When You Change Jobs, How You Leave Impacts Your Future

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Most savvy careerists understand the importance of getting off to a great start in a new job. But many don’t take full advantage of that other opportunity in a transition: the chance to tie up loose ends in the old job and turn your experience into a substantial building block for the future.

A young lawyer I’ll call “Bill” was let go from a law firm after the leaders of his energy practice group left the partnership, taking their clients with them. Bill started his week as an associate with a bright future but by Friday he was ushered out of the office with a small severance payment and a cardboard carton of personal items.

Bill was stunned, and then angry. But, on the advice of a mentor, he controlled his emotion and quickly launched a plan that paid off later. Bill saw that the firm’s lawyers were furious with the departing energy group, and associated him with the traitors, even though he wasn’t invited to join their new enterprise. And he recognized he’d been unwise during his time at the firm in not making an effort to get to know colleagues outside the busy energy practice. Most worrisome, he feared that lawyers who weren’t his friends would talk about him as not competent enough to either stay in the firm or be invited to join the departing unit.

Bill launched a process that not only led to a new job but also changed the way his former colleagues regarded him. In the days after his departure, he methodically contacted the law firm leaders and staff and found ways to thank each of them for something. Even though it often felt like a reach, he wrote notes expressing appreciation for the collegial atmosphere, the training in managing client accounts – for any kindness or strength he could describe without feeling positively silly. And as a few years went by he stayed in touch, even referring a little business to his old firm.

What Bill did was reframe his law firm experience in the minds of his colleagues. Most of them probably didn’t remember him vividly, but they did think of him positively. And when they eventually brought in a new wave of energy work they remembered Bill and recruited him to rejoin the firm, this time as a partner.

Whether you’re sad to go, or can’t wait to get out the door, it’s normal in a career transition to focus more on the future than on the past. But if you’re smart you’ll do what it takes to create a classy departure. In today’s fluid job market it’s inevitable that you’ll bump into some of these people again. And, when that happens, what they may remember is your last few days on the job. Here are five tips for leaving your job like a polished professional:

  • Give proper notice. Once you’ve decided to accept another opportunity, tell your boss immediately, before word gets around. Your boss won’t like being surprised by your departure, but it’ll be much worse if word drifts in through the grapevine. Give as much notice as possible – two weeks or a month are common, but more could be better. And follow up your conversation with a brief resignation letter that clearly states your last day.
  • Resist the urge to speak up. You may have fantasized about how great it would feel to tell the team what you really think. But don’t do it. Your goal now is to end things on a good note, not point out the error of their ways. Even formal exit interviews should be approached with caution, because you can’t really count on confidentiality.
  • Finish your work and leave a trail. Your last days on the job are a great time to show that you have what it takes. If you can’t complete your projects, leave them in good shape, so the next person will know where to get started. Leave notes about your tasks, contacts and responsibilities, to help your co-workers or replacement keep things moving.
  • Say “thanks.” Think about every person, at every level, who has been helpful to you in some way. Don’t over-dramatize. But write notes, stop by your colleagues’ desks, or find other appropriate ways to thank them for what they have done or what they have meant to you. The more specific you make your “thank you’s,” the more effective and appreciated they will be.
  • Make plans to stay in touch. Make sure everybody has your new contact information and confirm that you have theirs. If you haven’t connected with them on LinkedIn, do it now. You are likely to see many of these people again, but don’t leave it all to chance. Think about the people you most want in your future, and promise yourself that you will find ways to make it happen.

Beverly Jones is an alum of Ohio University. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.