The average worker has 12 jobs in the course of a career, which means that you can count on leaving a position about 12 times between the start of your working life and retirement. Ideally, most of those job changes will be voluntary, involving a jump to a better gig, with interesting new challenges and a bigger paycheck. But even if everything goes according to your best-laid plans, there’s one hurdle you’ll have to cross again and again in order to get to where you want to be in your career: you’re going to have to quit your job.
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Hopefully, your imminent departure is bad news to your manager and colleagues – but no one likes to deliver bad news. The best approach to the problem is to treat your soon-to-be former colleagues like you’d like to be treated. In other words, be direct, respectful, and as helpful as you can be, without putting yourself in a bind.
1. Give the right amount of notice.
Two weeks is the standard amount of notice. Some career coaches will argue for longer if you’re more senior, suggesting notice equivalent to how much vacation time you’re allotted each year, for example – but this is tricky.
“If circumstances allow you to give your company a more generous notice period, should you?” asks Alison Green of Ask a Manager in a column at U.S. News. “The answer depends 100 percent on how your manager and your company operate. How have they handled other employees who resign? Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, it’s safest to assume that the same may happen to you and give two weeks and nothing more.”
Of course, it’s possible that your boss has a track record of treating people well who provide more notice and thus make things easier, in which case, you might try to give more. But don’t put yourself in a spot where you’ll be in financial trouble if your boss surprises you with a cardboard box and a slammed door.
2. Put it in writing.
Yes, you need to resign formally, in writing, no matter how casual the tone at your workplace. Resignation letters are a chance to make sure everyone’s clear on what’s happening and when, and also to express your thanks for the opportunity. (Look at it this way: even if you hated the job, it got you to this next gig, right?)
To that end, your resignation letter should contain: the date, your last day at the office, and your resignation statement. Alison Doyle of About.com’s Job Searching site offers some good resignation letter examples.
3. Work with your manager to make an exit plan.
The goal of planning your resignation is to minimize the interpersonal fallout by making sure everyone involved gets as much of what they need from the interaction as possible. This might mean moving your last day, if the boss asks nicely and it’s possible for you to do so, or helping to train your replacement, if they have someone in mind to take over your duties on a temporary basis.
4. Leave the keys, actual and metaphorical, where your replacement can find them.
Make yourself a checklist of everything your permanent replacement will need when he or she gets there, including keys to your filing cabinet, names of people who head up various projects, and other useful information that would otherwise take weeks or months to figure out. While HR and your boss can handle some of the onboarding routine, like access to systems and information about facilities, you’re the only one who knows your job as well as you do. Help out the new you by leaving a map.
It’s the nice thing to do, but beyond that, people remember things like this. You could wind up building your network just by leaving your spot nicer than you found it.
5. Know that other people’s behavior is not your responsibility.
Remember what we said about delivering bad news? Well, it’s even worse receiving it. Sometimes, people don’t behave as well as they should when they’ve received a disappointment. If your boss becomes frosty or your old cubicle mate takes your departure personally, remember that their feelings and actions are not within your control. Be professional and courteous and treat everyone as you’d like to be treated – and then shrug it off and go on to the next phase of your career.
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