Resigning on Good Terms – How to Quit Your Job Without Burning Bridges

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My wife recently informed her boss that she will be resigning her position to become a stay-at-home-mom. My wife put a lot of thought into the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom and in the end, we decided that was the best decision for us and for our child. She was very nervous about giving her…

My wife recently informed her boss that she will be resigning her position to become a stay-at-home-mom. My wife put a lot of thought into the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom and in the end, we decided that was the best decision for us and for our child.

how to resign gracefully and not burn any bridges

She was very nervous about giving her resignation. She had only been with her company for about two years, and she felt like she was bailing out on them after only being there for a short period of time. She also worried what others might think about her leaving.

These are rational thoughts, but I reminded her that she is not “bailing out” on them – she is resigning to be a stay-at-home-mom which is a wonderful opportunity. But her heart was in the right place. It is important to resign on good terms; you never know what will happen in the future and you want the last impression you leave to be a good impression.

That said, resigning from a job is probably never going to be easy. It’s a difficult decision and a hard conversation to have with your boss.

I know that every job is different, and every boss is going to take the news differently, but there are a few things that you should do to ensure that you’re leaving the company on good terms.

How to Resign on Good Terms

The following tips can help you resign without putting your company in a bad position.

Inform your boss first. The last thing you want is your boss to hear about your resignation through the grapevine. Have the courtesy to inform him or her before telling your coworkers. The same thing goes for other important life events that may impact your job performance or attendance, such as telling your boss you are pregnant.

Put it in writing. It’s a great idea to tell your boss in person, but it’s also good form to formalize your resignation by giving your boss a resignation letter. The letter doesn’t need to be long or dramatic – keep it simple, polite, and firm. We have more on this topic below.

Give plenty of time. My wife is resigning from her position because she is expecting our first child. Since we know she will not be coming back and it is illegal for them to use her pregnancy as an excuse to fire her (see Pregnancy Discrimination Act), she should give her manager a reasonable amount of time to prepare for her departure. In her case, she will be giving about a month and a half notice. This gives her organization plenty of time to start looking for a replacement and allows my wife to transition her duties to a co-worker. If you are resigning under other conditions, you may wish to stick with the standard two-week notice.

Prepare a transition plan. My wife is currently putting the finishing touches on her continuity binder, which gives instructions for her major responsibilities, contact numbers, and other important information her replacement will need. This helps make your transition a smooth one and makes for minimal downtime when you leave. More on this topic below.

Never burn a bridge. You never know what the future will bring and burning bridges never helps anyone. You can offer constructive criticism about the company, but avoid blasting anyone. It might feel good, but it can only hurt things in the long run. A good time to share the reasons you are resigning is during your exit interview.

Here are more tips on quitting your job without burning bridges.

How to Write a Resignation Letter

Several years ago, I resigned from my job. At the time, I had been there for over two years. However, I was no longer growing professionally. After job hunting for a few months, I went on a series of job interviews, resulting in two job offers.

This article examines how I evaluated those job offers. After discussing the opportunities with my wife, I made a decision. I accepted one of the offers and resigned from my position.

Sample Resignation Letter

I believe your resignation letter should be simple, polite, and firm. The following is a clean version of my resignation letter (i.e. details removed):

Dear (Manager),

I hereby resign from my position as (insert job title). My last day of employment will be May 23, 2018, two weeks from today.

I thank you for the opportunities I have had with (company name) over the past two years. However, I decided to take another professional opportunity.

I have begun work on a transition plan and will be available to assist training my replacement. If there is anything I can do to make this transition go smoothly, please do not hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Signature,

Typed Name

As you can see, this is short, simple, and effective. I told them when I was leaving, I thanked them for the opportunities I had, and I offered to assist in the transition.

There really isn’t any need to add more than this unless you are close to your manager and want to add a few minor personal touches. Even then, it is best to limit what you include. You never know who will read the letter.

What to Leave Out of Your Resignation Letter

You should not include any negative statements about the company, your client(s), your management, co-workers, salary, or other issues you have. You are already leaving the company, so there is no reason to be negative. The only thing negativity can do is burn bridges.

Dealing with Resignation Questions

My resignation caught my managers off guard. But it shouldn’t have. Several months prior to my resignation I wrote an article asking if it was time to change jobs? At that point, I had already talked to my management multiple times about a new position within the company and taking on increased levels of responsibility. I continued to look within the company for more opportunities… but there was nothing available.

When I handed my manager my resignation letter he sat in stunned silence for several moments. I could see him going through several emotions – disbelief, anger, etc. I just sat there in silence while he worked things out. He asked for more details as to why I was leaving, but I kept it to a minimum. I told him I still had to give my resignation letter to his boss and offered to speak to him after the weekend. I thought it best to let him gather his thoughts before further discussing my resignation.

Be Prepared to Receive a Counteroffer (And Why You Should Reject It)

Several years ago, I resigned from my job due to career stagnation and lack of job satisfaction. I approached my managers multiple times over the course 9 months or so to try and find something more challenging within the company. But I was told nothing was available.

