Two people quit my company this month. That's OK; it happens. Before these unfortunate events, I liked these employees a lot. Afterward, I only liked one of 'em.
The woman who quit "the right way" will discover that she lost a boss but found a long-term champion of her success. The other employee may as well be dead to me.
Quitting a job sounds like it should be straightforward, right? Yet as in all things career-related, there's a right and wrong way, and how you approach these delicate situations could have longer-term impacts than you might consider in the heat of the moment.
From my perspective, the graceful exit is a lost art, especially among the millennial set. To be fair, they don't have a lot of experience with quitting an employer. The oodles of time that a typical millennial spends thinking about the workplace tends to focus on perfecting the resume, the cover letter, the thank-you note, and later, mastering the rocky apprenticeship period, and looking for opportunities to advance.
Inevitably, however, "a better offer comes along." Reality sets in at the current gig and it's not nearly so dreamy after a few years of bad coffee and cranky customers. You're ready to make a move. How can you make it a positive experience?
1. Understand you need a plan. You should understand why you should plan for your resignation so that your leaving is a positive experience rather than a negative one. A career is something you cultivate over a long period. Everything you do, everyone you interact with, could impact your fortunes. Quit badly, and you've left a bad taste in your former co-workers and bosses' mouths that will linger -- until they've figuratively spat on your reputation: Say, when a random recruiter comes looking for references or when a colleague asks for a recommendation about your work, years from now.
2. Put yourself in your employer's shoes. Could you wait another week? If you quit when the office is in the middle of a huge project or up against a do-or-die deadline, it's going to make your employer's job doubly hard. I am not saying to quit only when it's convenient for your employer, only that it's respectful to consider such factors –- in return for the investment, the training and loyalty your current employer gave you. You want to be remembered as someone who helped solve those problems, not as someone who added to them.
3. Give as much notice as possible. Whenever that fateful "quittin' time" comes, offer as much advance notice as possible. Quitting and then packing up and leaving is very poor form. That was the big mistake made by one of the two employees I mentioned above. After spending years here as a friend and colleague, it was a shock when the employee came to the office early, resigned to work for a competitor, and walked out. Here's a pro tip: if your new employer is pressuring you to beg off the standard two weeks' notice to your old employer, make note of their lack of integrity. I predict similarly troubling things in your future with them.
5. Don't spend your last days on the job complaining about the place. Waxing lyrically about your new opportunity isn't cool either. That's poisoning the well. Be tactful. Be respectful.
6. Leave the employer a full account of your projects. If you prepare a formal memo detailing your current to-do's, offering suggestions about the upcoming work assignments, listing out the types and locations of relevant resources, etc., you'll be greeted with a grateful sigh from your shell-shocked boss. This level of prep will remind them why they hired you in the first place; why they valued your contributions; and why they'll miss you after you depart.
7. And after quitting, stay in touch. Really. Everyone says "please stay in touch" -– including employers sad to see you go –- but most former employees boogie into that great unknown with nary a backward glance. That's a mistake. You might need that employer again down the road. What if you wind up hating the new gig and are contemplating a return? What if your new employer winds up hating you, and now you need a contemporary reference?
What if, 15 years from now, you are freelancing and looking for some leads from your network? Are you catching my drift, here?
Your former colleagues and bosses are not to be considered "former" but current members of your extended professional network. Send 'em a note now and then. "Like" a photo of their kids on Facebook. Recommend someone to work at the ol' place.
8. Be a connector, not just a defector. I've been in the workforce for 22 years now, and a "boss" for about half that time. I have forged many professional friendships in that time, and include many former employees in my network. Inevitably, it was the folks who left on good terms whom I tried to help climb the career ladder even after they left.
Those folks who burned the bridge on their way out the door? It saddens me to admit it but –- despite years of loyal service up to that point -– their inglorious, inept or spiteful behavior during and/or after their resignation is the only thing I remember about them.
When it comes to your career, "last impressions" can be as important as "first impressions."
Todd Defren is CEO of SHIFT Communications, a national $16 million social media PR firm recently named "Small Agency of the Year." He lives in San Francisco and Boston.
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