Quit your Job and Boost your Reputation
Quitting a job is never easy. The decision to leave is hard enough, but figuring out the right way to do it can be an equally painstaking process. If you play your cards wrong, you can leave with reputational damage that lingers in your career. Employers remember how you leave, which can supersede whatever you did before then.
Even if you had a positive work experience and are moving on without hard feelings – the best case scenario – it can be difficult to find the right explanation that won’t offend or upset anyone. If you’re fed up with your organization and can’t wait to escape, you may have spent years mentally preparing how you’ll say all the things you’ve wanted without the threat of blowback. You may be reluctant to extend yourself any further.
Any job’s departure should be as carefully considered as its beginning. It’s a time to put on your grown-up pants, dig deep, and be as gracious as you can be. It’s a small world out there and what you do at one company will have ripple effects. You’re likely going to meet your current coworkers again, and further, employers talk to one another. It’s common practice for hiring managers to call friends “off the record” from a job candidate’s prior workplaces to get the real story.
Unsure about how to quit with grace? Here are some suggestions for quitting while keeping your reputation intact:
Have an in-person conversation.
All difficult conversations are best done in-person. Though many people take the easy road and quit via email, it’s not appropriate. Start with a real conversation, which shows consideration and respect. Then you can follow up with written notice.
When you have the conversation, don’t spring it on your boss. Arrange a time to talk in private, when you can have a proper discussion about your plans. As business etiquette expert Sue Fox advises, quitting in person “shows respect, self-confidence and that you have strong interpersonal skills.” These are qualities you want to show up in your references later.
Treat the standard two-week notice as a starting point.
The idea of giving your employer two weeks of notice before your final day may feel antiquated – after all, it’s been around long before our current job-hopping culture. It seems like an arbitrary amount of time. What does two weeks get anyone anyway?
As with many well-established norms, two-week notices are now seen as a customary courtesy. When not given, eyebrows are raised. Even if it may be more convenient for you to leave within the next few days, giving anything less than a two-week notice is unwise and bad form, according to Harvard Business School professor and author, Les Schlesinger.
Further, a two-week notice should be viewed as a minimum. If you’re in good standing, it’s often appreciated if you can stay longer. Be willing to engage in an open dialogue with your manager about what will ensure the smoothest transition. Maybe that’s staying on for another 10 days or a few months. Be open and flexible. You want to be remembered for your decency, not for how fast you can bolt. And be aware that your new employer will pressure you to start as soon as possible, but if you push back, they will likely give you more time.
Giving at least a two-week notice may be a wise financial move as well. According to Suzanne Lucas at Business Insider, failing to give your two weeks can prohibit you from receiving certain financial benefits: “Many companies have a written notice policy in their handbook. It’s usually two weeks, but could be more. If you don’t give two-weeks’ notice, you may lose any vacation pay out or planned bonus that you would otherwise receive.”
Finally, if you give a two-week notice and your employer doesn’t want you to fulfil it, they will generally pay you for that time. Consider it a paid vacation between jobs.
Be honest about where you’re headed next.
In this interconnected world, lying about or hiding your career plans is nearly impossible to sustain. Even trying to obfuscate with vagaries seems shady.
Be honest about what job you’re taking next. Don’t tell your closest coworkers one story and your boss another. When it comes to quitting, honesty is in your best interest. According to author Daniel Gulati, “The more transparent you are, the more likely you are to preserve and build on the relationships you already have.”
You never know when you will need the assistance or support of your current coworkers. Even if you’re going to a competitor, keep it all on the up and up.
Offer to do whatever is helpful in your final days.
Talk to your manager about how they would like for you to spend your time. What projects will you be working on? Who will you be handing off your current assignments to once you leave? Be as helpful and cooperative as possible. Offer to do whatever is necessary, even if it’s not part of your current role.
As Les Schlesinger wisely notes, “The bookends — how you start and how you end — are the most important parts of any professional relationship,” so end with strong work and dedication.
Be tactful in your exit interview.
This is always a tough call. On one hand, you may want to benefit your coworkers by shedding light on problems at the company that need to be addressed. On the other, you need to protect yourself.
As with all of this, walk the respectful line. You can be honest, but do so in a gracious and tactful manner that won’t leave a bad taste in the interviewer’s mouth. Wendy Bliss, a human-resources consultant, suggests erring on the side of sharing the positive aspects of your work experience rather than the negatives. “Instead of saying your boss is terrible and everybody hates him, you might say, ‘He was very dedicated to the job and always had his eye on results for the company, and sometimes that dedication led him to be overly involved in employees’ work.”
Assume that your interviewer will talk about your conversation with others at your company, so don’t expect confidentiality. Speak in a manner that if others were to find out, they would appreciate both your candor and diplomacy.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Inspiration Code and The Power of Presence. Find her @kristihedges.
This article also appears on Forbes.com.
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