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Build Your Career Get Ahead

How to Quit Your Job And Keep Your Reputation

How to Quit Your Job And Keep Your Reputation
Credit: Mary416/Shutterstock

Finding the best way to resign from a job can be challenging, especially if you are unhappy in your current workplace. Maybe you've dreamt of dropping a cake on your manager's desk with your resignation letter inscribed on top, or telling your boss you are leaving while a marching band plays you out of the office.

Though it's tempting to go out in a blaze of glory, taking a more measured approach to resigning from your current position will ensure you leave your reputation intact as you embark on your next venture. In fact, a 2015 study by the staffing firm OfficeTeam revealed that nearly 90 percent of the human resources managers surveyed said the way employees quit a job has an effect on their future career opportunities and professional reputation.

"Doing a great job when you start a new role is expected," said Robert Hosking, former executive director of OfficeTeam, in a statement. "Doing a great job as you leave cements your reputation for professionalism."

If you want to quit your job without burning bridges, consider following these tips.

Once you decide to resign, schedule a face-to-face meeting to inform your manager of your decision. 

"This is the person who gave you a chance – give them the courtesy of knowing about your resignation first," said Janet Lamwatthananon, recruiting coordinator at ZipRecruiter.

It may be tempting to tell a close colleague of your decision, but it's imperative that you resist the temptation, said Heide Abelli, a senior vice president with the e-learning company Skillsoft.

"Accept the fact that your relationship with your boss will take on a different tone [after your announcement], but if your boss hears the news from others in the organization first, it will make the situation even more challenging for you," said Abelli.

According to Abelli, you should work with your boss to determine how to communicate your departure to the rest of the staff.

"Until that plan is in place, you should not make others aware of your decision," recommends Abelli.

Don't use your departure as an opportunity to gloat or criticize. Strive to be positive and remain diplomatic when asked about your reasons for parting ways with your employer. Career coach and success strategist Carlota Zimmerman recommends leaving with dignity.

"When people ask you why you're leaving, even if you want to scream to the heavens, 'Because I hate you people!', smile politely and tell them that it was a tough decision, but you're ready for new challenges, and you were blessed with a wonderful new opportunity," Zimmerman said.

Additionally, try not to alienate your colleagues by boasting or chattering incessantly about your awesome new gig.

"Bragging about your new job may lead to bruised egos," said Lamwatthananon. "Just because you may be completely done with the company does not mean your co-workers are. Be respectful."

Though you may be thinking of greener pastures, the projects you started still need to be completed, so allow yourself enough time to tie up any loose ends.

"Leaving without proper notice can be one of the worst things you could do to your boss and colleagues," said Lamwatthananon.

It's standard practice to give at least two weeks' notice, but if you have a more senior-level position, Abelli suggests staying on longer if your schedule can accommodate it.

"You need to give your organization time to transfer your responsibilities to others, train a replacement, and enable documents and files to be accessible to others," she added. "Leaving without providing your organization with enough time to handle these basic requirements puts your former colleagues, boss and the organization as a whole in a challenging position."

To this end, career coach Cheryl E. Palmer says it's wise to leave detailed instructions for your daily tasks.

"One way to do this is to create a manual that outlines your job responsibilities, schedule, project statuses, committee work, and includes a list of any key passwords, especially those to programs for which you may have been the only one with access," she said.

Many companies conduct an exit interview with departing employees to gather feedback on their experience with the organization. If you're leaving due to management or other workplace issues, you may view this as an opportunity to air your grievances and vent some choice comments about the supervisors who made you miserable.

But Alexandra Levit, a business and workplace consultant, advised keeping your negativity to a minimum. If you've managed to keep your cool until this stage of the process, remind yourself that this is not the time to be petty or focus solely on personal hurts, she said.

"When it comes to exit interviews, the general rule is, if you don't have anything nice to say, lie," said Levit, author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College" (Career Press, 2014). "Stick to official business as much as possible, and if you must provide constructive criticism, proceed with tact and caution."  

That's because it's smart to stay on good terms with your current co-workers and bosses –necessity or opportunity could bring you back into each other's lives.

"It's a smaller world than you think, and you never know when you're going to need these people again," Levit said. "At the very least, you want to be able to count on one person at the company to serve as a reference for you in the future."

"In many fields, people are very interconnected, so if you leave a position on bad terms, people in other organizations in your same field may hear about it," added Palmer.

To preserve these connections, you should openly express gratitude for the experiences you've had, the skills and lessons you've learned, and the relationships you've formed.

"Even if you are struggling to find some positives to highlight, there is usually at least one thing that you liked about the job you are leaving," said Abelli. "Focus on that and express your appreciation."

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon and Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.