My father used to say, “Always be kind to the people you meet climbing the ladder of success because you never know when you might meet them on the way down.” That is definitely true when leaving a job, even more so if you did not have the best experience working there. When you are miserable at the job, are eager to leave and don’t have the best relationship with your bosses, it’s tempting to walk away with little or no advance notice and with little thought or care as to how this rush out the door might affect you and your career down the road.
But that approach may not be wise, say career experts. If your personal integrity is important to you, you want to walk away from your job without burning bridges, if for any reason that it makes you look good.
If you are like most workers, you’ve changed jobs multiple times in your adult life. According to the Bureau of Labors Statistics, workers spend an average of 4.6 years in a given job. That’s an awful lot of job changes over the life of a single worker.
Granted, some of those situations may be forced departures – downsizing and firings – but for the most part, you’ll most likely leave a job for positive reasons, such as a better opportunity at another business, going back to school or starting your own business. And when you do choose to leave, you want to be sure you do so on the best possible terms. After all, you never know when you may need their assistance in some way, such as references or future employment.
Here are a few tips for leaving a job on the best possible terms. While some of these suggestions may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how much some workers overlook them.
1. Give at least two weeks’ notice. For most administrative professionals, two weeks’ notice is sufficient time to help you and your boss figure out the best way to transition out of the job and tie up loose ends. For those higher up in the organization, you may need to offer to stay longer, perhaps a month, to close out your term there. Giving less than two weeks is considered unprofessional. To show you are a true team player until the end, give the appropriate notice.
2. Talk to your boss first. Once you know you plan to leave your job, talk privately with your manager, explain your reasons for leaving, and start planning the transition out of the organization. Until you speak with your manager, avoid gossiping with co-workers, clients or vendors about your plans.
3. Be transparent about your reasons for leaving, but don’t badmouth the employer either, especially if you had a bad experience working there. According to the Harvard Business Review, don’t tell one person one reason for leaving, and tell another person a different story. Remember, once you’ve updated your social media with your new employment information, people will find out soon enough what you will be doing.
4. Don’t trash the business in the exit interview. Use the meeting to reiterate your reason for leaving, and express your gratitude for what you learned while working there. Any negative feedback you give about your bosses and co-workers reflects poorly on you, not on them. And any suggestions you might give about improving their workplace are likely to fall on deaf ears.
5. Don’t leave unfinished business. Complete all the tasks and projects that you are responsible for, or work with your boss to determine alternative arrangements, such as transferring the project to another co-worker. If necessary and if it will help your bosses, make a list of all your responsibilities, the reports and projects you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This step might be especially helpful in a small organization that has fewer resources to help them determine if outside support might be needed.
Another option is to offer to train a co-worker to do your tasks until they hire a replacement, or to return to train the replacement. While the employer may not take you up on the offer, making the suggestion leaves a positive impression and shows you are a team player until the end.
6. Be sure to contact all your vendors and clients that you worked with to say good-bye. Tell them why you are leaving, express gratitude for working with them, but don’t recruit them to your new business, which could be a conflict of interest.
7. Ask for references. If you had a solid working relationship with your manager, do ask for a reference in case you ever need one or your new situation does not work out. Ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn as a professional contact or if they will provide a testimonial of your skills. Most managers are usually open to maintaining some kind of connection with former employees. If you don’t ask at this point, when good will is at its peak, you might forget later.
Taking care of business before you leave a job helps build good will for the long term. And like my father told me many years ago, you never know when you might need a former manager’s help at some point in the future. You don’t want to burn your bridges along the way.