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Job Hunting Tip #6 – A Graceful Exit

I predict many executives will change jobs this year, hoping for a better situation at a different company. Base on 25 years experience, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of how people conduct their personal exit from a company. Ideally, when you leave a company, it is a graceful exit, without burning bridges. Here are my top tips on how to do this the right way:
  • If you are leaving voluntarily, be sure of the decision. Counter offers rarely work to your advantage. Never leverage a new job offer to get a better deal at your company. If you have legitimate reasons to leave, stick with the decision.
  • Keep your own counsel: Thinking about a job change is a private matter. Don’t share with others – the gossip mill will start talking as soon as you do.
  • Plan to give notice, but be prepared to leave immediately. Some companies want people to work two weeks to make a smooth transition, and some ask for even more time. But, some employers walk people to the door, especially if they will be going to a competitor. Be prepared for all scenarios.
  • The resignation discussion: Make an appointment with your boss. Don’t just drop in. Rehearse your speech, and keep it simple, concise and to the point. We advocate:
  • “I have decided to accept another position and I will be leaving as of [date]. Being with this company has been a valuable experience to me, and it is important to me to leave on excellent terms with you, and remain a valued contact down the road. [If your company has a history of making counter offers, preempt that with:] I have thought this through carefully, my decision is made, and this isn’t about getting a counter offer, so I hope we can quickly dispense with that. I will be happy to work diligently through the next 2 weeks(or as negotiate) to make a smooth transition.”
  • Keep it simple. Be concise in responding to questions. Do not reveal too much.
  • Hand over a written resignation letter, essentially stating what you say verbally.
  • Thank your boss. Be positive. Be graceful. Don’t do anything to burn a bridge. If your boss is angry, validate their feelings, don’t argue. Take the approach that you may work for this person again, or may need a reference from him/her.
  • NEVER say anything negative about your boss or company to co-workers, people outside the company, or his/her peers. Every complaint can be spun around and reframed to the positive, usually by thinking about what you want instead, or what you want in the future. Example: “My boss is a micromanager who second guesses me all the time” becomes “The new position will offer me more freedom, responsibility and autonomy.”
  • If you are being let go, ask about a severance arrangement, and evaluate the offer before responding. Don’t agree or sign anything immediately. Think about consulting an attorney for advice if appropriate.
  • Ask for letters of reference at the time of your departure – make the request in writing, and “suggest” things that you were proud of, that the writer may want to include. They will usually write what you suggest!

In summary, use common sense and imagine you were reporting on the exit scenario to your next boss. Make sure you would be proud of the story you would be telling.