The Counteroffer I Received

Shortly after tendering my resignation, my manager asked to see me. I closed the door to his office and sat down. He started off with a little small talk, “How is the transition plan coming?, I hate to see you go,” etc.

Then, he made his offer. “Ryan, we like the work you’ve been doing and we want you to stay. I sat down with my boss, and he agreed that you are a valuable asset to our company. After crunching numbers and getting corporate approval, we are prepared to make a counteroffer to keep you here.”

I didn’t give any response because I was already 99% sure that I wasn’t going to accept any counter offer they made. But I let him play his hand.

When my manager saw I wasn’t going to ask him how much the counter offer was, he proceeded. “As you know, things have been tight, but I was able to convince upper management that we needed to keep you here. They gave me the approval to offer you a 20% raise.”

His offer was met with silence from my end. He waited for my reaction, but I didn’t really have one. I was impressed they offered a 20% raise because that is very high for my current company. But, money doesn’t address the reason I looked for a new job in the first place. He looked at me with expectation in his eyes. I declined his offer because I am not interested in staying with my current company.

He asked what it would take to keep me, and I told him I had already made my commitment to another company. He pressed for more details about my new job, and I eventually told him the job offer I accepted came with a 32% raise. At this point, it didn’t bother me to share that information. Our professional community was fairly tight-knit, so I think they would have found out the rough numbers anyway. But I stressed that the money was not my driving factor for leaving – it was a combination of things, mostly career opportunity and growth.

He asked me to wait and he came back a few minutes later with his manager and the guy I ultimately report to. Long story short, they ended up offering to match the salary offer I received from my new company. I thanked them for their time and for the offer, but I stood firm. I was not accepting the counteroffer.

Why I Didn’t Accept Their Counteroffer

I tried for 9 months to get a different assignment within my company. I talked to managers within and outside my work stream (with my direct manager’s knowledge). However, the company is doing some restructuring and they asked me to be patient. I showed more than enough initiative and patience, and in the end, my company didn’t meet my professional needs.

What I don’t understand is why they suddenly perceived me as valuable as soon as I mentioned leaving? It was frustrating and I was a little upset. Then, I decided it didn’t matter. I was leaving either way.

There are other reasons I won’t accept their counteroffer.

  • I gave my commitment to my new company. I signed a job offer, and I don’t want to burn a bridge I just built.
  • Perception. I didn’t want my coworkers or managers thinking I was staying around until I could find a better opportunity.
  • My future with the company. Would accepting a counteroffer affect my chances at promoting or receiving raises? Or would I be perceived as a flight risk and relegated to menial tasks until they could find a replacement?
  • Would my role change? The main reason I wanted to leave was not money. While a 30% raise was certainly enough to make me consider leaving, that was not my main motivation. What they didn’t realize is that I never would have submitted my resume or application elsewhere if they had worked with me sooner. Even with the counteroffer they gave me, they didn’t address the underlying issues of job satisfaction and career growth.

Be Prepared for a Counteroffer

I had an idea my company would make a counteroffer, so I prepared for the offer before I even submitted my resignation. I made a list of all the issues I had with my current role. Reviewing these issues before accepting the new job offer and before turning in my resignation was very beneficial in helping me make my decision.

Not every company will make you a counter offer, but if they do, you should be prepared for it before you resign. Otherwise, you may decide to do something before thinking it through.

Accepting or declining a counter offer is a personal decision

In the end, you know what is best for you. But I strongly recommend being prepared for a counter offer before you even resign, then looking at all your options before making a decision to accept or decline a counter offer. Will the counter offer resolve the underlying issues that forced your resignation? Will money alone fix the problem? Do you need a flexible work schedule? How about a different role within the company? Only you know your situation, and only you can answer those questions.

What to Do Before Your Last Day of Work

Whether you a quitting your job or you have been laid off, there are many things to do before your last day of work. 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.

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 co-workers if they ever need 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.

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 that had been 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.

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 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.

There is a lot to cover in just a few 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.

Other Things to Do After Leaving Your Job

Leaving your job is often a time of mixed emotions.  The feelings can be even more mixed when you are dealing with a layoff or other unforeseen event. Since not everyone can plan their exit, these tips may make your transition easier.

Update Your Resume

You should update your resume as soon as you know you will be leaving your job because your recent accomplishments and job duties are still fresh on your mind. Having an updated resume will be helpful in finding a new job in the near term, or if you are taking a long break, will make it easier to step back into your job search. Use these tips to create an excellent resume.

Decide What to Do with Your 401k or Other Retirement Accounts

Most companies offer a 401k or similar retirement plan, and it is the last thing many people think about when leaving their company is their retirement plan. At least until their HR rep breezes through your options at lightning speed. Basically, you have the following options:

  • Leave your 401k at your former company.
  • Transfer the 401k to your new company (if you have a new job lined up).
  • Rollover your 401k into an IRA or another eligible retirement account.
  • Withdraw the funds in your 401k. (may be subject to early withdrawal penalties).

In most cases, people will be better off rolling over their 401k into an IRA or a 401k at their new company. Here are more tips about what to do with your 401k when you leave your company.

