Unlike the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, if you were to leave your job it probably wouldn't cause a collective gasp around the world — or be closely scrutinized by untold numbers of people. But the manner in which you hang up your hat is still pretty important.
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"How you resign can literally be a career-defining moment," says Nicole Williams, a LinkedIn.com career expert, who has seen people lose respect and relationships after leaving a job on bad terms.
You want your grace, dignity and professional contributions to speak louder than anything. Remember, resigning doesn't necessarily mean retiring. You may find you'll need to reach out to former colleagues for future business.
If you're weighing the idea, give these strategies some thought before you head out the door.
1. Leave on a high note: "Some people wait until they peter out. You don't want to wait until you're at the end of your rope," Williams says. Unless you're retiring because of health challenges, bow out while your work is as stellar as ever, not when your tiredness leads to sloppiness, or your loss of passion in your job starts reflecting in your work. You don't want people wishing for your departure before you.
2. Put it in writing: Yes, we're living in an instant-message culture, but your notice shouldn't be in an email. It's best to go old school and hand your employer a formal notification. Include your termination date (a two-week notice is standard) to help calculate any benefits you might be entitled to, experts say. No need to write a manifesto — keep it simple, says Allison Doyle, job search expert for About.com. "You don't need to go into lengthy explanations of why you are leaving, especially if it's because you're not happy at work," she says. "However, if you are resigning for nonwork-related reasons, it's fine to briefly mention it in your letter."
3. Take the sting out of the notice: It's tempting to tell your office friends about your plans first. Resist the temptation! There is an order of who should know what when, and your higher-ups should absolutely know first. "It's about controlling the message. You want it explained the way you want it explained," Williams says. Your boss will be most affected by your departure, so have a sit-down conversation with him or her to soften the blow. This gives her an opportunity to prepare next steps. Use the conversation as an opportunity to find out how your resignation should be communicated to the rest of the staff. (Will the boss send out a notice? Should you?)
4. Tie up loose ends: Don't see your leaving as a way to get out of unfinished business on your desk, experts say. Take part in the care of projects you may need to hand off to others. "It's a great thing to be on the team that's replacing you," Williams says. "Be crystal clear about who will take on what." If necessary, create a transitional file or document to make things easy on your team as each member deals with your loss and prepares for your replacement. This also helps prevent any surprise phone calls to your home about a file no one can find after you've long gone.
5. Always be the bigger person: It's possible you're leaving your career on less than the best terms. Hey, it happens. But this is the time to take the high road and be at your most graceful. "Even if you hate your job and your boss, don't just quit and walk out the door unless you are in an abusive situation or the company is doing something illegal or unethical," Doyle says. Be careful about communicating negative messages in places such as Facebook and Twitter, as they can make you look like a scorned employee. You never know who's paying attention to you. "If your level of frustration is high, vent to your friends and family," Williams says. "Flying off the handle won't hurt the boss. It will hurt you."
6. Say a final good-bye: You've seen these emails pop up in your inbox — a sayonara from a staff member you may or may not know, thanking everyone for the opportunities to learn and grow and including contact information at the bottom. Don't skimp on this, experts say. "It's important to keep in touch with those you have worked with in the past," Doyle says. "An email with your personal contact information definitely works. But also, professional networks like LinkedIn make it easy to stay in touch without needing a current email address."
Stacy Julien is a writer and editor for AARP Media.