How to Resign with a Smooth Transition

Even if you can’t wait to leave your job, you must be tactful when it comes time to resign. Job transitions are anchor points in your career and maintaining good relationships with previous employers will only help you. Take these steps to help make a smoother separation.

Establish your secret contingency plan. Determine the optimal last day on the job before breaking the news to your supervisor. Two weeks’ notice is appropriate for most professions, but leaving a job in higher education right before the end of a semester could hurt students or disrupt basic functions of a department at the most critical time of the year.

If you’re leaving to go to another institution, your next employer should understand. If they don’t, their inflexibility should make you reconsider your decision.

According to Cindy Bartelson, director of human resources at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), two to four weeks is the norm for departing employees to give notice. It’s also the amount of time WPI gives employees between accepting an offer and reporting to work (sometimes longer if they have to relocate).

“It’s more of a transitional timeframe to really make sure that any projects or transition to another person are wrapped up,” Bartelson said, before adding, “It would depend on the position (academic or professional level).”

News of your taking a new job will travel quickly, so ask your next employer for at least two days to notify your current employer before he or she makes an announcement. Most employers wait until you sign a contract before sharing the news anyway. Use the first day to come to terms with your decision (there’s no going back after you tell your current employer). Make sure to save files on your computer and complete projects. Prepare as if your current employer will ask you to leave immediately.

Write a brief resignation letter. This is just a formality so keep it formal and concise, specifying your final day and politely thanking your employer for the opportunity. Don’t explain why you’re leaving or mention the opportunities you are pursuing.

Have a story and stick to it. Where you should feel obliged to explain your reasons for leaving is in conversations; otherwise people will assume the worst. What you tell students, coworkers, and your supervisor needs to be consistent. Don’t tell one person that you’re leaving to be closer to home and then tell someone else you want to teach from a different curriculum. If it’s a combination of reasons, say so in generalities, knowing people could selectively choose items from your story.

Stay (moderately) positive. Bad-mouthing your employer, even when pressed in an exit interview, could damage your reputation and your dissatisfaction is more likely to be shared by others than your satisfaction. Emphasize your appreciation for the opportunity to develop your career by what you accomplished, or at least what you learned.

At some schools like WPI, information from your exit interview does not go into your personnel file. Schools typically use negative feedback as a corrective measure.

“The last thing filed in their file is their resignation letter,” Bartelson said. “We use [the exit interview] as an opportunity and a tool to make WPI a better place. From my seat I’m hopeful that they aren’t leaving because of a negative experience and that they’ve taken advantage of the many avenues that we offer to ensure a positive work environment.”

Keep your negative critique constructive so it helps the institution, or else try to keep it positive and focus your enthusiasm on your new opportunity … but not too much. The more you stress the positives of leaving, the more you stress the negatives of staying.

Break the news in steps. Always start with your supervisor. Then discuss how he or she plans to inform coworkers and students and request the opportunity to tell certain individuals who expect or deserve to hear it from you. Keep this list short because news will spread quickly on mass emails, texts, and ultimately social media. Always wait until everything becomes official before making your big Facebook announcement.

Think twice before taking a counteroffer. It’s very rare for money to be the only reason you want to leave a job. If you are presented with a counteroffer, think carefully. You may feel rewarded initially, but is money truly the only reason you’re leaving? Will you have to threaten to leave every time you want a raise or promotion? Will staying for more money leave your employer questioning your loyalty? If you know you don’t want to entertain a counteroffer, try to resign on a Friday afternoon so you are not subject to immediate attempts by others to make you reconsider.

Focus on the future. Steer conversations about your new job to discuss future networking, collaborating, and writing letters of reference. Make it a point to send a note to the colleagues you’re leaving behind so they have your contact information. Offer to help with the transition but only if it doesn’t conflict with the interest or terms of your next job. Set a reminder to follow up again after three to six months with selected colleagues. You’ll be busy getting settled in with your next job and forget to maintain your previous connections. You may think you’re dwelling on the past, but your entire career is a collection of experiences that propel you into the future. Smooth transitions from each experience tie your career together.

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