Monday, March 10, 2014

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Imagine, if you will, you’ve been interviewing and looking for a job and, among many others, you’ve been successful, received and accepted a job offer. Now it is a simply a matter of resigning and looking ahead to your new job. After all, how hard can it be if you’ve been a good employee and you get along with management, perhaps you are even friends; surely they’ll be happy for you and wish you well, right?
Until this day arrives most people give their resignation little thought. I can relate to you lots of anecdotal evidence of resignations that don’t go smoothly, situations where after the fact people wish they had handled it differently. Think about it, most of us spend more waking hours in the workplace than with family or friends. I cannot discuss all of the what-if’s in a blog entry, if you want more detailed info on this subject and many others, my book is a good resource to have, but today we can cover the most basic points.
If you are a good employee there’s a good chance your employer will attempt to change your mind to convince you to stay. What will you do if faced with this scenario? Or what about the opposite, what if the people you thought were your friendly co-workers suddenly get nasty about your choice to leave, for a variety of reasons? In either case their initial reaction might be asking you to delay your decision and the discussion. This can happen when they are caught off-guard and it is meant to buy them time to talk to other managers to figure out how to address this un-anticipated surprise. If you are nice and reasonable it might be okay with you, but let me ask you this; if it was reversed and they were going to cut you loose, could you ask them to delay the conversation until you can be better prepared -- of course not. Or perhaps they might present you with a counter-offer to get you to stay; meanwhile getting lost in all of this was your original intent, of thanking them and announcing your departure. Suddenly, this has morphed into something you weren’t prepared for.
One of the questions you are likely to be asked, and should avoid like the plague is, “So, where are you going?” with reference to your new job. I advise you not to go there, as it is a volatile path. First, it provides info for them to pick apart and discredit your plans; remember you’re not asking permission nor seeking approval, you are there to announce your intention to leave -- after all, whose career is it, yours, or theirs? By comparison, if you are ending a personal or romantic relationship, in the midst of breaking it off with the other person they ask for whom you are leaving them, should you share with them how much better the other person is? Is that really a conversation you want to have? It will only lead to hurt feelings or animosity and, furthermore, you have no obligation to explain yourself and in the case of work – it’s not personal, it’s business. Granted, if you are leaving to work for a direct competitor you’ll have to handle it more carefully and, if this be the case, consult with a lawyer about any non-compete agreement you might have signed with your current employer.
So here’s the drill;
  • Plan ahead and make an appointment with your manager. Don’t just walk in and say “Oh, by the way…”
  • Have your (less than one page) resignation letter prepared, thanking them and stating your intention, with the last line declaring your decision is final and irrevocable.
  • Communicate that you‘ve accepted another position and you are submitting your resignation and (physically) give them your resignation letter.
  • Keep the chat-chat to a minimum and thank them, it’s been great, blah, blah…
  • Shake hands and exit.
  • After the meeting, email a copy of your resignation letter in PDF format to whomever you’ve met with and perhaps cc other relevant persons.
Your goal is to get in and get out, with them recognizing and accepting your decision. The rest is admin stuff and can be worked out later. Try to keep it a cordial and professional exchange – with no speeches; you’re not there to vent but to resign. You can share more with them later if you wish, after the dust settles. If they attempt to dissuade or delay you, and you find yourself under pressure you can point to your resignation letter (to stand behind as a virtual shield), pointing to the last sentence stating your clear intent. There is always a chance of something you cannot anticipate to occur but preparing for it ahead of time minimizes the chance of your plans being derailed or made more difficult than need be.
In my work, this is part of the overall interview process and I advise those I represent not to celebrate when they get their signed offer letter and start date; not yet, but to wait until they have successfully resigned without obstacles or difficulty.
What do you think of this post? (No registration required)


  1. Excellent post as usual Mike. Just one question though: what about the exit interview? Should you say anything, not say anything or just not do one? Thanks!