The Good Goodbye: Resigning with Dignity & Kindness

Because Authentic Jobs is a company devoted to helping connect creative professionals with fantastic job opportunities, it’s easy to forget that there’s a less fun side to all of this.

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When you get a new job, you’ve got to leave the old one.

People change jobs for many reasons, some of which are personal. It could be moving into a new phase of life where you need to be closer to care for a friend or relative. Your partner may have just got their dream job in another city. You may be looking to cut out an expensive and stressful commute.

Of course, people leave for career reasons, too. You cannot see an opportunity to grow on the horizon. You feel your skills and ideas aren’t valued. The company made a choice to ax a product you’ve labored on for months.

For whatever reason, it is time to make the leap. But before you burn bridges, I want to make the case for making a good goodbye and walk you through it. In this first part, we’ll talk about the mechanics of resigning.

Before I begin, be sure to read your employee handbook and your contract. Know what your reporting structure is, and what you are contractually obligated to do for your employer when you resign. Take a moment to look at your state and country’s labor laws, as well. 

Know why you’re going

Remember that first day you went home and said: “No watching Antiques Roadshow tonight, I’m working on my resume.” What got that stone rolling?

Was it just because of money (an entirely valid reason, by the way) or was it because you felt you would have more job security moving to a new corporation?  Do you love your job, but remote work isn’t an option, and you need to relocate for personal reasons? Was there an incident where you felt you weren’t valued, or your contributions were discounted, and you realized that there was a pattern of behavior?

Identify the things that are making you go. Save those thoughts. Write them down, and we’ll come back to them soon.

Decide when you’re going

Do not resign from your current job until you’ve negotiated an offer and signed it. Trust me on this one.

Don’t resign until the papers are signed. 

The process of deciding your end date is complicated, a mixture of wanting to leave your old team in a good place, respecting your new employer’s needs, and possibly taking a small break between jobs.

Let me get this out of the way: there is no legal requirement that you give two-weeks notice. In the US, giving two weeks notice is a courtesy to your employer and more of a societal standard than a requirement. That being said, if you can give two weeks, do it. It’s a kind thing to do. You may also have reasons you want to give more, but there are a few things to consider.

As soon as you tell an employer you are leaving, the dynamic between you has changed, and thus continuing to work with one foot out the door for months isn’t recommended. However, if you feel that leaving after a feature ships, or that organizing your work for a smooth transition would take longer than two weeks, you’ll need to identify the soonest end date that won’t leave your almost-former employer in a bind.

Passing off work and documentation in a good state is a great way to maintain a collegial relationship with your former employer. Think about the last job you took. Were there things you wish your predecessor had done? This is your chance to do those things.

How to say something

When you’ve got your new offer in hand and signed (and not a second before), you should schedule a face to face meeting with your supervisor, boss, or team lead, depending on your reporting structure.

Do not fire off an e-mail as soon as the ink on your offer is dry. Do not send a text. Do not send a Slack message. Do not do any of the above if you are having/have had celebratory drinks, in particular. Schedule a meeting. If you work remotely, schedule a video chat. It may seem old fashioned, but telling folks face to face indicates respect for them as a colleague and for the opportunity of working there.

Once your meeting is scheduled, prepare what you’re going to say. A skill I learned in my sorority days was to use “Positive and” statements. Leading with positive words and phrases encourages people to listen when you’re about to share challenging news or feedback with them.

The trick is to be sincere and assertive in equal measures because this is a statement. You’re not looking for permission to leave, or support for this decision. You are merely informing them of a fact. Something along these lines:

“Thanks for meeting with me, I know your schedule is full. I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to be part of your team for the last three years. It has helped me grow tremendously. However, I’ve been offered a new position outside the company that I am going to take. Looking at the schedule, I think that my last day should be in two weeks, on March 1, after we get the product launched.”

If you are the type that gets nervous in these situations, or if you feel you may cry or get emotional, I encourage you to prepare and practice your resignation speech ahead of time. Do some simple breathing exercises right before the meeting. And if you’re like me and tears can happen, come prepared with a tissue (this is stressful, there’s no shame in tears!).

After the meeting, take a break. Go to the restroom, take a walk, get some food. The process of leaving can be draining, and righting yourself afterward can make all the difference.

After you’ve notified your most senior supervisor and taken a moment to compose yourself, go ahead and inform the rest of your team. If your company has procedures on this notification chain, be sure to follow them.

Write it Out

You’ll likely be asked to put your resignation in writing for your HR file. Your written resignation letter should include a few points of order:

  1. Your last day
  2. Your forwarding address for pay, tax forms, etc.
  3. Contact details (non-work email and phone)

You are not under any obligation to state where you are going, or why you are going. Don’t air your dirty laundry in this letter. Its purpose is only to document that you are leaving. Follow the “Positive and” sentence structure. You can even use your prepared speech as a template for your resignation letter.

What to do if it goes south

Someone once told me something right before an uncomfortable conversation: “You cannot control people’s reactions. You can only control your reaction to them.”

I wrote the above with the best possible scenario in mind, one where everyone acts like adults and professionals who want to remain at the very least civil with each other. But that, my friends, is sometimes not how it happens.

Sometimes, these things go badly. For introverted, shy, or non-confrontational people, actually, ok, for most people, the thought of a hostile reaction from an employer is terrifying.

Let me state unequivocally: if you feel unsafe in your meeting or after you’ve told your team, leave. Forget everything I’ve said. If you feel unsafe, threatened or harassed, you’ve done your part, grab your personal items and go (or leave and have someone from HR ship them to you).

If you are an “at-will” employee, your employer can tell you to take a hike right then and there. Be prepared for this possibility with a contingency plan. This may mean dipping into savings, freelance work, or moving up your start date at your new job.

Be sure to read your employee handbook on what belongs to the company, including software, hardware, and intellectual property. If there’s the possibility of the interaction going badly, you do not want a fight over software licenses.

For US employees, you’ll want to consider what resigning or being fired after you resign means for your health care coverage. Depending on the date of your resignation, and the effective start date of your new job, and the start date of a new insurance plan, you may find yourself uninsured for a period of time. You may need to factor in the cost of COBRA coverage for you, and any dependents you have, into your contingency plan so that you are continually covered.

So now that they know, what now? In part 2, I’ll talk more about using your remaining time, and how to get and give the most from your exit interview.