How to resign gracefully

Before you move on, you have to say goodbye.
Before you move on, you have to say goodbye.
Image: Reuters/Eddie Keogh
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You’ve researched companies, sent out resumes, interviewed, and negotiated compensation. Finally, you’ve accepted a new job. Congratulations! You’re confident the position is right for you, and can’t wait to get started.

There’s just one step left: Now you have to resign from your current job. And chances are, you’re not looking forward to that conversation.

In my 35 years in the recruiting and staffing industry, I’ve helped many people find new opportunities. That period leading up to starting a new job is an exciting time, and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to think about that part that could be unpleasant, or at the very least, uncomfortable: saying goodbye to your current employer.

It’s important to be thoughtful about the way you leave. Managers and colleagues may remember how you left as much as how you contributed while there—sometimes, that final impression lasts the longest. In one of our surveys, more than 80% of HR managers said the manner in which a person resigns has a significant effect on their future career opportunities.

A good impression is just as important when you leave a position as it is when you show up to your next job. Here’s how to do it right:

Make sure you’re committed to quitting

Before you tell your manager that you’re leaving, ensure you have cleared all the administrative steps at your new company and have a signed offer letter in hand.

You might also want to make sure that anyone close to you who might be affected by your new opportunity are up to date and on board with the change—family members or dependents, for example. You don’t want to have to walk back your resignation if you later get significant pushback from those closest to you. 

Write out a resignation 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 meet with your boss. A resignation letter can also be useful in that meeting as a script you can refer to when you give your notice verbally.

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.

Practice what you’ll say

With your resignation letter in hand, rehearse what you plan to tell your manager. It’s best to be direct, even—and especially—if you’re nervous. A long lead-in will create an awkward few minutes for you and your boss. Ideally, it should go something like this:

“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?”

Prepare for all the ways your manager could react, and rehearse responding to each one. During the meeting, listen thoughtfully as your boss absorbs the news. If you’ve practiced potential responses, you can stay in the moment and be confident you’re ready for whatever happens.

Be ready for questions

Your boss may take your resignation in stride and immediately steer the conversation toward practical matters, such as how you can help with the transition. More likely, though, your supervisor will have questions, particularly about why you’re leaving, so it’s best to decide ahead of time how you’ll answer them.

Often, the best way to handle these questions is to simply say it’s time for you to move to a new position, and on to new challenges. Having a positive and brief response at the ready can save you from an extended conversation that could swiftly turn negative and damage your business relationship with your supervisor.

Your resignation letter comes in handy as a script here, as well. Stick to your talking points. This will help keep the discussion from becoming heated or personal. 

Prepare for a counter offer

The hiring market is competitive, and many employers are doing whatever they can to try to retain employees. In another recent study of ours, 58% of managers we surveyed said they extend counter offers to keep employees from leaving. So don’t be caught off guard if your manager asks you what it’ll take for you to stay—but be wary.

Most likely your reasons for quitting go beyond salary, and whatever issues you’re facing won’t be solved by a raise. What’s more, if you do decide to stay, your boss and coworkers could start to question your dedication to the organization. And you’ll certainly damage your credibility with the firm you were planning to join if you back out of the commitment you already made.

The safest move is to make it clear that you appreciate the vote of confidence reflected by the offer, but your decision is final and you aren’t interested in a counter offer.

Stay positive

You may have had negative experiences with the company along with positive ones. This is not the time to air grievances. If you spend the meeting griping about the issues you’ve faced on the job, you’ll quickly blow any chance you had to leave on good terms. Don’t take the bait if your manager nudges the conversation toward problems in your department. (However, if you choose to provide constructive feedback during the exit interview, this can demonstrate your care for the company, and its success.)

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.

Announcing a resignation is a challenge for even the most senior-level executive. Saying goodbye graciously is a must, and can have lasting career benefits. Empathize with your boss and coworkers, who will likely take turns being excited for you and nervous about what your impending departure means for them. By leaving on good terms and remaining a resource for your former company and colleagues, you ensure that you can carry your glowing professional reputation along with you on your next move.