The Right Way to Tell Your Employer You're Leaving

Timing, In-Person Communication Can Ensure You'll Be Going on Good Terms

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Recently I had a valued employee give notice while I was on my second day of vacation halfway around the world. After his announcement, he asked if there was anything he could do for me, and added, "You know I really love you and you groomed, trained and mentored me." Naturally, I was speechless, not because he was giving notice -- unbeknownst to him, I already knew he was out the door -- but because after a successful tenure working closely with me and other colleagues, he didn't have the grace to speak with me face-to-face. Instead, he waited until I was a 12-hour plane ride away from the office -- basically assuring a safe distance.

As an executive recruiter, I often speak with executives who receive offers, and nine times out of 10 the first question they ask me is: "How and when do I give notice?" It's a good question on many levels because how and when someone resigns can have a major impact on a future career path. Leaving on "good terms" usually means an open door! The door is open to ask for favorable references, network, seek advice and -- believe it or not -- even the opportunity to return to your previous company.

Here are some tips for leaving without severing your relationships:

Timing can be key
I don't recommend handing in your resignation right before a major presentation; after all, your boss, team and client are depending on you to deliver. Leaving people in the lurch never bodes well and it will be your legacy. I usually tell my candidates that Friday is the best day to give notice. A weekend of thinking and reflection can take the emotion out of leaving for everyone concerned.

Give advance notice
The customary two-week timeframe is usually acceptable, but there are exceptions, such as a major company event and/or transitioning your replacement. I recently coached a candidate that she should give three-weeks notice even though she was being pressured by her new employer to start earlier. By giving her current employer the extra time, her boss was able to communicate next steps to the team and assure everyone of their job security. Your new company has probably spent time and money to hire you and most likely -- although they won't be thrilled -- will respect your decision; after all, it demonstrates your integrity and loyalty, attributes that everyone values.

Communicating in person makes a difference
Whenever possible, a face-to-face meeting is professional and respectful. Your situation may not have been ideal, which is why you're giving notice, but be above the fray. Alternatively, a meeting can be a good time to let your boss know that you're not leaving because of current work conditions, but because this move is the natural progression in your career.

Company property
If it's a company laptop, cellphone or BlackBerry, please hand it back. Packing up business cards you've acquired during your tenure is acceptable, but downloading and/or deleting the company's database -- including your e-mails -- is propriety information and could cause you legal troubles.

"If you don't have anything good to say..."
You're leaving for a reason --whether for a better opportunity or because you just don't fit in the culture -- so don't be negative. The thing that turns off most people, bosses and colleagues alike, is bad-mouthing the other guy. It only reflects badly on you and puts up red flags.

Leaving on good terms has its own rewards. One of the best experiences of my professional career was when an employee gave notice that she was moving on to another company and a bigger opportunity. She nervously walked into my office and blurted out her news. My first reaction was disappointment in losing a valued employee. But by the end, we were hugging and wishing each other well. The next day there was a thank you card on my desk. The moral of the story: Two years later, she's back!

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Erika Weinstein is president and co-founder of Stephen-Bradford Search.
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