The focus of most career-related advice is rightly on how to GET a job – how to build that resume and cover letter, where to look, how to interview, and even how to conduct oneself on that first day and thereafter. That makes sense, of course, because to someone without a job, getting a job becomes more important than almost anything else in life.
Once gainfully employed, however, we don’t often consider the proper way to LEAVE a job. After all, the very fact that we’re leaving a job we already have must mean something better is around the corner, something where we’ll conceivably be able to make good money, work with amazing people who we’ll like and who will like us in return, and spend our workdays in a work environment so awesome that all our friends will be jealous and want to work there (except they won’t be able to because, sadly, we took the last opening). Maybe a place with overstuffed couches, fountains, marble steps, gigantic glass offices looking out over some gorgeous city skyline, hip co-workers, three-hour lunches, and maybe some sort of office pet, like a giant furry cat or a talking parrot that mispronounces our name when we walk by.
OK maybe that’s a stretch, but because human nature wants to validate the often difficult life decision we are making to leave our current job, we often do have all sorts of images in our head of the way our next job will turn out. We fail to realize that, statistically (whether voluntarily or not so much), there will likely be a point in the not so distant future where we leave our next job as well. So, it’s vitally important to remember that the decisions we make in our present job can haunt us down the road. Even if we despise everything about the job we are working now, a ‘take this job and shove it’ attitude never accomplishes anything beyond the temporary satisfaction of telling your current boss what he can do with those reports he’s been hounding you about for the last few weeks.
Understanding that we don’t live in a vacuum, that people will talk about their experiences with us to peers well beyond the bounds of our former employer, and that reputations built over 20 years can be destroyed in a few minutes, here are a few ways to leave your current job with respect, professionalism, and dignity.
1.) Give notice – Nothing says ‘screw you’ to an employer quite like an employee not having the common decency to understand they have a business to run... and your sudden departure just might affect that business. Having some consideration during this difficult transition just might spark your former employer into having some consideration for you when it comes time to give a reference. Two weeks is standard, but even a week is better than nothing!
2.) Finish well – I know you are moving on to greener pastures, but in the jobs we have, as in life, it’s important to finish well. Don’t let the last impression your former boss and co-workers have of you be one of you giving less than your best.
3.) Leave with integrity – Not only should we obviously leave our former employer’s physical property intact (as in, not stealing!), but their intellectual property as well. The ethics may vary depending on your industry, but when dealing with your knowledge of where you used to work, be sure to operate within the bounds of what is appropriate.
4.) Gain valuable feedback – You are about to leave your boss. You’ve given a notice and there are no hard feelings, and you (hopefully) already have another job already lined up. Now is the time to ask your former boss for any performance feedback that could help you going forward. He/she will appreciate you asking, and there might even be a chance to clear the air on a few things heretofore left unsaid.
5.) Remember your relationships – You’ve doubtless made more than a few friends at your former employer. Be sure to validate and make plans to continue those. Maybe you’ve made a few enemies too. If so, reach out to them as well. A little atonement now can spare a lot of headaches in the future. There are few things more important in this life than our relationships with others. Before you ride off into the sunset, say your goodbyes with bittersweet class.