The temptation to “coast” out of a job looms large.
I’ve witnessed many colleagues let their standards slide after they give a company their notice. I believe this is because they weren’t held to any expectations and chose not to hold themselves to a standard, either.
But when I left my last corporate job to focus on my business full-time, I had expectations of myself. I liked that job! In fact, many days I even loved it. I worked with people who challenged and inspired me. As a manager, I had a seat at the table. My education and credentials were respected. I felt like a valued member of the team.
When I made the choice to leave, I knew that my exit mattered. My final impression was very important. I wanted to leave with my reputation and integrity intact.
Because I’m not alone in wanting to leave a job “the right way”, here are four tips for leaving a job with grace. I’d love to hear your feedback on this advice, as well as your own stories, so make sure to leave me a comment!
- Prepare an “elevator pitch” for why you’re leaving.
Whether you’re leaving for a new job, a relocation, to start your own business, or to focus on family, your reasons for leaving are completely personal. You can reveal as little or much about your next step as you’d like, but I recommend preparing a concise “elevator pitch” about your reason for leaving. Keep it positive, upbeat, and free of any passive aggression towards the company and team you’re leaving.
“I’m going to ___ and I’m really looking forward to it. But I’ve enjoyed working at ___ and wish nothing but the best for everyone here.”
- Maintain positivity and professionalism
When the word spreads that you’re leaving, co-workers you barely know are going to come out of the woodwork, looking for some juicy gossip or a chance to vent their frustrations to a sympathetic ear. Don’t get sucked into it. It was my goal to show up every day for two weeks with a pleasant smile on my face and a positive tone in my voice.
You always hear about the importance of a good first impression. I believe a final impression is just as important. Your last two weeks are going to be the last two weeks you’ll see most of these people in your entire life! How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be “that person” who sowed discontent in your final weeks, or do you want to be the positive professional who left an impressive impact in your wake?
- Create a plan for your role for the next 3-6 months
It’s going to take time to replace you, especially if you’re leaving a management position, as I was.
You may have the chance to train your replacement, but in many cases, you won’t be immediately replaced. To ease the transition, put together a plan for the next 3-6 months. If possible, delegate and hand-off every project or responsibility possible. If you’re doing things right, you’re probably going to work harder in those final two weeks than you ever did at the job! I put in some long hours, but it paid off.
Consider your final impression once again. Do you want people to feel resentful about the projects you left midway through? Do you want to leave your co-workers scrambling for where you saved files? Or would you rather have your colleagues, subordinates, and bosses feel your loss, yet be able to move on from it?
In my case – overachiever alert! – I put together an entire binder. I delegated every task and project. The binder included documented processes for every responsibility I had, including the names and contact information of relevant parties (internal and external) connected to them. For projects that were partway finished, my binder included checklists of what was completed and what still needed to be done, and when. When I had started in the role, there wasn’t anything like this for me, so I wanted to make things easier for the next person.
Imagine walking into your next job with all the necessary materials in one place. That’s what you’re trying to create for your replacement.
- Get face time with everyone possible
My direct reports were my first priority after I gave my notice. I wanted to make sure they understood my reasons for leaving and received reassurances that I was going to create a binder of responsibilities for the items they were going to take over. We met nearly every day of my final two weeks. I also scheduled short meetings to discuss certain projects, so they weren’t receiving one big “information dump” at once.
Specific leaders and colleagues needed to hear my news directly from me, for my own conscience, so I also made a quick list of people to visit in my final weeks. In these meetings, I provided genuine thanks for the leadership opportunity I was given. I made sure to let them know that my tenure was enjoyed and appreciated, and the things I learned were going to set me up for success in my business. Every one of these meetings ended cordially.
I also met with Human Resources for the obligatory exit interview. Overachiever that I am, I prepared notes prior to that meeting. I made sure to provide praise and critique wherever it was due, and tried to pass along feedback that was reasonable, actionable, and free from spite.
It was really important to me that I left my job in a better state than when I arrived. Besides documenting everything I did, delegating all of my responsibilities, and providing honest feedback to leadership and HR, I made sure to spend every day of those two weeks presenting a positive and professional demeanor.
And because I left my job with grace, I had the chance to come back as a contractor five months later. More significantly, I maintained solid business contacts and friendships to this day, thanks to leaving on a professional note.
When you leave your next job, do it on your own terms – and leave with grace.