Resignation. How to resign from a job professionally.

So you’ve got the offer for your great new management consulting job! If you’re lucky you may have had to chose between more than one. Perhaps you have negotiated your salary. You’ve considered where it fits with your career plan.

You’re planning to accept but there is still an important step to consider if you are currently in a permanent job: the resignation itself. With one in five employees expecting to change jobs in the next twelve months, here is our step by step guide.

How to resign from your current job

1. Do nothing and tell no-one until you have the job offer in writing

A verbal offer (or even an an outline email) and a verbal acceptance is no more than a declaration of intent. It counts for nothing until the written offer has been approved. You should receive an offer letter and a contract directly from the company (i.e. not via a recruiter) and check all the points carefully. This includes (non exhaustive!) base salary, job title, benefits and all Terms i.e. notice period. Sometimes this may include details of commission or bonus plan but as these are sometimes non contractual or are changeable, often not. Hopefully the letter/contract will tie in with what they told you but there is always a slim risk of unpleasant surprises or points that need further discussion or negotiation. If you were given information verbally, either during the recruitment process or in the verbal offer that isn’t in the written details that you consider important you should raise this. In a worst case scenario you are fully within your rights to change your mind.

2. Check your current contract

Make sure you are fully familiar with notice periods, holiday entitlement, bonus entitlement, non-compete clauses, non-disclosure agreements and other details. Have in mind the contractual leaving date and consider whether that might be changed.

3. Prepare your resignation letter

This is dated and the clock starts ticking from when your employer receives that, not necessarily when you verbally resign. You will need this (a physical letter!) at a face to face meeting or to be emailed immediately after the other options below. It should be short and factual but also positive and warm e.g. thanking them for the opportunities they have given you and for their support. Even if you feel negative try you should not show this at all and especially not in writing. Indeed this underpins a lot of the resignation strategy because it’s never, ever, a good idea to burn your bridges.

4. How you resign

This depends on the circumstances and urgency. Ideally it should be face to face. Second best is Teams/Zoom and third is ‘phone. Resignation by email should be a last resort. Definitely do not tell anyone else yet: your boss should hear it direct from you and should be the first person you tell. This includes former employees you count as friends: the jungle drums can get very loud…

5. Immediate departure

If you resign face to face might you be marched off the premises? Will someone immediately take your laptop? Your company ‘phone? Even if virtual will your emails and messages be viewed or frozen? This may be company policy. Even if you have never had any hint of “trust” issues with your employer it’s best to assume the worst and make sure there is nothing incriminating, embarrassing or personal on any part of the company’s IT. Under no circumstances attempt to sabotage any data or systems or export information (i.e. figures/contacts etc.): you will probably be found out and such actions may be breaches of contract and/or illegal.

6. The meeting

Preparation is key.

What are you going to say? How are they likely to react? Consider all angles and how, in turn, you will handle it. They may be surprised or shocked. They may be annoyed. They may be hurt. They may be angry. It will be a time of heightened emotion. Keep it upbeat and try not to say anything you might regret.

They will ask for reasons and best to keep it high level. Make it clear it’s not them, it’s the right time in your career and/or a great opportunity. Perhaps suggest you weren’t actively looking but a head-hunter approached you: this (possibly) white lie just makes it a bit easier for them to accept. No one likes the thought of prolonged deception (as they would see it) by a seriously cheesed off employee engaged in a very active job search. The less information you give them about the new role or salary, the better: it could either cause resentment (e.g. with the statement “it was an offer too good to refuse”) or give them ammunition to undermine your decision and persuade you to stay.

A difficult balance between irritating your boss by not wanting to say too much but avoiding being drawn in and doing just that!

Hold your ground. Keep it pleasant at all costs.

7. Be prepared for the counter offer

This may be a surprise! Hence making the point. There are many reasons why accepting a counter offer is a bad idea.

8. Next steps

Decide who is going to tell other employees and what should be said. Ideally agree with your boss the one or two key people that it may be best hear it from you first, rather than a bland company announcement. Regardless of what is specifically agreed you should adopt a similar approach to the story you gave to your boss. Definitely no gloating and definitely no negative comments, anywhere (e.g. by the coffee machine or on social media), about the role and company you are leaving or any people in it.

9. Agree leaving date

If they want to put you on gardening leave, or for you to work the notice period, that’s fine. Accept it with good grace. They can’t force you to leave before the contractual date but clearly there may be mutual benefit in doing so. They may ask you to stay longer than you are obliged to. If so, politely decline. The notice period is a specific duration for a specific reason and your obligations are now to your new employer, not your old.

Agree handover points and the objectives between your resignation date and your leaving date. In particular you should aim to leave on a high, with no unfinished business or skeletons in cupboards. Ask what you can do to ensure a smooth transition and handover including notes as required.

10. Prepare for the exit interview if applicable

The above points apply: provide respectful, factual and constructive feedback that can help to improve the company. Be calm and objective. Project positivity and gratitude for the opportunity of having worked there. Avoid any negative comments, especially about specific employees.

11. Decide on leaving “socials”

Ideally with the support of your boss. Alas there may not be a “leaving do” or “gold watch” as thanks for many years of service! But don’t be resentful or bitter. Whether it’s an intimate lunch with a trusted friend or a few drinks in the pub, never, ever, get into a situation where a bit too much to drink makes you say “something you might regret”!

And good luck in your new role!

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