Avoiding a Goldman Sachs Moment

Mar 16, 2012
6 Min Read

Is the very public resignation letter from Goldman Sachs Executive Director Greg Smith in the New York Times this week making you wonder about how to pull off your own (hopefully less scathing) resignation when the time comes? Assuming you’re not planning to enlist a national media outlet in your departure, what doyou say when you quit your job? Do you put it in writing or talk with your manager face-to-face? What if you can’t give two weeks notice?  Don’t worry; we have all your questions answered here!

What should you say when you quit your job?

First, talk to your boss in person. This isn’t a message to send by email or by leaving a letter in your manager’s in-box. Ask for a meeting, and tell your boss face-to-face that you’re moving on. Say something like this:  ”I think you know that I’ve really loved working here. But after a lot of thought, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on, and my last day will be ___.”

Do you need to write a formal resignation letter?

You don’t generally need a written letter unless your employer asks you for one. Resignation letters are a formality, and many people don’t use them at all. They’re really just there to document that you did in fact resign your job. If you areasked for a letter, it can be very short – just a statement that you’re resigning and the date that resignation is effective, and perhaps a sentence to soften it. So it might read something like this: “After three years at XYZ Company, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on, and March 31 will be my last day. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here, wish the organization every success, and stand ready to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Do you have to explain why you're quitting?

While you’re certainly not required to explain why you’re leaving, it’s probably going to be a little awkward if you don’t. After all, when someone resigns, at some point most managers (and coworkers) will ask, “So what will you be doing next?” And because it’s such a normal question to ask and such normal information to share, a refusal will probably come off as odd and a bit chilly. And if you end on a chilly note, that’s going to be the most recent memory of you in your boss’s mind when she’s called for a reference at some point in the future. You don’t want that!

What if you can't give two weeks notice?

If at all possible, you really should give at least two weeks notice, because otherwise you risk burning bridges and tarnishing your reputation. However, if your circumstances just don’t allow that, talk to your boss and explain your situation. If she won’t budge on expecting two weeks and you really can’t give it without significant hardship, all you can do is be sincerely apologetic and explain why you can’t. Sounding mortified is helpful here.

What if your employer usually has people leave immediately the day they give notice?

If your employer has a policy of telling people to leave the same day that they give notice, then it’s reasonable to wait to give your notice until you’re ready for it to be your last day. There are some employers who do have a legitimate business need to have resigning employees leave immediately (for instance, those worried about trade secrets), but aside from those exceptions, smart managers will create an atmosphere where good employees are welcome to work out their notice periods … since that ensures that employees will continue to give them that notice!

What if you need to give notice but your boss is on vacation?

If your boss is away, it’s fine to give your notice to someone else — HR or, if you don’t have an HR department, your boss’ boss. It’s less than ideal, but people will understand why you wanted to alert them right away and not wait – and most of them will appreciate it.

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