Resigning in a professional way

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Q:  I have been job hunting for several months.  I am finally very close to receiving an offer.  I am putting together a list of references, and hoping that is the next step.  The role I am leaving is my first job out of college.  I have never quit a job before in my life.  I am not sure how to do this, and do this in a professional way.  What are your thoughts?

A: I commend you for being thoughtful about leaving your current role.  How you leave a role at a company, can be as important as how you start at a company.  It sounds like you are a true professional.  A few tips:

1. Most employers expect at least two weeks’ notice.  There may be extenuating circumstances where three or more weeks may be appreciated.  Examples include: a vacant position within your department, a colleague on a leave of absence, or an important deadline or launch.  Plan on giving two weeks’ notice.

2. When communicating your intent to leave the company, inform your direct supervisor first in a private way.  Hopefully this information can be communicated in person.  Or if your supervisor works in a different location or is traveling, a phone call or video call may be the best alternative to an in-person meeting.  No supervisor likes to hear about one of their team members leaving through the rumor mill.

3. Put some thought into a transition plan.  Who can pick up some of your responsibilities after you leave?  How can the work still get completed?   If you interact with certain vendors, include that info as well.  The plan may not be perfect but you have given it some thought so your supervisor can think proactively so work does not fall through the cracks.

4. Don’t burn bridges.  Don’t sabotage your former employer.  Be gracious and helpful about responding to simple questions, even after you have left.

5. If given the opportunity to participate in an exit interview (i.e., a final meeting about your reasons for leaving, details about benefits, pay, etc.), try to present your feedback in a constructive way.  You may have had some negative experiences while employed at your former company, but try to weave in some positive comments too.  Be candid, but professional.

Finally, it is a small world.  You want to depart on professional terms because you may be working with some of your former co-workers in a future life.  One of them may be a future client, manager or colleague!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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