The Proper Way to Resign
by Robert Belcher
While they seldom admit this, giving notice of resignation is something that most employment candidates fear most. And sometimes, the resignation process represents such a stressful notion for them that it can even hold them back from interviewing their best. Accordingly, the best recruiters will coach their employment candidates beforehand and throughout the resignation process. Consider these key steps:
1. Timing: Once you receive a job offer and accept it, you need to consider the timing of your resignation; i.e. communicating your intention to leave (giving notice).
We suggest giving notice two weeks before the last day on the job with your current employer. Two weeks is the norm and is offered as a professional courtesy to help your current employer with the transition. In very unusual circumstances, a notice three or four weeks may be appropriate. Also, it is often best to make sure your resignation properly coincides with your start date at the new employer.
Try to avoid an extended start date. Even if your new job begins in 10 weeks, don’t give 10 weeks’ notice; wait eight weeks and then give two weeks’ notice. This way, you’ll better protect yourself from disaster, in the unlikely event your new employer announces a hiring freeze a month before you come on board. I’ve seen it happen. Also, by staying at your old job for only two weeks after you’ve announced your resignation, you won’t be subjected to the envy, scorn, or feelings of professional impotence that may result from your new role as a lame-duck employee. I’ve seen that happen too.
NOTICE: Beware some companies will make your exit plans for you. I know of many candidates whose employers had the security guard escort him/her out of the building the moment he/she announced his/her intention to go to work for a direct competitor. Fortunately, many were still given two weeks’ pay. Early in my own career, and to my surprise, I too was escorted out of my employer’s building after respectfully submitting my resignation. It is standard policy with some employers, and selectively applied by other employers. So even if you do not believe it will happen to you, try to be mentally prepared for the possibility. And just in case, before giving notice, it is wise to quietly remove your personal items from your work space.
Your resignation should be handled in person, preferably on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon at about 4:00 PM. Outside the presence of others, ask your direct supervisor if you can briefly speak with him/her privately in his/her office at about 4:00 PM. If beforehand, and you are asked by your supervisor about the nature of the meeting, and/or invited to meet with him/her before 4:00 PM, just say it is simply something private and you would feel more comfortable at that time.
Note: If your supervisor is off-site and/or extraordinarily difficult to schedule for an in-person meeting, it is appropriate to e-mail the letter of resignation to the supervisor and simultaneously send a courtesy copy of the same e-mail to a human resources contact at your current employer. Then as soon as possible, telephone the direct supervisor (preferably a personal call; however, voice mail if necessary) to give him/her a courtesy heads-up of your resignation letter transmitted via e-mail and follow a script similar to the one set forth in step 3 below.
2. Letter of Resignation: During the meeting to announce your intention to resign, you should open the meeting by giving your boss a letter of resignation. Therefore, you’ll need to write a good letter, and I invite and highly recommend that you use the following time-proven letter word for word, making the appropriately marked insertions:
Your Street Address
City, ST Zip Code
Month Day, Year (date of “giving notice” meeting)
Employer Street Address
Employer City, ST Zip Code
Dear Supervisors’ Name:
Please accept this letter as my official notice of resignation. I appreciate the work we have been able to accomplish together at (employer name), but after careful deliberation, I have now made a commitment to another organization, and plan to begin with them effective (month day, year).
Know that it is my intention to work diligently with you to wrap up as much as possible in the next two weeks to make my resignation as smooth as possible. If you have any suggestions on how we can best accomplish that goal, I hope you will share your thoughts with me, as I am eager to leave on the most positive note possible.
Your Printed Name
A letter of resignation should be kept short, simple, and to the point. Furthermore, it is unprofessional and inappropriate to use the resignation letter to tell the current boss where you are going, what you are doing in your next job, or how much you will be making.
3. “Giving Notice” Meeting: To help you begin the meeting that you have requested with your supervisor, I encourage you to use a verbal icebreaker. It is merely a simple paraphrasing of the resignation letter. I suggest that with the above letter in hand, you open the resignation meeting conversation by saying:
“Boss, after careful deliberation, I have made a commitment to join another organization and will begin working with them effective (month day, year). Please accept this, my letter of resignation. I ask that you take a minute to read my letter before we discuss together how we can make my transition as smooth as possible.”
Almost every boss in the world knows what is about to happen when their employee walks into their office with an envelope in hand. The opening icebreaker I provide gets right to the point without unnecessary small talk. It also makes it clear that you are not planning to talk about your decision to leave. Instead, it is clear that what you plan to discuss is the transition now that you have made a commitment to leave. It makes the transition the most important item to discuss in the conversation that is about to occur.
Again, there’s no need to go into detail about your new job, or what led to your decision to leave. It’s inappropriate. Rather it should focus on your transition in the next two weeks. Every time the boss asks anything not related to ensuring a smooth transition, you should deflect the other questions simply by saying something like:
“I know you may be curious about that, but it is not my intention to discuss where I am going or why. My decision is made, and I have made a commitment to another organization which I plan to keep. If it is really important for you to know where I am going and why, perhaps we could schedule an exit interview on my last day here? Today, my goal remains to discuss how to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
You should feel entirely comfortable about using this deflector. After all, why is it that on the day you give notice, suddenly your opinions are so important to the boss? Again, there is no purpose to the resignation meeting except to leave on as positive a note as possible through a carefully-planned, smooth transition. That is the resignation meeting’s sole purpose.
So ask if there’s anything you can do during the transition period over the next two weeks, such as help train your successor, tie up loose ends, or delegate tasks.
Finally, be sure to provide a photocopy of your resignation letter for your company’s personnel file. This way, the circumstances surrounding your resignation will be well documented for future reference.
This article was written with the aid of content provided in the article, “A Little Help, Please” by Jeff Skrentny, CPC/CTS, ATMS, who began his career in the recruiting industry after graduate school in 1987 with one of Chicago's largest recruiting firms. In 1996 Jeff successfully started his own technical search firm, the Jefferson Group. Since 1987 Jeff has placed more than 1,000 Chicagoland professionals. Jeff also does motivational training for numerous recruiting companies & associations, and publishes a free electronic newsletter for recruiters, the JEFFERSON RECRUITERS REPORT™. He attended Marquette University from 1980-86, where he studied English, Economics and Political Science for his BA and English for his MA work. Jeff is a hopeless Cub fan, a marathon runner, and an award-winning speaker with Toastmasters International.