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Resigning Right

By Nick Corcodilos

Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed the wrong ways to resign. These are the four rules of of how to resign right.

Rule #1: Make a decision before you resign.
That might sound obvious, but you don't get it if you use the offer to stimulate a counteroffer, as Ramesh did in the example above.

You should be 100 percent committed to the new job before you resign from your present one. The moment of resignation is not part of the decision process.

Understand why you want the new job, and why you're prepared to leave the old one to get it. Psychologically, you will be better prepared to handle whatever comes next. While your resignation may trigger a counteroffer that you ultimately accept, a counteroffer should not be the motivating force behind a resignation. Ask Ramesh.

Rule #2: Calculate the value and rely on the result.
People feel uncomfortable about resigning a job when they worry that their employer will try to talk them out of it. If you can be talked out of your decision, you haven't based it on very sound criteria. There may be other criteria that are meaningful to you, but don't miss these basic ones.

The value of the technology and products.
Are you moving to a job where the technology and products represent a positive step for you? Just because the technology is "leading edge" doesn't mean it holds value for you. What matters is whether it fits into your plans for your future.

The value of the people and environment.
Will you be working with people whose attitudes, goals and style are a good match to your own? Are you moving to a business environment where you will be content, if not wildly happy?

The value of the learning opportunity.
Will you learn more at this new job than you already know about your work, your business, your industry and yourself? This pertains to both the formal and the informal education you stand to gain.

The value of the compensation.
Will you earn what you are worth? Will you be able to earn more as you grow?

This article isn't about how to evaluate a job offer. (That's covered in Peeling The Offer.) But, if you calculate the value of the offer carefully, your resignation will be less awkward because you'll know exactly what you're doing and why. Lean on those calculations during any difficulty in the transition.

Just as research about a company makes you a powerful job candidate, careful decision-making about a new job makes you powerful when you resign. If you think you might be talked out of resigning by your boss, you haven't reviewed your new offer carefully enough, or it's not a job offer you really want. Be ready to resign, or don't do it.

Rule #3: Get your ducks in a row.
Many people walk in to their boss's office, resign and open Pandora's Box. Make sure you have the practical matters taken care of properly, and that you know which "boxes" to keep a lid on.

What's the company's "exit policy"?
Poke around and find out how other people who've quit the company have been treated. Were they walked to the exit by a security guard? Were they treated with respect? Did they get any back pay owed them? How was unused vacation time handled? While individuals may be handled differently, you'll be able to plan better if you know what the typical experience has been. Ramesh skipped this rule, and wound up out on a limb.

Never resign one job unless you have the new offer in writing.
I've seen job offers withdrawn just before — and even after — a new hire shows up for work. It may not be legal, but go fight city hall. I've also seen candidates show up for work only to learn that the position title isn't exactly what they were told and that the terms of employment have changed a bit.

Avoid surprises: a written offer that includes all the details makes it less likely that there will be serious misunderstandings than an oral offer. A written offer also gives you a legal tool to support your position in a controversy.

Resign in writing and date your letter.
Give your resignation first to your boss, in private; then give a copy to Human Resources. Once you are behind closed doors, all you need to say to your boss is, "I'm sorry to tell you I am resigning my position."

It's not a good idea to let your boss learn of your resignation from someone else, so think twice about who you confide in. The letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally.

"I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation."

That's it. Sign, seal and deliver. Any other details can be worked out through discussion, including how much notice will be given and when you'll get your last paycheck. If you are forced to take legal action for any reason, or if the company sues you for, say, stealing information, anything you put in your letter can be used against you.

Don't explain, don't complain.
Remember: if you've made a firm decision to take a new job that's right for you, your resignation should not be a discussion about what it would take to get you to stay. That's another article, and another discussion to have with your boss long before you start pursuing other jobs.

Likewise, your resignation should not be a forum where you explain what's wrong with the company. Explanations lead to complaints, and complaints can lead to problems. Even if the HR department wants you to share all your thoughts and feelings in an exit interview, the time of your departure is not the time for you to help fix what's broken at the company.

Such meetings can be helpful under the right circumstances, but in my opinion this is no time to open your heart and tell all. It's too risky, and there's zero upside for you. I'd politely decline. If HR isn't aware of any problems that may have led you to resign, they're doing too little and they're asking too late. Anything you say could hurt you. Tread very judiciously. Open up only to those you trust, and only to the extent that you really think it matters.

Keep your future to yourself.
It's nice to share your new address with your buddies. But if, for example, someone thinks your new employer is a competitor, suddenly that comfortable two-week notice can turn into an immediate departure. Or worse.

I once placed a vice president who told his buddies about his new job two weeks before his start date. The next day, the chief executive of the new company got an anonymous call from a "resentful someone" who almost succeeded in torpedoing the hire. In that case, the headhunter turned into the damage control officer. Let your cronies know you'll be in touch when you start the new job — then call them a "safe" two weeks after you've started.

What if someone presses you? "I'd prefer not to discuss my new job right now. A headhunter once told me it's the cleanest way to make a transition. But, I'll call once I get situated because it's important to me to stay in touch with you."

Make your last day a good one.
When an employer and a worker have a truly good relationship, parting can be friendly, respectful and cooperative. Once your boss has accepted that you're leaving, let him or her know that you consider it your responsibility to minimize the difficulty of the transition for the company and for your manager.

"If you'd like me to prepare any materials for the person who will replace me, or to actually help train someone, I'm ready to do that as long as it doesn't interfere with a reasonable start date at my new job. How can I help?"

That's how you find out how long the company would like your "notice" to be. Expect and plan on two weeks of some of the hardest work you've done; you owe that to a good employer before you leave.

By the way: if you'd like a week off between jobs, arrange your start date accordingly. Don't count on the two-week notice being dispensed with by the old employer.

If your boss wants you out immediately, this obviously doesn't apply. But, you can make the offer anyway. These people have a business to run, and you just told them you no longer want to be a part of it. So, be polite and understanding if you're shown the door.

Rule #4: Build, don't burn, bridges.
Don't dwell on the potential risks and problems that your job change causes. As long as you've calculated carefully, they're ephemeral. What counts is your position in, and contribution to, your industry as a whole. That's where your true equity in your career lies.

No matter who gets upset about the job change you make, the awkwardness will pass if your cohorts are good people. That's why I suggest that the kinds of people you join are as important as the work and the compensation. You will likely see them again.

In or out of your presence, the people you work with help define you — they contribute to your knowledge, your philosophy and your reputation. So, add a little extra mortar to the foundation of the relationships you have. Build those bridges a little stronger.

It's said that "what goes around, comes around." I also believe that "who goes around, comes around." So no matter how much you want to vent your spleen or your opinions, swallow your vituperations. Make a point of shaking hands with everyone you've worked with. The nice thing about a handshake is that it doesn't require words, and it allows you to both emphasize your respect and to hide your negative feelings. Then, prepare to meet your cohorts again after you move   on.

Back to Part 1

Don't miss the FAQ: The Job Offer


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