How to Resign from Your Job

Now that the new year is here, perhaps one of your resolutions is to change jobs. One of the aspects of this process that sometimes gives people trouble is the act of resigning from the current position. Younger engineers leaving their first post-college job in particular may feel guilty or uneasy, but this can affect anyone, at any stage of their career. Here are a few of my recommendations that will hopefully make it easier, so that you can move forward with your life:

  1. Get your new offer in writing before resigning. You’ll always be considered an employee “at will”, so even a written offer is not really any kind of iron-clad guarantee of employment for any length of time, (the new company could let you go immediately, even before you start) but at least if you have a written offer, you’ll avoid going out on a limb for a position that ultimately doesn’t get approved by the bean counters, and you’ll also be more likely to avoid misunderstandings about salary, benefits and role.
  2. Be confident in your decision and stick to your guns. You’ve chosen to make a change for reasons that are important to you. If you’ve thought things out thoroughly, listening carefully to your own heart, and perhaps gotten input from family members, significant others, and close friends, then you’ve done everything necessary. You have every right to be happy and to pursue a new opportunity that you feel will be best for you. Your current employer probably won’t be happy to lose you, but you should be suspicious of being made to feel guilty for wanting to better yourself.
  3. Don’t be negative. You may think that a resignation meeting is the perfect opportunity to finally air all your grievances, but you’re really better off keeping that stuff to yourself. I recommend sticking to a fairly general sentiment, such as expressing appreciation for the opportunity your current company’s given you, and that you’ve made a well-considered decision to take advantage of an even better opportunity. Even if you’re pressed in an exit interview to “tell us what we could do differently,” I would avoid getting pulled into that detailed discussion. The basic mantra should be, “thank you for the opportunity that you’ve given me, and now I’ve made a decision to make a change that I feel will be best for me.” You are also under no obligation to tell your current employer what new company you’ll be joining, although it may be viewed as somewhat unusual if you decline to do so.
  4. Don’t burn bridges by bailing out. There’s no legal requirement that you have to give any notice to your employer, but two weeks is certainly the industry norm. Any less, and you risk burning a bridge. Perhaps they’ll want you to leave sooner, but you should plan on two weeks to wrap up your work to a place where others can take it over, train others, finish a sprint, etc. In some circumstances, offering three weeks might be a nice gesture if you’re on a particularly critical path, but recognize that in that case, you’re going “above and beyond” what you need to. You shouldn’t be expected to stay until a replacement can be hired, longer than a standard notice period, until a project is finally finished. It’s never a good time for someone to resign, and while you certainly want to leave your current situation on amicable terms, you also have a responsibility to yourself and to your new employer.
  5. Expect a counter-offer, but stand firm. When you resign, your current company may not do anything, or they may hit you with all kinds of promises of salary increase, greater responsibility, travel, perks, etc. This may happen immediately, or else may happen unexpectedly during your notice period. “Oh, the Vice President has heard about this, and wants to have dinner with you and your spouse to tell you about the plans she has for your career here.” Many self-serving recruiters tell you under no circumstances should you ever accept a counter offer, because to do so is a career-killer, and a clear indication of disloyalty. I wouldn’t go quite that far, because in a few cases it might actually work out in your favor, but in general based on many years of my experience, I would be very reluctant to alter your plans based on a reactionary offer made after you’ve resigned. Most of the time, a counter offer is more of a band-aid or a bribe, and your fundamental concerns aren’t going to be fully addressed. If you stay, it’s very likely you’re only postponing the inevitable.
  6. Remember that it’s only temporary discomfort. A few weeks from now, and you’ll be happily involved in your new job, and won’t give the resignation another thought.
  7. Use a letter if you’re more comfortable. It’s common to pull your boss aside and tell him or her directly that you’re leaving, but if the thought of saying those words to someone’s face makes you cringe, it’s perfectly OK to type up a letter and hand it to them, or even to email it to them (I recommend that latter approach only if it’s difficult to get in the same room with your boss in a reasonable timeframe). Here’s a basic format for such a letter that you can customize:

Dear MANAGER,

This is to inform you that I am resigning my position, effective as of DATE.

After much careful consideration, I have made an irreversible decision to accept a new opportunity. While I’m sure this is not welcome news, I know that you will respect my decision, as I’m confident that it will be in the best interests of myself and my family. 

I want to express my appreciation for all the opportunities that CURRENT COMPANY has provided me. Please rest assured I will do everything I can to smoothly wrap up my work and transition my responsibilities before my departure.

Sincerely,
CANDIDATE

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