Quit Your Job Without Burning Bridges

January 11 2011

Quitting a job is never pleasant, but it does not have to mean a hit to your reputation or your career. With a little planning, you can leave your current job with a strong network and positive recommendations for your new employer thereby allowing you to quit your job without burning bridges.

Even the most devoted employees have moments where they might fantasize about quitting a job with an angry tirade, leaving a scorching trail in his or her wake.  Recently, as the workplace has become increasingly demanding for those lucky enough to have a job, stories like this one about a flight attendant who quit his job by activating and using the plane’s escape slide (See http://gothamist.com/2010/08/09/jet_blue_flight_attendant_activates.php), can gather a lot of steam in the media. As fun as this might sound, the smarter move is to make a calm, practical plan for leaving your job.

With a little forethought, you can make sure your transition from your current workplace is as stress-free as possible for both you and your current employer.  These tips will help you make the experience positive and productive.

  1. Give plenty of notice.  Your company may have a policy requiring workers to give employers a certain amount of notice before they leave, usually between 2-4 weeks.  If possible, give your employer at least a week more than is required by the policy.  This will give you plenty of time to wrap up or efficiently pass on any unfinished projects, potentially help train your replacement and gives your employer time to find an ideal candidate.
  2. Stay focused. It’s easy to check out of a job once you’ve given your notice, but it’s important to stay focused and productive. Your loss is going to cause a ripple in the workplace, and will probably be a burden to more than just your supervisors. Don’t make it worse for your peers and co-workers by slacking off at the end.
  3. Plan to stay connected. You’ll likely want to keep at least a few of your co-workers in your professional network, so make sure you have contact information or connect on a site like LinkedIn or Facebook.  At the very least, get some email addresses and phone numbers of the people you’ve really enjoyed working with, and those who might be willing to serve as references for new opportunities.
  4. Get letters of recommendation.  Like asking for a raise or preparing for a performance review, asking for a letter of recommendation requires some prep work on your part. Gather up evidence of the positive things you’ve done for the company and talk to your supervisors, peers and those who answer to you about providing a letter of reference.  If company policy allows, you might be able to get recommendations from clients you’ve worked closely with, as well. Having letters of reference on hand before your job search can save a lot of time and energy later.
  5. Be a model employee.  Your last weeks at a job are as important as your first weeks to make a good, lasting impression.  You never know when you may encounter the people you currently work with again, you don’t want them to have the wrong impression about you.  Show up early, stay late, get your assignments in early and go the extra mile to help out when you’re needed. You’ll impress not only your supervisors, but also the co-workers who may be worried that they’ll be unduly burdened when you leave.
  6. Leave your workplace cleaner than you found it.  On your last day, take a few extra minutes to make sure your workspace is clean.  Take out the trash, dust your desk, make sure there are no paper scraps on the floor and that all the company equipment and supplies are in order.
  7. Be honest.  If you’re leaving for a specific reason related to the workplace or working conditions (See http://humanresources.about.com/od/whenemploymentends/a/quit_job.htm), speak to your supervisor or human resources about why you’re leaving.  This isn’t the time for emotional rants, but if you have legitimate concerns you should explain them calmly, with any relevant evidence in hand, to the people in charge.  If your company offers you an exit interview, you should take advantage of that, as well.

Leaving your job can be uncomfortable, but the better prepared you are in advance, the more likely it will be that you can leave without burning any bridges letting you and your former employer feel good about the experience.   By putting in the extra effort, you’ll be the employee everyone is sad to see go, instead of the one nobody can wait to see leave.

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