So you’ve decided, like so many other people, that it’s time to quit your job. But that doesn’t mean you want to burn a bridge. Leaving things on good terms with your soon-to-be former employer can be important for securing future opportunities, and it starts with how you give your notice. There’s a way to do it that’s polite, direct, and professional.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. People are clearly anxious about this—in the three months leading up to November 2021, Google searches for “how to send a resignation email” rose 3,450% (its Spanish translation, “como hacer una carta de renuncia,” was up 3,500%), according to Google’s trends newsletter.
How do you write a letter of resignation? Let’s get into it.
Before you write the letter
Be extra sure you want to quit. If you’re going to another company, it’s key to have that offer letter in hand before giving your notice. Walking back your resignation could be awkward at best, impossible at worst.
Tell anyone who might need to know outside your company. Family members, significant others, people who depend on you financially—these are probably good folks to give a heads up about your job changes before it’s too late to change course.
Writing the letter
You’ll almost certainly be asked to submit one of these after you resign, so do yourself a favor and draft it before you give your verbal notice. It can act as a script if the meeting is a difficult one, or at least help you distill your thoughts before confronting your boss.
Keep your letter simple: Start by succinctly stating that you have accepted another position, and are resigning. Then, in a sentence or two, express your gratitude for the opportunities and experience the organization has provided you. Close by stating the final date you’ll be on the job, and offer to help transition your duties and responsibilities to your replacement.
After you’ve written the letter
Set up a meeting with your boss. You can be vague about the topic, and you can keep it brief. Do your boss the courtesy of telling them before you inform any colleagues. If the meeting is in person, bring a copy of your resignation letter to the meeting; if it’s a video or phone call, have the letter queued up and ready to send via email as soon as the call is done.
Practice what you’ll say. Get a little spiel ready. Be direct. Something like:
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I accepted a job with another company and am here to give my two-weeks’ notice. This was a very difficult choice to make. I really enjoy working here and appreciate the opportunities you’ve given me. I intend to complete any projects I can. How can I help make the transition to my replacement as smooth as possible?
An important part of this prep work is anticipating your supervisor’s reaction and being ready for questions they might have. They might range from the logistical (“When is your last day?”) to the personal (“Could I have done anything differently to keep you?”). This is where having written your resignation letter comes in handy—having a positive and brief response at the ready could save the discussion from quickly becoming heated or overly personal.
Be prepared for a counteroffer. In a tight labor market, you can bet that any company is going to do what they can to retain talent. Sixty seven percent of hiring managers have extended a counteroffer to a departing employee at least once, according to a survey conducted by LiveCareer, and that number is higher in smaller companies.
But if you’re tempted by the higher salary, think carefully: Your reasons for quitting likely go beyond pay, and whatever issues you’re facing likely won’t be solved by a raise. There are risks to taking the counteroffer, including damaged credibility with the company you were planning to join, and questions about your loyalty to your current company. If you do decide to take the counteroffer, though, let the other company know clearly and quickly. (The best-case scenario is to not let it get this far: if you’re hoping for a counteroffer and you have a boss you trust, you can have a sort of pre-quit chat to ask their advice for the career move you have in mind, write leaders from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in Harvard Business Review.)
Save the real feedback for the exit interview. You may have had negative experiences with the company along with positive ones. Don’t sour this meeting by airing grievances—if you do want to give the company some critical feedback, do it during the exit interview.
Close the conversation by explaining how important it is to you to provide sufficient notice to help the organization. Assure your manager you’ll continue to give 100% for your remaining time there, and offer to be available after you leave to answer questions your boss or successor may have. Finish by reiterating your gratitude.
Adapted from “How to resign gracefully” by Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half.
Adapted by Alex Ossola, membership editor (has never written a resignation letter) with contributions from Lila MacLellan.
One ✌️ thing
Anyone who has worked a job they’ve hated has fantasized about quitting with pizazz, though few of us actually do. Which of the following non-traditional resignation “letters” is from a movie, and which are real life?
- Wanting to spend more time on his side-hustle bakery business, an airport employee presents his boss with a three-paragraph resignation letter piped in icing on a sheet cake.
- A Wall Street veteran writes an op-ed in a major daily newspaper explaining how his former employer, a major investment bank, sidelined client interests.
- Taking over the fast-food restaurant’s cashier microphone, a worker hurtles a heartfelt “F**k you” to each of his fellow burger flippers and leaves with “I’m out.”
- A flight attendant announces he’s quitting over a plane’s public address system shortly after landing. He drops several f-bombs, grabs two beers, and makes his escape down an emergency exit slide.
A: Real. Chris Holmes’s gorgeous resignation cake used black piping on white frosting.
B: Real. Greg Smith published his opinion piece in the New York Times.
C: Fake. From the movie Half Baked (the iconic scene is NSFW)
D: Real. Steve Slater’s legendary JetBlue flip-out made him a working-class hero.
Read more in our Obsession email on quitting.