How to Resign From Your Job in a Professional Manner

Businessman leaving office with box of personal items after resigning from his job.

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Reinforce Your Professional Image When You Resign

When you resign from your job, you want to do so in a way that reinforces your professional image and ensures maintaining a good relationship with your employer well into the future.

Even if you have negative feelings about your job and your boss, you want to leave with your employer feeling good about you and your resignation from the company.

The idea is to keep the door open for future opportunities by building, not destroying, relationships with colleagues and customers, as well as your direct-report.

Before You Resign, Consider This

Before you resign from your job, do a self-check.

  • If you are leaving for another employer, do you have your job offer letter and start date in hand? Even with signed legal documents, employers have been known to renege on job offers. You don’t want to offer your two weeks' notice if you don’t have a definite job waiting when you resign.
  • Are you resigning from your job without another job to go to? Be careful if you need employment income. Good jobs are tough to find. You may want to rethink your decision until you have a job in hand, you have a financial cushion, or you're prepared for unemployment.
    While it’s easier to job search when you’re unemployed because you have a lot of free time, employers prefer hiring employees already successfully employed. And, if you're doing the same work as the job you're trying for, you're even more desirable. 
  • Do you have one foot out the door because you're angry with your boss or your company? Don’t make a spur of the moment decision to resign that you’ll regret later. You can methodically and secretly job search while currently employed; people do it all the time. It's always best to hold onto your job until you're safely positioned elsewhere.

How to Prepare to Resign From Your Job

employment termination checklist infographic
The Balance

You never know how your employer will react when you resign from your job, although your employer’s past behavior when other employees have resigned, may give you a reasonable expectation.

If there's a chance you won't be able to work out your two weeks' notice, prepare for your departure beginning with organizing your current projects so you don't leave your work in a state of disarray. Next, clean up your business and personal workspace, computer, and desk drawers before you hand in your resignation.

You don’t want to remove family pictures because that would spark suspicion that you're job hunting or preparing to resign, but remove work samples and other items that will help you get started in your next job. You’ll want to have copies of employee handbooks, job descriptions, and other positive contributions that you made to add to your portfolio. Also, make sure you have all addresses and phone lists that will come in handy down the road. 

You should remove all personal information from company property like desktops, laptops, and corporate servers. 

Notify Your Boss and Keep Your Resignation Positive

The first person you notify about your impending departure is your boss. They, or Human Resources, when notified that you are resigning, will likely ask you for a resignation letter. This letter is for your permanent employee file and proves that you resigned and were not fired or laid off.

Tell your boss what you are doing but skip the why unless it is a positive reflection on you. Thank your boss for all of their help and support. Make positive statements about your experience with the company, how much you learned, the opportunities that your job provided, and so forth.

You have nothing to gain by burning bridges, and everything to gain by leaving under good circumstances. The same holds true for Human Resources and your resignation letter. Be positive and brief about why you are resigning and write your letter in a professional and straight-forward manner.

Offer Assistance With the Job Transition 

Two weeks' notice is the accepted standard when resigning from a job. And, while your employer may not take you up on it, you need to offer your help during the transition period.

Offer to train your successor or the person who will fill in until your successor is chosen. You might even go so far as to offer to write up operating procedures that describe the steps that you followed in key areas of your job. And, you should fulfill client engagements and introduce your replacement to customers and vendors. You can even offer to continue to answer questions and help when you have started your new job. A short email answering a simple question will go a long way to solidifying good relations with your past employer. 

Follow an Employment Termination Checklist 

An employment ending checklist tells you what the employer will cover when you resign from your job. Use an employment resignation checklist to prepare yourself for your last day. Plan to turn in any company-owned property such as your laptop, smartphone, keys, door cards, and badges. 

Prepare your exit questions involving benefits, COBRA, final paycheck, and more, in advance so you don't forget anything important. Schedule a quick meeting with the HR department to make sure you have answers to all of your end-of-employment questions.

Be sure to ask your boss for a reference letter a few days before you leave and make sure that you stay connected to colleagues by friending them on Facebook and inviting them into your network on LinkedIn. Plan to periodically stay in touch via social media even as you move into the next chapter of your employment.

Participate in the Human Resources Exit Interview 

It's always beneficial to participate in exit interviews, but you may want to respond to questions cautiously. If you have ideas for improvement that might benefit other employees, then, by all means, share your thoughts. Just remember that the exit interview is not the place to vent your anger or complain about how you were treated by the company or your superior. The time to have shared grievances was when you were employed when something could have been done about it.

Say Goodbye with Professionalism 

If you have worked out your two week's notice, you will have the opportunity to email a formal note to say goodbye to your colleagues. Make sure that you include a brief statement about where you are going to seamlessly close this chapter in your employment history.

You will also want to include a personal email address and a personal phone number so that colleagues can reach out to you. Remember that on your last day, your employer will discontinue your access to email and telephone lines, unless you and your employer have worked out an arrangement.