Resigning With Dignity


Whether you’ve been downsized, or are resigning or retiring, the way you leave your company is as important as any of the successes you enjoyed while employed there.

“When I was the head of human resources at TV Guide, I had the difficult task of letting go one of our senior executives as a result of reorganization,” said Lee E. Miller, currently a U.S.-based career coach and the author of UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want. “The decision was not based on performance issues, and I thought well of him as an executive. When I called him into my office to give him the news, I had a generous severance package to give him and was prepared to offer to help him with his search for another position. To my surprise, when I told him of the decision, he started screaming at me.”

The executive then went on to talk to his colleagues about how poorly he was treated.

“Suffice to say that, after that incident, my view of him changed and so did that of the other executives at the firm,” said Miller. “I have no doubt how he handled his departure from the company hindered his search for new employment.”

Whether you are being let go or leaving to go on to another opportunity, how you handle your exit will be remembered by those you worked with, and can therefore have a strong impact on your future career. Leave gracefully.

Consider the following tips:

Do not say anything bad about the company

The exit interview is a thorny issue. There is likely a lot of advice you could give to a company on how it is run, but Miller suggests fighting the urge to purge. “Even if what you are saying is true, you will be viewed badly for sharing that information. Don’t burn any bridges. You may need a reference in the future. If your new opportunity doesn’t work out, then you may even want to come back.”

Meryl Rosenthal of the human resources consultancy Hirepower says, however, that the exit interview is very important for the company.

“It is an excellent tool to gather information and hopefully more candid insight into ways to retain talent,” says Rosenthal, a regular contributor to “How candid you want to be will depend on culture of organization, trust levels, your reasons for leaving and if there were any “issues” – what they were and how sensitive they might be. If you decide to “spill the beans”, positioning is really important – don’t be negative or bitter, but rather position your comments in a way that is constructive and helpful.”

Marketing manager Mimie Louie, who oversees the jobseeker experience at Workopolis, Canada’s biggest online job site, agrees that the mantra must be “don’t burn bridges.”

“Leave gracefully particularly if you getting laid off or fired,” says Louie. “Sometimes getting laid off is not in your boss’s direct realm of control – it is downsizing, not personal. Paths may cross again so you don’t want to leave with a bad impression. Instead, ask questions to gain insights into exactly why you were let go or fired so you can learn from any mistakes and, just as important, so you are able explain it properly should your future prospective employer ask “why did you leave your last company?”

Tell your boss first

If you’re leaving on your own initiative, go to your boss before you talk to anyone else rather than risk him or her hearing the news from someone else – and this kind of news travels fast. Then, provide the company with a formal resignation letter. Be gracious, and thank the company for the opportunities you were given

Give your employer reasonable notice

Again, if you are leaving to take on another role, give your current employer enough time to ensure the transition is smooth. Depending on how senior you are, two weeks may not be enough. If you must begin your new job before your current employer is fully ready to let you go, make yourself available to help deal with issues that might come up.

As well, be clear with your boss about the status of your projects. A written memo is often best so there are no miscommunications.

Ask for a letter of reference

It is a good idea to ask your boss for a reference letter, and to ask now. Soon enough memories will become hazy and people will forget what you accomplished. Make sure the letter outlines what your job entailed, and what you achieved – you may have to draw your boss’ attention to the highlights.

Send a farewell e-mail to your colleagues

Some companies frown upon the global email to the staff, but do let your colleagues know you’re leaving to accept a new position, retire or pursue other opportunities. Be gracious and complimentary about the company. Miller suggests if you are taking another position, don’t share the name of your new employer because they may not have announced your arrival yet.

How you handle your departure plays a big role in how people will remember you – this forms a major part of your overall professional reputation and can affect your future prospects. “Treat your departure in the same way you would any other important career move,” said Miller. “Be professional, be gracious, and be forward looking.”