Career Advice

How To Not Burn A Bridge When You Quit A Job

I was recently on the phone with a reporter who was working on a story about how to gracefully leave a job and company.  I gave her my advice and then thought that since we are starting to see a bit of good news on the job creation front and our most recent Employment Survey says that 21% of us will look to leave our current company when the economy rebounds, it is a good time to explore how to not burn a bridge when you leave a job.

  • Ensure there is no shock and awe.

There is nothing wrong with a little surprise and a hefty amount of disappointment when you leave a job, but there is no reason for your boss to be shocked.  It’s a fine balance between being open and being too open about the fact that you are thinking about leaving a company.

The trick is to find the middle ground so that you can have enough conversations about what you want to do next with your career so that when the day comes to resign your boss can’t say that you didn’t tell him or her what was in your head. By opening up these discussions about your ambitions, dreams and performance at least three months ahead of time it gives the company enough time to respond and listen.  These early-on discussions are not a hard and fast conversation that you are leaving the company, but are about helping your boss to understand what you are looking for in the future so that if your employer’s career promises for you are not fulfilled, they will at least understand, and more importantly be able to tell upper management that this was not something new that just came up.  This protects them from having to say that they were totally blindsided, which would make them look like they were not managing you well.

  • Don’t leave your peers unprepared.

Nothing is worse than someone leaving a company shortly after having taken on a new project or assignment, independently approving something that others now need to follow through with, or recruiting in new people on the team with them thinking that you are going to be with the company for a long time.

Three months ahead of when you think you might be leaving the company, or even further out if that is when you make up your mind it is time for a move, is the time to start working much more collaboratively and bringing in others on any decision, any hire, any major spending or investing decisions, etc. You have a pretty good idea who will be picking up the slack once you are gone. Those are the people who you need to start including without them overtly knowing it – preparing them to take over when you are gone.

This might mean giving up some authority and independence now, but think beyond that and do what is right for the team and lay the groundwork early.  Whether they ever tell you are not, they will appreciate the consideration.

  • Don’t entertain a counter-offer.

Unless you are waffling or using the threat of leaving as a way to get something you wanted but couldn’t, then don’t allow your boss to go and put together a counter-offer for you to stay.  Counter-offers always upset the apple cart with internal pay equity, etc. and if they don’t work to retain you then everyone feels like they wasted time and energy and worse yet, the company may have to unnaturally make some other changes just because they brought up the potential changes for you.

Be clear there is nothing they can do to keep you there and that you are not running away from your company but running towards something new, exciting, challenging and different.  It’s even better if you are going to another company or another role that is impossible for you to get within your current company because that job is already taken or not available. However this is not always the case so you have to make your expectations clear from the first conversation that you don’t want and won’t entertain a counter-offer.

  • Be flexible on timing and work to be done.

Your new company wants you yesterday and your current company wants you to finish up a few things for the next month.  If you can find a way to be more flexible to your current employer than your new company, then you will win points in the future with your current boss and team.  Remember, you will likely need them for references in the future.

  • Work as hard the last week on the job as you did your first week.

I am always impressed with the person who is still in their office late on their last day of work.  There is something good about this story versus the story of the person who just hung around and did nothing.  Of course there will be meetings that you won’t be invited to and decisions made without you, but there is plenty to be done and being the person who turns off the lights on your last day in the office is a good emotional and professional closure.