get your ‘I QUIT’ right

11/09/2009

by anne lueneburger

non

Liam F., a senior partner in a law firm, was generally considered to be at the peak of his career.  Yet he felt tired, burned out and frustrated with his current employer. After some reflection, he decided to change gear and direction and to look for something that he found meaningful and fulfilling.

I worked closely with Liam around which path he should take and – after four and a half months – he had been made an attractive job offer. The only thing left to do before starting his new role – and hopefully his new, happier, life – was to let his firm know that he was leaving.

But although Liam had succeeded in the incredibly challenging process of finding his new professional calling, it was this exit interview that he was dreading. It wasn’t that he was questioning his decision to leave – he was struggling with two other issues, one: it was the first time that he had given notice as a senior professional and he was not quite sure how to best approach it, two: the person he would have the exit interview with was his boss of a number of years, a charismatic but also moody individual who he had a feeling wouldn’t react positively to the news. Moreover, Liam was struggling with the question of whether to share his frustrations as to how things – he felt – were poorly managed by the firm, and where he had felt badly managed over the course of his 8-year tenure.

We looked at what he could do to make ‘quitting’ a success:

O Let your boss know first

Share your decision with your immediate supervisor, regardless of your relationship with them. This will ensure that your boss feels ‘in the loop’ and you are more likely to have their support in your final weeks.

O Do it in person

This sounds obvious but, throughout my career, I’ve seen professionals write a formal letter or email before seeing their boss face-to-face.  Assuming you’re ‘top talent’ and an asset to the company: you’re delivering bad news, and bad news should always be delivered in person.  No exceptions.  You can also avoid any misunderstandings and resolve any queries about the process right then and there.

O Leave on good terms

Not burning your bridges is highly beneficial: you allow yourself to move forward on a positive note; you leave the door open for potential future collaboration; you give yourself the best chance of a good reference and – most importantly – you prove that you’re the true professional that you want to be…

Leaving on good terms involves:

Be transparent. The moment you have your new contract in hand, let your current employer know you are leaving.  Giving organizations ample lead time to find a replacement will always work in your favor.

Be assertive, but considerate. Anyone who has ever left a job before knows: there is a subtle shift in power. You and your boss become equals for a while. It is important that you treat this change in your relationship tactfully.

Be gracious. Everyone in the office is aware, without you stating it, that you see a brighter and better future somewhere else. There is no need to ‘spill your guts’ as to what went wrong and what you disliked about the job. Instead, focus on what was good and how it allowed you to move on to ‘pastures new’ and your new responsibilities. Consider thanking your boss for what they have personally done for you during your time with the company. This also holds true if you need to follow-up with a resignation letter.

Look for win-win possibilities. Your new role or responsibility may allow you to continue to be of service to your old employer. If appropriate, discuss this option during your exit interview.

Give constructive feedback. Occasionally, an exit interviewer will ask that you share your experience with the company, and any insights as to how the firm can improve. Make sure you come prepared. Have a short list of two or three key points that briefly highlight a problem area and focus on suggestions that promise to better the situation. Remember: focus on facts only, no finger-pointing allowed!

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