How to… leave a job with dignity

‘Never burn your bridges’ may be a cliché, but nowhere does it hold more
true than in relation to your career. Irrespective of the reasons for packing
your bags – voluntarily, for a new job or a lifestyle change – it is wise not
to vent your spleen either about colleagues or the company. You never know when
your paths might later cross and you may wish to be rehired, or need a good

It also makes sense not to mentally vacate a position and shirk
responsibilities before your actual departure. If you have invested time in
developing a rapport with staff and are on good terms with your managers, it
would be foolish to throw it all away and leave a lasting wrong impression.

Where do I start?

Arrange a meeting with your line manager or immediate supervisor, as it is
appropriate to inform them of your intention to leave in person. Your relationship
with them may influence how the discussion goes, but (at the very least) you
must agree on an acceptable notice period and leaving date. Rehearse what you
are going to say and stick to it. Avoid being dramatic and remain positive at
all times.

If quizzed about your reasons for quitting, now is not the time to air
particular grievances or make demeaning remarks about your manager or the
company. Resist any temptation to boast about your new job, and make sure you
leave the meeting with your credibility intact.

Formally resigning

Your resignation should always be confirmed in a polite letter. It must
include a concise and to-the-point statement notifying an employer of your
resignation and notice period.

The second paragraph should specify an impartial and non-controversial
reason for leaving, such as you are looking for a fresh challenge, for new
opportunities to develop, or that you have been made an offer you simply can’t

Conclude by expressing gratitude for the experience and skills you have
gained while you have been with the company. If you are completely stuck, many
careers websites offer standard templates that will do the job.

Prepare for the exit interview

Most organisations will expect you to take part in an exit interview, and it
is far-sighted to treat the exercise as part of an ongoing career strategy.
View it as a forum to give your former employer constructive feedback to help
resolve difficulties, reduce bad feeling and improve retention rates. Think
about what you want to say beforehand, and make notes. Where possible, use
specific examples to support your claims. Be honest, but don’t let personal
affairs get in the way of your professional judgement.

Don’t leave loose ends

Try to complete unfinished work, put together handover notes and co-operate
with your manager to smooth the transfer of your duties and minimise any
disruption. Offer to help with the training of your successor if there is a
crossover period.

Aim to keep in contact with your former colleagues, as they may prove useful
in terms of your career or personal development at a later date.

Post-termination restrictions

Anxious employers in commercially sensitive sectors may have
post-termination restrictions written into employment contracts to protect their
business interests and limit what workers can say. If they exist, they are
legally enforceable, which will probably mean that even after you have started
at a new place of work, you won’t be able to go around telling everyone how bad
your old job was.

Where can I get more info?


Before You Say ‘I Quit’: A Guide to Making Successful Job Transitions
Nancy Holloway, Diane Bishop
John Wiley & Sons, £16
ISBN 0020768818

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How to… Manage Your Career

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Includes resignation letter templates, legal help and tips on ‘How to Resign
with Style and Dignity’, plus find out how the great and the good have resigned
in its Hall of Fame section.

If you only do five things…

1 Tell your line manager or supervisor

2 Don’t brag about your new position

3 Confirm your resignation in a polite letter

4 Complete outstanding projects

5 Treat the exit interview as an integral part of your career

Expert’s view: Malcolm Higgs on leaving with dignity

Professor Malcolm Higgs is dean of the HR management and organisational
behaviour faculty at Henley Management College.

What can you do to show your commitment and professionalism even when you
are moving on?

Deliver on all of your commitments within the company and contribute to any
plans for your succession. By developing a handover package for your successor
– even if they won’t arrive until after you’ve left – you’ll be seen to be
supporting your colleagues and your own staff.

What are the worst things you can do before leaving?

Avoid venting anger about your departure or reasons for leaving, including
criticising your boss or the organisation. Try not to loaf around, avoiding
work, and don’t take the office furniture, à la Bill Clinton.

Can you give examples of individuals in public life who have exited with

Estelle Morris resigned from the Cabinet in October 2002 after crises in
education and declared she wasn’t up to the job, citing pressures of the
high-profile role as a key reason for her resignation. After a stint on the
backbenches and as chair of the e-Learning Foundation, she returned to a junior
government position this year.

She maintained dignity by not criticising her successor, identifying her key
strengths, keeping in touch with her employer and maintaining her knowledge and
expertise through voluntary work. Finally, she showed the humility to return at
a lower level, to which her talents were most suited.

What are your three top tips?

– When you are preparing to announce your departure, think about how you
would feel if someone came to you with the same news. How might this change
your behaviour?

– Announce your intention to leave as soon as possible – the earlier the
better (although depending on your organisation and its culture, this may not
always be possible).

– Think about how previous leavers have handled their departure, and
consider what was good and bad about their approaches. What can you learn from
others’ behaviour?

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