How to Leave a Job

There is a lot of unrest right now. The economy and lack of jobs is worrisome, work/life balance seems to be anything but in balance, and folks in the social space are playing musical chairs in the job market. It is a topsy turvey world and all of us are trying to find our footing.

So while I am seeing a slew of posts such as how to know when is the right time to leave your job and what you need to do to get your new job or how to handle an interview, I haven’t seen content addressing what to do when you have scored your next dream job and are making your way to the exit door of your current job. It’s a small world. The same connections you worked to secure your new position will also be noticing the way in which you leave your existing position.

Even if you have the boss from Office Space and you fantasize about what you would do when you hand in your resignation, it must remain that…a fantasy. Building bridges will not show you are superior and will only hurt you in the long run. Instead, put some thought into how you want to be remembered and leave your job in a manner showcasing your work integrity.

The way you leave a job is just as important as the way in which you score a job. Here are some ways to keep your integrity intact and leave on a good note:

Clean House

After you hand in your resignation, it is so easy to think, “that isn’t my problem any longer” and not give 100% effort. Of course, some may argue that once you have submitted your resignation you are no longer giving your full attention or effort because your headspace is now thinking about the next leap, but I challenge this thinking. In life there are choices. We can choose to be fully engaged and put our best foot forward and not resort to excuses society has conveniently given to us. No, you can choose to be the better person. Leaving your house or team in havoc does not shine the spotlight on whatever issues you think the team or organization may have had, it shines a spotlight on you and your actions or lack thereof.

My mantra (and I am sure my former team was very tired of hearing this phrase repeatedly) is, ‘”Make sure your own side of the street is clean.” Meaning, you can’t go about casting stones and complaining about other people’s garbage if you have a heap of your own on the front lawn. If there are known personnel or project issues, do not leave that mess around for the next person to clean up. Your replacement will have enough on their plate without having to worry about what skeletons in the closet you may have left for them. Bring issues to life and try to resolve before your departure. At the very least, make sure your superiors and replacement are aware of these issues and the steps you have taken to find a resolution.

Draft a Transition Plan

Even if your replacement is already a member of your team or organization, ensure this person is not left wondering what your team (or yourself) did or did not accomplish. Compile team/project history, timelines, status updates, and recommendations into a single document or library. Give your replacement enough information that he/she can begin building their own roadmap. Leaving your co-workers to flounder in your absence is not the way to stick it to them or prove the point of why you should have been invaluable. It only proves the point that you no longer belonged on that team.

There is a lot of chatter about personal brands and the risks of leaving a company. In the community space this is a real fear that must be addressed. Just as I was about to hit publish on this post this morning, Doug Haslam published a great example of how organizations can embrace the personal brand and not overhype the concern of integrating personalities. Doug writes, “As for social media in corporations, the worry that a standout personality will risk crippling social media efforts when that person leaves should not be a worry at all. A company just needs a succession plan, and then someone to be the successor.” It is not your place to determine the successor, but you can make the choice to ensure a smooth transition by creating a solid transition plan.

Ask for Feedback

No one is perfect. If you really want to start your new position with a clean slate, learn from your mistakes. Know your strengths and weaknesses. You may have a pretty good idea of what those strengths and weaknesses may be, but often we tend to sweep such knowledge under the proverbial rugs in our brain. Make the choice to ask for feedback. When leaving my last position, I asked co-workers to give me a POINt evaluation. Each person identified:

  • Pluses: Identify the good things about the person.
  • Opportunities: Identify the positive changes this person could make to be even better.
  • Issues: Identify how this person might overcome certain weaknesses.
  • New thinking: Identify workable solutions for this person.

I wasn’t golden. No one is. In fact, I knew my areas of weakness, but to see them identified by another and in print drives the point home. It is not about rising through the ranks quicker, but being a better person. Seeing this feedback helped me find the courage to remove the rugs and stop hiding the garbage that I should take responsibility for cleaning.

So, take a moment before you get all giddy about your next job. What will you do with your two weeks (or however long the transition time) before you walk out the door? Who will you be and how will you be perceived? The choice is yours.

Share some other items to keep in mind when making a transition. As a person leaving a job, what have you done to build a succession plan? As a replacement, what do you wish the person before you would have done?

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  • Kneale Mann

    In my experience, the most important job to do is yours as you leave it all bright and shiny for your replacement. On two occasions, I was able to show my replacement where everything was filed and how systems were run and what half-baked ideas were in the look at later folder. Karma is a bitch and you will want to walk that bridge again so put the torch away. The pride you had for doing that job, the effort you put in to get that job and the people around you helping you do that job are just as valid as you leave. Have pride in your work, have pride in your stakeholders and have pride in yourself. As the phrase goes, people may not remember what you did but they will remember how you made them feel. 

    • Lauren Vargas

      Ah, karma…you are so right there. How would we want to be treated? Great thoughts, thank you.

  • CarissaO

    Super smart perspective as usual, Lauren. I couldn’t agree more with the importance of this approach. 

    Once part of an inevitable layoff, I was given the choice to leave the same day or stay on for the week and transition as I saw fit. My pay, of course, was being extended no matter my choice. Without hesitation, I committed to staying the full week because I knew it would take at least that long to tie up loose ends and prepare the smaller team that would remain to pick up where I left off and keep things moving forward. Many folks said I was insane. Not only was I not leaving under my own volition, but I no longer should feel obligated, they said. I disagreed. The layoff was not personal (though, I concede, that it always feels that way). It was business. I saw it coming and I understood its need. I was disappointed, of course, but I also felt strongly for the work in which I put so much of my time and energy, and for the people that now found themselves in a tougher job of keeping the work going with fewer resources. I prepared those folks as best I could in the time I had and felt it was the right thing to do. It showed my respect for the work and honored the role I had in it. And the way I chose to leave did not go unnoticed. While some were surprised that I was (I believe) the only one who chose to stay, they respected and appreciated me for it. So much so that I’m confident it had a factor in their contracting me for projects after I set up my own business. 

    The way you leave a job is certainly a reflection on your commitment to professionalism and seeing things through, no matter the challenges. Thanks for the reminder, Lauren.

    • Lauren Vargas

      Carissa, you just showed why I highly respect you! Work integrity should be noticed and felt at all times…in good and bad.

  • Jesse Radonski

    I recently left a place that I’ve worked at for over seven years. Upon my last remaining days, I always made sure to give thoughtful advice for the new hires and to continue to work hard. It’s not that difficult to imagine that your coworkers will be waiting for you to not care 100% about your job, but continuing to put full effort into your job will make you a better person in the long run.

    • Lauren Vargas

      You are spot on…this behavior when put into practice becomes routine and shapes us into better humans overall. Times may be tough, but the return will show itself.

  • Rebecca Frank

    When I left my previous job (The first one that hired me out of undergrad!) a year ago, I was very concerned that I not be seen as a “short-timer.” I kept going to meetings, working on deadlines, asking how I could help, etc. However, other people saw what I was doing and didn’t understand. “Why do you care,” they asked, “you won’t be around for it.” That doesn’t mean I wasn’t invested before! I think it says a lot about a work environment when the folks staying on take issue with the leaving person’s desire to end on a good note.