Don’t Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out

There is a lot of advice out there for young job seekers, but those sage words are almost entirely addressed to people trying to snag jobs.

It’s important to also discuss another topic, which I am increasingly observing — how to leave your job without burning bridges.

Yes, you actually do have to think about resigning. There actually is a proper way, and an art, to quitting your job.

Your greatest challenge might be vanquishing your fantasies about how exhilarating it will be to ambush your boss with your stoic declaration that you are leaving. I won’t lie to you, and tell you there couldn’t possibly be any pleasure in that, but it would only be fleeting. The impact such a blunder could have on your career and reputation, however, will be long-term.

If you have committed to a summer internship or a training program, and then leave prematurely, you will almost certainly find your reputation tarnished. When your next prospective employer almost inevitably decides to ask about the circumstances of your departure, the chances are good she or he is going to be skeptical about hiring you.

Here are some essential tips if you have hopes of resigning:

  1. Speak to your boss first. So, you think you should give your coworkers a “heads up”? Don’t even think about it. They will hear about your departure soon enough. Talking to your boss first gives him or her the chance to decide how to handle alerting the rest of the team. Your boss will want to control the rumors, and alerting her or him affords that opportunity. Filling your colleagues in prematurely can embarrass management and taint your departure. Remember, you are going to need recommendations for your next job or for graduate school from a manager — not an office mate.
  2. Don’t play the blame game. Maybe things didn’t work out to your expectations, or maybe you anticipated too much. Either way, your resignation isn’t the time to dump on your employer. Your departure necessarily questions your boss’ judgment and managerial skills, and you can help out by speaking constructively and telling her or him what you enjoyed about the job. Don’t sugarcoat everything. It’s fine to share what didn’t work for you, but don’t you dare say you are leaving in search of a job that is more “fun.” In my entire career, I have never seen the word “fun” used in a job description.
  3. Do not accept a counter offer. If there is the remotest possibility that you would stay under different circumstances or compensation, have that conversation before, rather than after resigning. Tell your boss you are unhappy, explain why you are dissatisfied and provide specific things you think would improve your work life. If your boss is apologetic and says those standards are impractical, you can resign. But that’s far better than joining the legions of people who resign recklessly and only then learn that something could have been done. They end up staying, but things are never the same, because they have shown themselves to be disloyal. They might as well try to convince a spouse or significant other that they are trustworthy although they cheated once, but say it will never happen again.

How many times have you been connected to someone by six degrees of separation? It’s worth remembering that this happens all the time in the workplace too.

There is always an informal pipeline for investigating job and master’s program applicants. This kind of word-of-mouth inquisition is commonplace. Be thoughtful and professional when you decide to leave your job. Ask what you can do to help your replacement transition to your role.  Let the person know you’d be glad to field questions after you are gone. And, when it comes to speaking with your co-workers, less definitely is more.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.


Related posts:

  1. Leave Your Attitude at the Door
  2. Preparing for an Internship
  3. Internship Check In: First Week

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