Leaving a Job the Right Way

Leaving a job can be a sweaty, anxiety-inducing, stressball of an experience. Here are a few thoughts to make that process easier. Future You will thank you.

Leaving a job (for a new one) is an exciting thing. It's a new step in your life, in your personal adventure. It's progress.

In most cases, there must exist some frustration to prompt a move. Most people don't leave a job that makes them fully happy. I'm sure it happens, but often a job change is a quest for greener grass. That is totally fine. It's your journey, after all.

You're probably going to leave your current job at some point. The important part isn't the decision to go (it is to be expected that you will go at some point). What matters more is how you leave. The way in which you leave can greatly affect your future relationships and opportunities.

I've left four jobs in the first decade of my career. Each time was more difficult than the last, because with each job I honed in on what I really wanted to be doing with my time. Every job was better than the previous in some way. But I still maintain relationships from each one of my previous jobs. Many of those relationships have presented new opportunities along the way, and I suspect they will continue to do so for years to come.

From this experience, I can tell you what I find most important when leaving a job, why I think those things should matter to you, and what to do when things go awry.

How to Leave a Job the Right Way

After a bit of practice, here's what I've found to be the right concoction of attitude and action to exhibit when leaving a job:

1. Give a reasonable amount of notice.

This is the obvious one. Most people put in their resignation two weeks before their last day. As you move throughout your career, it may make sense to give more time — you'll have more loose ends to tie up or delegate.

In my most recent move, I only gave nine days notice because of a weird timing issue. I combatted that by making myself available following the departure to fill in anything (within reason) I may have missed.

2. Be honest, vulnerable, and productive.

This is a tough one. It's important that your colleagues know why you're leaving. But if you give critical feedback for the first time ever during your departure, people are going to be upset. You can only be truly honest in a well-received way if you've already worked to establish trust.

I try to be both honest and helpful by saying things like:

  • "I'm excited for this next opportunity because ..."
  • "I'm sad to leave because ..."
  • "I may have stayed longer if ..."
  • "I've been frustrated by ..."
  • "[Insert Person] would really excel by picking up [insert responsibility] because ..."

3. End on a high note.

Work your ass off in your final weeks. Your heart may be filled with senioritis, but your head should stay as focused as possible and help make future life a little easier for your peers, reports, manager, and other team members.

4. Say important goodbyes privately.

Some people you will maintain relationships with and some you won't. Some will be friendships, others business relationships. It's all fine. But take the time to say goodbye. Some people you may not cross paths with again, or even for awhile, so it's important to have some closure, to leave your relationship on that high note.

5. Show gratitude.

If you're leaving because you're super frustrated, this one can be tricky. But it does help to take a step back and think about where you started and what you've learned along the way. Yes, it's all business — you get paid to do a job and you did the job.

Maybe you didn't get what you wanted out of it. Maybe the experience totally sucked for you. Maybe you had a terrible boss.

But, your employer chose to employ you, and that's the important part.

I had trouble carrying gratitude upon leaving earlier jobs earlier in my career. I feel foolish for it now. Even if the job wasn't what I wanted, having the job and the experience helped me, and I should have been more appreciative of it in the moment.

6. Leave the door open for opportunity.

I continued to do work, at least in some capacity, for each of the organizations I left. It was usually just little freelance tasks here and there. But it provided me a little extra cash, and helped with the transition because the company knew they could bug me if they had a question.

Of course, you have to know when to stop and say no, because your new job should be your focus.

Why to Leave the Right Way

Leaving the right way is important because it all builds into one thing that is your career. You have no idea what opportunity lies for you down the road. If you burn a bridge that you could have otherwise maintained, you may lose out on a golden opportunity years (or even decades) down the road.

Put your ego aside, allow a little vulnerability, and future you will thank you.

And look, your boss might be an asshole. And yes, you should be honest with them. But that doesn't mean yelling or name-calling. Give them something productive and actionable to improve and keep the door open. Think of Future You. That's a person you don't even know yet. Let that person make the decision of burning the bridge. Your job is to keep it standing strong.

Things You Have No Control Over

Now, all that said, this entire process is a two-way street. You can only control your actions. A bridge has two ends. You can choose not to burn your end, but that won't prevent the person on the other end from lighting a flame (although it may help to convince them to put the match away in a proper waste receptacle).

Some people suck. Some people react emotionally. Some people do not allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of other people.

You may put in your notice and someone may never want to talk to you again. It's not your job to fix that person. You can work to remain on higher ground and say you hope you can work together again the future. Or you could leave it alone as a lost cause. It's okay if you feel like you really can't (or shouldn't) try to salvage the relationship.

Regardless of how you approach the process, someone is probably going to be mad that you're leaving. They'll take it too personally. That's a thing you can only influence, not control.

Be you. Be cool. Work hard. Say thank you. Give productive advice. And then move on to your next step. Because you are awesome, and your journey is yours alone.

What other advice do you have for folks leaving a job. Let's talk about it.

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