What to Do Before Your Last Day of Work

by Ryan Guina

A friend of mine was recently laid off and his entire group was told they were being let go in two days. That’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone, particularly with such short notice. With such a short turnaround before his last day, he was left scrambling to get everything together before his last day of work. There are many things to consider, but to make it easier, you can break things down into two categories – your professional relationships, and your work duties and administrative tasks. These tips apply to many situations and types of jobs, including whether you are resigning from your job, or whether you were laid off.

Manage Your Professional Relationships

Regardless of why you leave your job, it’s important to continue building your professional network. One of the worst things you can do is burn bridges. That’s why it’s essential to stick to the basics when giving an exit interview, and keep everything on a professional level. These tips can help you move on gracefully.

Always leave on good terms!

Always leave on good terms!

Leave on good terms. Whether you are being laid off or you resigned to take another position, you should do your best to leave on good terms with your coworkers and former employer. You never know when they may be asked to provide a reference and you want to make sure you leave a good impression as you head out the door. This is especially important if you are resigning from your job, since under those circumstances, leaving is your choice.

Thank your coworkers and former manager. Sending a quick email to your teammates and manager thanking them for the time you had together can be a great way to leave on good terms. It’s important to personalize this message and not send out a form letter that you copied to twenty or more people. In your letter, try to think of something unique such as a project you worked together on, thank them for a time they helped you on a project. In the case of your manager, thank them for any promotions or times they gave you more responsibility or entrusted you with a major project. End your email with an offer to help your former coworkers if they ever need a reference or other assistance.

Connect with former coworkers on LinkedIn. You can offer to connect with your former coworkers in the email you send them, or you can send a separate invitation to connect via the LinkedIn dashboard. If you use the LinkedIn dashboard, be sure not to use the default message LinkedIn provides. It is generic and shows you didn’t take the time to address people individually. Even if you know the person well, take a few moments to craft an individual invitation – it is more professional and your response rate will improve. After your former coworkers accept your invitation, take some time to endorse their LinkedIn profile. This will make it more likely they will return the favor and endorse your profile in return. Here are more tips for connecting on LinkedIn.

Ask for recommendations. Be careful when approaching people for recommendations. You want to make sure the people you ask know you and your performance well enough to share a detailed recommendation, and you also want to ensure people will give a positive recommendation. It’s a good idea to ask people for permission before giving their contact information as a reference. When doing this, be sure to let them know what type of reference you are looking for. For example, asking for a reference for a new job is much different than asking for an endorsement on LinkedIn. In this case, a LinkedIn endorsement is usually tied to a skill, whereas a job reference covers a more broad set of skills.

Projects, Files, Computers, and Your Office

Each job is different, so the following tips may or may not apply to your specific situation. These tips are primarily based on what I have done when I left my previous jobs. Take some time to think about your role, and the steps you need to take when handing your job to another person, or what you may need to do to prepare your files and other documentation before you leave.

Document your job tasks

Make it easy for your company to replace you.

Create a continuity binder. If you are handing your job over to someone else, then be sure to document your tasks in a manner that can be easily followed. In my previous job I created a Word document with screenshots that showed how to do each recurring task I had assigned to me. These took some time to create, but were instrumental in getting my replacement up to speed before I left. This also helped me leave on good terms. This was for a position from which I had resigned to take a job in a similar industry. I was working in a relatively small professional community where it is easy to make or break a reputation. In this case, it was important I left on good terms.

Clearly label files, documents, and electronic data. My former job utilized shared drive to store our common files. Before I left I did some housekeeping and deleted all the obsolete files and standardized the naming conventions for everything else and included a key for the files in the continuity binder. This helped my replacement and former coworkers find everything when I left.

