The Right Way to Leave

I recently celebrated my two-year anniversary with ETR. But it seems like I have been a part of this team much longer. Maybe it is because there is absolutely no other organization I would rather be a part of.

You see, I’m fortunate. I wake up every morning and look forward to going to the office to interact with the ETR team, to brainstorm new products and marketing ideas, and, recently, to talk about the new ETR website. (You’ll be hearing much more about that in the next few months.) I also enjoy attending and presenting at our conferences, and meeting our readers.

But not everyone feels the way I do. And when they aren’t happy with the work they’re doing, they often choose to get another job.

In my 20-plus years in business, I have seen many employees leave their jobs for many different reasons. Some were asked to leave, and some left on their own. Some left for good reasons, some left for inane ones.

But no matter why you leave a job, keep this in mind: There is a right way and a wrong way to exit an organization.

If you leave a job the wrong way, you could wind up ruining your reputation – or even making an enemy for the rest of your life. And that could affect any career you pursue. But if you leave a job the right way, you can preserve – even enhance – your reputation, strengthen your relationship with your new boss, and help ensure that you’ll get rave reviews any time a potential employer looks into your work history.

The right way to leave a job simply involves taking 3 key steps:

1) Announce your resignation.

It does not matter if you have been employed by the company for a month or 10 years… never e-mail your resignation or announce it with a phone message. Sit down with your supervisor and have a grown-up conversation. Explain that you need to move on, and thank her for everything she has done to help you in your career.

Bring your official resignation letter to the meeting. In it, include your end date. Make sure you allow for enough time to make an easy transition between you and your replacement.

The following is a good rule of thumb:

Position level

Number of weeks notice

Entry level One week for every year (minimum two weeks)
Middle management Two weeks for every year
Executive Two weeks for every year plus two extra weeks
CEO/company officers Three months to one year

Yes, some companies may escort you out the door the moment you inform them of your resignation. However, most will thank you for your service, and even offer to help you with your next endeavor.

Whatever you do, do not tell any of your colleagues or subordinates that you are leaving before you have the conversation with your direct supervisor. Telling your supervisor first says that you respect her and appreciate what you have learned from her. (Keep in mind that this is the person you will most likely use as a reference in the future.)

2) Have a transition plan.

When you have that talk with your supervisor, be prepared with a suggested transition plan. Have recommendations for people who can take over some of your responsibilities until your replacement is hired.

Your transition plan should also include:

  • A timeline of projects you have been working on. This should be as detailed as possible.
  • Your job description, updated with any changes that have been made during your tenure. All jobs evolve, and your supervisor may not realize to what extent yours has.
  • A contact list that includes the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of everyone you interact with in order to get your job done. Do not omit anyone because you brought them to the table. You did it while you were being paid by your current employer.

While discussing your transition plan, offer to help hire your replacement. After all, you know the kind of skills that are required to do the job, as well as the kind of person it takes.

3) Maintain your strong work ethic.

So many people make the mistake of slacking off once they give notice. This can negate your entire legacy.

Your last few weeks or months in a company is a time for you to shine. A time to present yourself the way you want to be remembered. You should come in early and stay late. Offer assistance to anyone who needs it. And do whatever else you can to leave a lasting impression of what a talented person and hard worker you are.

Most industries are more interconnected than you might imagine. If you do a great job after you have given notice, it’s practically guaranteed that your new boss will hear about it. And the same is true if you acquire an “I just don’t care anymore” attitude.

When I first started at ETR, I was looking to hire a graphic artist. One of the prime candidates for the job was a lovely young woman with a fantastic portfolio and what seemed like a fine resume to match.

The evening before my final round of interviews, I met a former colleague for a drink. During the course of our conversation, I told her about my potential candidates for the position. As it turned out, the young woman I was seriously considering had worked at my colleague’s company for a month. Not only that, but my colleague had been her supervisor.

Seems that while she was there, she did an okay job. But once she gave notice, she started coming in late. Not only that, but she found reasons why she could not complete her assignments before she left… and she spent a lot of her time bragging about her new job.

Instead of canceling my interview with her the next day, I kept it… without letting on that anything had happened.

When I asked her about an unaccounted-for month on her resume (the time she had worked for my former colleague), she told me she had been traveling. Imagine her shock when I told her that I’d had drinks the previous night with the supervisor she had omitted from her resume.

I thanked her for her time… and hoped she had learned a valuable lesson.

Remember: The final impression you make is just as important as the first one. No matter what reason you have for leaving a job, you want to leave on good terms. You don’t want to burn any bridges. And by taking the three very simple steps above, you can leave on great terms. That will help you maintain your reputation for excellence with your previous employer… and start out on the right foot with your new employer.

[Ed. Note: Making it in the business world requires a lot of trial and error – unless you get someone to show you the ropes. The ETR team has compiled their decades of business-building experience in one easy-to-understand resource. Get their step-by-step guide to creating your own business – and making it a success – right here.]

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and