Sometimes you need to leave your job. You might need to leave your job so you can move across the country to care for your ailing relative, or you might need to leave your job because the thought of working one more day in your current position sends you into a continuous anxiety spiral that no mix of wine, Xanax, or kickboxing can fix.
Perhaps you got into law school, or decided to become a stay at home parent, or maybe you’re just giving it all up to become the starving artist you’ve always dreamed of. Maybe you’ve finally identified an opportunity to pursue your ideal profession. There are many legitimate and practical reasons why people leave their jobs.
The decision to leave your job is a big one, and that’s half the battle. But how you leave your job is also extremely important. Leave as gracefully and professionally as possible. When you leave your job, there need not be any firefighters present: don’t burn any bridges.
You may think you can swiftly cut ties with your current organization or industry, but it’s not that easy. You simply don’t know when you may cross paths with a former colleague, and you don’t know who your old colleagues are connected to. You’re probably going to put your old job on your resume, which could mean former colleagues could get called as reference checks. If you omit the job from your resume and there’s any digital proof of your employment (i.e. LinkedIn), curious hiring managers may investigate and wind up on the line with one of your former colleagues.
Give as much notice as possible. There’s a reason two weeks notice is standard. It takes at least two weeks to transition someone out of a role, and to initiate the process of finding a replacement. You might be anxious about telling your boss you are leaving, but trust me, your boss will be grateful if you give a reasonable amount of notice. If you’re looking for other jobs, let potential employers know if they extend you an offer, you’ll need two weeks to transition into your new job. This shouldn’t faze hiring managers. If anything, they’ll be impressed that you’re treating your current employer conscientiously.
If you were in the middle of long-term projects, do your very best to steward a smooth transition. Get your institutional knowledge down on paper. Initiate a plan for making sure the projects reach completion. Don’t cut and run. It will leave your colleagues cleaning up after you, and it’s discourteous.
Remember that your company email account is not yours–it belongs to your company. Whatever emails you have sent or received are company property, and one or more of your former colleagues will see them. If you don’t ultimately want an email up in lights, you can avoid that by not pressing send in the first place. When it’s time to leave your job and you realize you have a few unsavory emails in your work account, do everyone and a favor and delete them. Delete them and clear them from the trash. Even then, you don’t know who will end up reading them. Better to use your personal email for job applications, cat memes, and emergency SOS messages to your therapist.
Don’t tell your old colleagues how much greener your new pasture is. If you’ve accepted an offer for a better paid or more exciting job, congratulations. Getting your new job should be reward enough. There’s no need, and no benefit, to bragging to your colleagues about how much better your new job is, how much more money you’re making, how you’ll never have to attend another mind-numbing all-staff meeting, etc. Remember, your old colleagues still work at your old company. Disparaging the company is disrespectful. And if you can leave your job and immediately begin trash-talking your former employer, what were you doing at that job in the first place? It doesn’t make you look good, either.
Last but not least, be grateful. Maybe the job you’re leaving was always just a pit-stop on the way to the top. Even if you hated your old job, remember your old company took a chance on you. They may have given you skills or experience that, when added to your resume, helped you get your dream job. Your old company helped you cover at least a few car payments or rent checks. And whatever your old job was like, it pushed you to the place where you could spread your wings and fly to bluer skies. So put a smile on your face, pat yourself on the back for making bold professional decisions, and impress your former employer by handling the transition with professionalism.
Kelly O’Keefe is the Director of Development at the Lucy Burns Institute.
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