Don’t Burn a Bridge When You Resign

Nobody enjoys this day (well, almost nobody)!  The day you give your employer the Heisman is dreaded by most, but – let’s be clear – even if you’re jumping for joy, resigning is something you need to do the right way.

Once you’ve decided to exit, do the right thing; take the high road. Resigning is a delicate and serious matter, so be a professional and handle the process like everything else you do. If at all possible, exit on a high note. Don’t shoot a hole in your foot- be sure to leave on good terms. You’ll probably need to call on that soon-to-be former employer one day, so don’t burn any bridges. That would be dumb. Really dumb!  Think long-term: you’ll probably need a reference from this employer over and over during your career.

Once you’ve gathered the nerve to announce you’re leaving the building (forever), keep these points at the top of your mind.

  • If you’re done – you’re done. Make sure your decision to resign is final, and you shouldn’t have any doubts about leaving. If you have any doubts, do NOT pass go.
  • Keep your mouth shut. Period. Don’t blab about your plans- it’s way too risky and way too many things can go wrong if others know before your boss does.
  • Have a written offer from your new employer before you make your play. Verbal offers do not count. Nope. NEVER!
  • Pick a day to pull the trigger and stick with your plan. I don’t like Friday, because Friday drags into the weekend and that can be all downside. It also might give your boss a chance to develop a counter-offer or bonus to get you to change your mind and stay. The earlier in the week, the better when it comes to exiting gracefully.
  • Ask for a meeting with your boss and then REHEARSE. Yes, rehearse. Practice what you plan to say with your spouse or another family member.  If you have a termination notification period (i.e. two weeks) with your current employer – honor it! In certain situations, they may ask you to leave immediately anyway (especially if you are going to a competitor).
  • Prepare a written resignation letter. Give it to your boss after you verbally tell him/her why you asked for the meeting. Make sure you tell him/her that that you’re leaving. Make sure you’re clear and leave NO wiggle room in your message. You don’t want a counter-offer. FACT: Most employees that accept a counter-offer and remain with their current employer leave within six months-year.
  • Allow your boss a chance to swallow the news. Don’t talk about where you’re going- once you’ve made the decision to leave, there’s no need to engage in idle chit-chat to justify your decision. If you go into the details about your new role, it may give your employer false hope that you’re uncertain about your final decision.
  • Develop a transition plan with the person taking your place. Have a checklist of transition items prepared – including current projects and other transition details.
  • Don’t leave your boss’s office and start talking about what just happened. It’s their call. He or she may decide to wait before making the announcement, so make sure you have an agreement on when you can discuss your resignation with your team. Likely, you should do this in person and it should come from you – not the grapevine.

Resigning is an emotional event and one that most of us just hate! Don’t burn a bridge by doing it the wrong way.

About the author

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Tim Tolan

Tim Tolan is the Senior Partner of the Healthcare IT and Services Practice of Sanford Rose Associates. He has conducted searches for CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents of business development, product development and sales. Tim is also the co-author of "The CEO’s Guide to Talent Acquisition – Finding Talent Your Competitors Overlook," available on Amazon.

2 Comments

  • Tim,

    Such great advice! Once upon a time, I learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago I made the decision to leave a position that was a terrible fit – my boss and I saw eye-to-eye about pretty much nothing – and I made the mistake of confiding my decision first to a friend who happened to be on the Board of Directors. Big mistake.

    Guess what appeared on the Board’s agenda before I had the chance to talk to the boss? You guessed it – my decision to leave. The boss was so angry (with good reason) at my breach of etiquette that he asked me go ahead and leave the next day, which was much earlier than I had planned to.

    Ouch. Painful lesson learned! Thanks for your (considerable!) insight ~

    G.

  • Gwen:

    That does sound painful. Keeping the lid on your plans is always the best way to go regardless of who you think you can trust. Resigning is a very emotional event for anyone and if you interrupt your cash flow – just count on (much) more stress! Glad it all worked out for you. I understand the new title on your card these days in “Business Owner.” Even better!

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