How to Leave Your Job Gracefully

Apr 21, 2011
6 Min Read

Along with Penelope Trunk, I was recently interviewed by Rachel Mendleson at Canadian Business Magazine about how to leave your job without burning bridges.  Unlike Penelope, though, I don’t think this is a dumb topic because every day, I hear about people self-imploding during their last days with an organization.

Let’s say you have another job offer and plan on taking it.  You might think that because you’re leaving, you don’t have to worry what team members think of you anymore. This is not the case. Unless you want to erase everything you’ve accomplished since your first day on the job, your departure must be as deliberate as your arrival.

Plan a Strategic Departure

This starts with your resignation. Under no circumstances should you let on that you’re leaving before you have a signed agreement and official start date from your new employer. If you jump the gun and your job offer falls through, your best-case scenario is that you’ve got egg on your face. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that senior management will attempt to get rid of you. Here are some other suggestions for making a smooth exit:


  • Tell your supervisor first. You want your boss to hear the news from you, not from someone else in your department.
  • Give two weeks notice. Stay for the entire two weeks, unless the company requests that you leave sooner.
  • Don’t insult anyone or anything. Whether it’s true or not, show that you regret leaving such wonderful people behind.
  • Stay on top of your responsibilities. Remember that you’re accountable for your work until 5 p.m. on your last day.
  • Continue to adhere to office protocol. You worked hard for your reputation, so leave them with a lasting impression of professionalism.
  • Review the employee handbook. Understand what you’re entitled to in regard to benefits and compensation for unused sick or vacation days.
  • Organize your projects. Make it easy for your colleagues to find materials, so that they can transition your workload seamlessly and won’t need to call you at your new job.
  • Do a great job training your replacement. Your current company has paid your salary for a year or more, so leave your job in good hands.
  • Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. This includes office supplies and work product that was not developed by you personally.

Don't Fall Prey to the Exit Interview

Many companies request that departing employees do exit interviews with HR. The person conducting the interview will usually expect you to divulge why you are leaving and how you feel about your experience with the company. When it comes to exit interviews, the general rule is: If you don’t have anything nice to say, lie. Stick to official business as much as possible, and if you must provide constructive criticism, proceed with tact and caution. While it may be tempting to use the meeting to complain about the company’s difficult personalities and insufferable policies, don’t give in. Once you’ve made the decision to leave, airing your grievances won’t do you a drop of good, and the risk of offending people is too great.

Preserve Your Relationships

During your last few weeks, do everything you can to leave behind a squeaky clean reputation. Be conscientious and thorough as you’re wrapping up or transitioning projects. It’s a smaller world than you think, and you never know when you’re going to need these people again. And you never know – maybe you won’t even like your new job and will want to come back someday. At the very least, you want to be able to count on one person at the company to serve as a reference for you in the future.

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