File for Unemployment Benefits

If you were laid off, the first thing you want to do is file for unemployment benefits. Most states require that new unemployment filers wait one week before receiving benefits, so the sooner you get the process started, the more quickly you can start receiving benefits. Check with your state employment bureau for more details.

Never Burn a Bridge

You will likely have an exit interview with your manager or HR before your final day with the company. This will give everyone (including you) time to gather their thoughts about your resignation. This may be a good time to bring up the issues mentioned above (company, your client(s), your management, co-workers, salary, etc.), but remember to keep everything civil. There is no point for blame. Offer constructive criticism and move on.

I don’t anticipate returning to my current (and soon to be former) place of employment. However, you never know what situations may arise, or who you may run into in the future.

It never pays to burn a bridge – especially if you work in a closely knit professional community, such as the community where I work. In my professional community, most high-level managers know each other and word travels quickly. I even know a guy how resigned his job, said a few choice words to his former employer and when he showed up to his new job, found out it was no longer there for him. It turns out the manager he cursed was an old military buddy of his new boss. His employment contract was conditional, and apparently, he broke the conditions.

Resign gracefully. It is best for everyone involved.

If you handle everything properly, hopefully, you’ll be able to leave your company on good terms and keep some of those relationships that you’ve built.



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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Rebeca says

    Hi there,

    Today I went on a panel interview, my thoughts are that the interview went great, towards the end of the interview the General Manager asked me how much notice I would have to give my employer, I told them that my boss would expect me to give a 30 day notice. She said it wouldn’t be a problem. However, I have an uneasy feeling, just as we all got up to say our goodbye’s she told me that she still had 2 other candidates and she would not have an answer for two more weeks. I was very professional and relaxed however her final words have created a doubt for me. I would like to know what the thoughts of other are, do you think I am being paranoid or jumping the gun?

  2. christina says

    Wahhh!!!!

    Be happy you even had a job…. It’s greedy people who think they are invaluable or deserve better. We work hard and if we are lucky we can retire. Most people now days will never. Why do people think our economy got in this situation its because greedy people getting paid too much.be glad someone is even willing to keep you around. Your lucky just for that. People stop being greedy.

    • Ryan Guina says

      I was grateful I had a job, and I was even more grateful for the other job offer I received. The reason I turned down the counter-offer had nothing to do with greed or feeling invaluable – it had everything to do with wanting a more challenging job and a different work environment. I had the offer in hand, and I accepted it. There is nothing greedy about seeking to improve oneself. That is a highly desirable characteristic which many employers seek. On the flip side, not wanting to improve oneself is a red flag which many employers seek to avoid.

      As for the economy, there are many complicated reasons the economy went bad, but I don’t think it had much to do with employees earning too much. It had more to do with poor lending practices and greed at the corporate level, which filtered down into the masses with people spending more money than they could afford. But that has nothing to do with earnings, it has everything to do with spending – those are two distinctly different things.

    • Gates VP says

      It’s greedy people who think they are invaluable or deserve better.

      OK, so if a medical doctor is earning minimum wage and feels they deserve better than a burger flipper that makes them greedy? From a perspective of social good, it’s pretty clear that doctors carry a relatively high value, but that hardly makes them greedy.

      I’m pretty sure your logic only holds in very heavy-handed socialist societies. Even people within communist societies would afford a doctor more intrinsic value than a food assembler.

      …our economy got in this situation its because greedy people getting paid too much…

      Look, there were definitely greedy people involved in the chain of the recent financial collapse, but it was clearly much more than that. If anything, the key problem was the poor incentivization of people in general. We paid lots of people lots of money to do things that were not necessarily in our best interests.

      But it’s not necessarily a matter of greed. Lots of people just did exactly what they were paid to do. It simply turns out they were being paid to do the wrong things.

      … be glad someone is even willing to keep you around…

      The goal of employment is not subservience. Employment is a partnership where people jump on a team together and make something happen together. The money is just there as a representation of the division of skills and risk.

      But you are in no way a slave to your boss. You are making your boss money. You deliver some product/service that they resell and that makes them money. But this isn’t slavery, you’re both free to end the relationship and go somewhere else.

  3. Serena says

    What if because of extraneous circumstances, a person left their job without notice for two weeks. They don’t want to return to the job but they would like to patch up a potentially burnt bridge. How should that person go about doing that?

    • Ryan Guina says

      There are many factors to consider in this case. You should make an attempt to meet with your manager in person to explain the situation, and be sure to turn in all badges, computers, equipment, or other work related items, and clean out your desk, office or cube if you have one. It would also be a good idea to offer to walk your teammates through your progress if you were in the middle of any projects. I think the most important factor here is honesty – explain that you had to leave for unavoidable personal reasons. It will be helpful to mention that you aren’t jumping ship for a similar job with a competitor. I’m sure there are other factors to consider based on the individual circumstances of the job, the departure, etc.

  4. Jake Erickson says

    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.

    • Ryan Guina says

      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.

  5. Michelle says

    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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