Remove personal files from your computer. Most companies have policies against using work computers for personal use, but many people do it anyway.  Be sure to clean out any personal files or documents you may have on your computer. You will be required to turn in your computer, and you don’t want to leave anything personal on it! In addition to clearing out any personal files, you may wish to copy any non-proprietary work things you may have created. Be sure you aren’t taking anything that could get you in trouble! I’m mostly referring to any templates for PowerPoint slides, documents, spreadsheets, or anything you created that doesn’t have any company information on it. If in doubt, check with your company handbook for policy, or ask your manager. If you have doubts, don’t take it!

Think about privacy and security. You may also wish to clean out your computer’s temp files, browsing history, saved passwords, etc. Chances are your IT department will never look at that stuff, but I wouldn’t risk it, especially if you use common passwords anywhere else. When I left my last job I put all my work files in a clearly organized file, moved almost everything to the shared drive, and deleted everything else. Then I deleted temp files, browser history, cookies, etc, and defragged the computer. Most IT departments simply wipe computers clean and reassign them to someone else, but you don’t want to take any chances.

last day of work

Start packing early.

Clean out your office or cube a day or two before your last day. Every company is different. Some will want you to stay through the last day of your final two weeks (or the date the gave you if you were laid off), while other companies will let you go early. Depending on the nature of your work and your company’s policies, you may be let go within a day or two of you notifying the company you are leaving, or the company announces layoffs. The thing to remember is that you never how how that last day(s) will go, and the last day will probably sneak up on you. Here are my experiences for the last two jobs I left:

The first job I resigned to take a job with a competitor. I worked the final two weeks up to the last minute so I could maintain chargeability and continue earning the company money. However, My role was reduced to creating the continuity binder I mentioned above, and training my replacement. The next job I resigned was under different circumstances – instead of leaving for a competitor, I left to become self-employed. I had already created a continuity binder, and since I was salaried and leaving on good terms (i.e. not going to a competitor), they let me go at noon the day before my last day. We went out to lunch as a team, and when I returned, my manager told me I could turn in my security badge and computer. This caught me off-guard, but it didn’t bother me, since I had everything in order and was ready to go. Keep in mind this may happen to you as well, as some companies let people go early in order to prevent them from doing anything at the last minute (such as taking files, information, etc.). In other words, this is usually to protect the company, not give you an extra day!

Benefits, benefits, benefits. Many employers offer a variety of benefits including health care, 401k plans, life insurance, long term disability insurance, and more. Be sure to schedule a few minutes to speak with your HR department to understand your benefits, if any, when you leave. Depending on your company policies and the circumstances of your departure, you may be able to negotiate an extra month or two of employer sponsored health insurance benefits. Otherwise, you may need to set up COBRA health care coverage when you leave to ensure you don’t have a break in health care coverage. Here are some more benefits considerations when you leave your job, and some thoughts on how to handle your 401k when you change jobs.

There is a lot to cover in just a couple days. If you have a full two weeks before your last day, you can space things out a bit. Otherwise, you may need to push through this list quickly.

Did I leave anything out?

Photo credit: T GibbisonJonathan D. Blundell, pennstatenews.

Published or updated April 12, 2013.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jake Erickson

These are great tips. I totally agree on never burning bridges. Just like you said you never know when you’ll need that relationship in the future. I think it’s a really nice gesture to create a binder of your duties or training a co-worker to do them because then your former team won’t have to figure everything out themselves. It may be obvious, but if it’s you that’s deciding to leave you need to give your employer at least a two week notice.


2 Ryan Guina

Jake, I always gave my employers a two week notice, but they don’t always do that when they lay people off. When I left my last job, I actually stayed about 6 weeks longer than I originally wanted to so I could help wrap up a large project. I was resigning to be self-employed, so I had the freedom to set my own departure date.


3 Michelle

This is a great list that I know will come in handy. Don’t leave on a bad note is always important! I know of someone who quit by leaving a note on her manager’s desk and didn’t give any notice. A couple of months later she wanted to use this same manager as a reference, and of course that didn’t go well.


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