know when they will come in handy.

Be sure to send a thank-you note to your employer when you finally get settled at your new station, thanking them again for all the opportunities they provided you.

Remember, “It doesn’t matter … why you leave,” Trunk says . “It just matters how you talk about it in an interview for your next job.” Just remember your old boss will be talking about you, too, so give them every reason to have only good things to say.

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