Most professionals switch jobs during their careers. They look for new opportunities or a shorter commute, or a different work/life balance, or they change directions in their line of work. As with any employment situation, some departures may be more amicable than others.
Happy or otherwise, some professionals make classic mistakes when exiting: They disparage their soon-to-be previous employer, slack off during their last two weeks, or brag to co-workers about their fabulous new gig, among other faux pas.
“You never want to burn a bridge,” said Adam Weissenberg, CPA, national managing partner, audit clients and industries, at Deloitte & Touche in Parsippany, N.J. “You want to leave on good terms to maintain your own reputation and brand.”
Chances are, your professional world is small, particularly in today’s electronic age where everyone is so easily connected. So any missteps when leaving one post for another could come back to haunt you. Your new organisation could get purchased by your former employer, or your new boss may go golfing with someone at your previous organisation. If you handle things poorly, word may get out. This could limit future opportunities or prevent you from receiving a needed letter of recommendation.
“You never know what will circulate back into your professional life,” said Peter Jacobs, founder and managing partner of Global Career Coaching in San Francisco. “There’s an old saying: ‘You can build a brand up in a short period of time, but if you have to rebuild it, it takes many, many times longer.’ You have everything to gain and nothing to lose from walking out on a positive note.”
Weissenberg, Jacobs, and other experts offer the following tips for leaving your job on good terms:
Give at least two weeks’ notice. Most firms expect exiting professionals to give two weeks’ notice, but if you can stay longer to help ease the transition for your firm, offer that option, especially if you are higher up in rank. And don’t leave a job during a busy period, if possible. “You don’t want your departure to bring on unnecessary pain to the company if you can avoid it,” Jacobs said.
Announce your departure properly. Don’t shout your exit news from the rooftops. “Always tell the supervisor first, out of respect,” said Lee Yarborough, president of human resources outsourcing firm Propel HR in Greenville, S.C. Once you speak with your manager, ask whether you should unveil the news to colleagues and clients, or whether your firm prefers to do so. “Don’t shortcut the system,” Weissenberg noted.
Keep feedback constructive. Remain upbeat, and don’t spew negative comments. “Set the tone for an orderly, respectful exit,” Jacobs said. If your company has an HR department, request an exit interview there, Yarborough suggested, so you can offer constructive feedback in a setting that is less likely to trigger emotion. “HR departments are set up to handle exit interviews in a professional way,” she said.
Don’t boast or bash. Be mindful when speaking with colleagues. “Don’t go into the office bragging to anyone about the great, wonderful job you’ve just found, and how it will be so much better than the situation in which they find themselves,” Jacobs said. Most importantly, don’t mock your current company, to your colleagues or online. Take the high road and avoid mudslinging, since there is no benefit. “Don’t use social media as your final way to get back at the firm,” Weissenberg added. “When you put something on social media, the whole world can see it forever.”
Be diligent and considerate. Prior to exiting, finish your achievable work, offer to train others, and leave your colleagues with a clean desk. “Continue to work hard, and maintain that professional work ethic up until the time you leave,” Weissenberg said. “Don’t start going to lunch for four hours every day and running up your expenses and not answering phone calls.” In addition, said Kenneth Cerini, CPA, managing partner of Cerini & Associates LLP in Bohemia, N.Y. “Put together a good list of the projects you are working on, and who is working on them with you, so you can effectively help the transition.”
Avoid poaching. It may be tempting to actively lure your former co-workers-turned-friends to your new firm or company when job openings arise, but doing so could harm or sever your business relationships at your previous place of employment.
Keep in touch. Once you’re established at your new post, continue to connect with your former peers and supervisors. A strong network can further your career down the road. “We can provide so much help and opportunity,” said Weissenberg about Deloitte. “So leave on good terms—and don’t use it as a time to settle grudges.”
Say thanks. Even if you feel animosity, say “thank you” when leaving a position. You clearly learned things at your soon-to-be-former company and enhanced your knowledge. Shake your supervisor’s hand and express gratitude, or send a handwritten note. “It costs very little,” Jacobs said. “Why not?”
Cheryl Meyer is a US-based freelance writer.