The Right Way to Resign: How to Leave Your Job in Good Standing

By Caroline Levchuck

After you’ve landed a new job, the excitement of starting something new may be accompanied by anxiety and guilt over leaving the familiar and perhaps some good friends, too. Even if you’re leaving mostly enemies behind, it’s still a good idea to leave your job in good standing.

Corporate alumni associations are sprouting up all over the Fortune 500, at companies including GE, Procter & Gamble and Yum! Brands, and it’s in your best interest to be a part of these burgeoning professional networks. In fact, if you handle your transition properly, your former employers may even view your ascension elsewhere as a PR asset.

“Whatever the circumstances are around your departure, keep your mind on the big picture and don’t do anything that could come back to haunt you,” says career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman.

She recommends three steps for wrapping things up at your old job and departing with a pat on the back from your boss.

Write Down Everything You Do and How It Gets Done

Forget job descriptions. They rarely tell us precisely what an individual does day-to-day or reveal the “It’s not really my job, but I kind of do it anyway” responsibilities that grace any worker’s plate each week. Also, in an age of zero redundancy at many companies, you cannot rely on even your supervisor to understand what you do and how you do it.

“Often a boss feels like, ‘I don’t know what this person does — I only know she can’t leave!'” Brown-Volkman says.

So, do your boss and colleagues right by creating an exhaustive list of everything you handle, along with detailed instructions on how to handle it. Your coworkers will appreciate you for having this thorough document — and for having done so much during your tenure.

Remain Until You Train the New You

Two weeks’ notice may be the minimum an employer requests, but most companies will appreciate a more lengthy lead-time so you can help train your replacement. If you do so, your boss will be indebted to you. You’re also sending a message that you want your former coworkers and employer to succeed.

“It’s hard to give a lot of notice because your next employer may be waiting anxiously for you to start, and many people want to take a week off between jobs,” Brown-Volkman says. However, she urges departing workers to spend “as much time as you can with your replacement or colleagues who will be temporarily handling your workload. Train them so they’ve got it down cold.”

Also, tap your own network for a potential replacement. You may even be eligible for a finder’s fee if you refer the right person for the job.

Wish Everyone Well When You Leave

Brown-Volkman advises giving all your coworkers a heartfelt farewell and offering them a few words of encouragement and appreciation. “Even if you don’t like someone, bury the hatchet,” she says. “It takes a big person to do that, but you never know when you’ll meet this individual again.”

Also, she points out that former coworkers are the best candidates to join your professional network. “You will always have common ground with these folks,” she says. “They’re easy to stay in touch with. There will always be some bit of news or gossip you can bond over, and that makes it less awkward to pick up the phone and chat.”

All of this is for the future — the big picture, she adds. “You could end up working for some of these people,” she says. “You may need a favor. You just don’t know, so make sure you leave on the best possible terms.”