Exit strategy: How to resign with grace

You’ve fallen in love with another role, and that means it’s break-up time with your current job. So how do you resign? Handing in your notice is an important public relations event that needs to be managed like any major episode in your working life.

Here are the key steps on how to resign with grace and style – and keep your professionalism intact.

Manage time away for job interviews

If you’d rather keep your leaving plans to yourself, make your endeavour to find another role as discreet as possible. Communicate with prospective employers in your own time, on your own devices and use your own personal email address. If you must conduct interviews during business hours, aim to make appointments during lunch hours.

How to resign

You may be debating whether you should break the news to your boss in writing or face to face - and the answer is, both!

Best practice for resigning is to book a time to meet with your manager. Prior to this meeting, draft up your resignation letter (however don't press the send button yet!). During the meeting, get straight to the point - explain to your manager the reasons you are leaving and take care to remain positive (avoid expressing any negativity so as to leave on good terms).

As the meeting draws to a close, don't forget to discuss next steps including your notice period and leaving date. Mention to your employer that you will send a follow up email to confirm what has been discussed. Once the meeting is over, email your resignation letter, outlining any points covered for follow up in your meeting.

Sample resignation letter

Lost for words? Download our sample resignation letter template here.

Resign graciously

Face-to-face discussions are the most powerful of all workplace encounters, so even though you might feel uncomfortable at the thought of breaking the news face to face, it is imperative for you to give your boss the respect of an in-person resignation. It’s the most professional way to manage the beginning of your exit. Be polite. Accentuate the positive experiences you have enjoyed during your time at the company and express appreciation for all you’ve learnt.

Tell the truth

Be honest about why you’re leaving your job – perhaps you’re looking for room to grow in new areas, more money or flexible hours, or opportunities to learn in different environments. Whatever the case, give your reasons without giving offense. If you do think it is important to provide feedback on your negative experiences, don't do it in writing. Use the face to face meeting with your manager to voice any issues, and to avoid going off on a tangent in the moment, prepare any comments you would like to bring up prior to the call.

Show your appreciation

Regardless of your reasons for leaving, it is customary and also polite to thank your employer for the time, money and effort they have invested in you and your career. Don't forget to thank your manager for the professional opportunities you have had access to, including any company-paid-for training that has resulted in the development of your skills and experience. Taking the time to appreciate your experience will ensure you leave on good terms and stand you in good stead for any future requests you may have of your manager - for example, asking for a reference.

Provide fair notice

Before you resign, check your employment contract or ask HR about the required period for notice to leave. Make sure you give this amount of time – more if possible, to let your employer find a suitable replacement. If there is no agreement in place, two weeks is considered standard, but giving more than this would be a graceful parting gift to your former employer. In reality, no one is going to find the perfect replacement for your role within two weeks.

Be prepared for counter offers

Your employer may be keen to keep you on, so be prepared for any counter offers they may make in terms of more money, improved conditions or a larger role. If you suspect this might happen, be ready with your reply. If you just want out, don’t flirt with counter offers. Be perfectly honest and explain to your boss that while you loved your job, you’d really like a change and despite the potential opportunities if you stay, you’re even more excited about moving on. If you would consider staying, have a figure or condition in mind so you can make the transaction as honest and painless as possible.

Don’t let your standards drop

Once you have provided your resignation and it's all out in the open, there can be a temptation to 'ride out' your last days, coasting along until your last day. Despite this, to leave on best terms, continue to work as you would if you were at a new job. Remember - your last days will form the final impressions your ex-employer has of you, and it would be a shame to tarnish an otherwise stellar reputation on the basis of a few lazy last weeks.  

If a replacement has been found, manage the transition with professionalism and give every reason for your replacement to think he/she has big shoes to fill. Be sure to create a detailed transition plan and handover document, including important contacts and their details, so that your replacement can hit the ground running. Offer to remain in contact for live projects, even after you’ve left the company if that is possible. The more helpful you are, the better your employer will feel about providing a reference for any future employment contracts.

What to say in an exit interview

Many companies conduct exit interviews so HR teams can analyse reasons for leaving and attrition rates. You’re not obliged to answer the questions but if you do provide feedback, it could help the overall success of the company or improve the contentment of future employees. If you have negative feedback, try to be professional and diplomatic in your delivery – you never know where your work mates will end up, and that annoying colleague could end up being your boss one day, so keep that in mind before letting your mouth run.

Take care of loose ends

Before you leave, check with your HR department or hiring manager to ensure you know of any finances you may be entitled to upon your exit - for example, do you have unused leave that should be paid out in your final statement? 

Personal information / technology

Living in the technology age, many jobs require staff to operate computers, laptops or other communications devices owned by the company. For example, your work desktop, laptop or tablet as well as smart phone. Most companies wipe memory once an employee has left the business, so take care if any of the devices you have been using contain personal data, be sure to delete or back-up personal files. 

In your last days

Compose a positive goodbye note, thanking key members of your team and include the best way for people to stay connected with you. If necessary, put a smile on your face and work through those last days knowing that everything you don’t like about the job will soon be out of your life and you’re on track for a new, exciting role. Don’t vent on Facebook – you never know how previous employers or colleagues may pop up in your career again, sometimes years later, so it’s worth keeping your relationships with companies and people intact.

Whatever your feelings about your employer, it’s good to separate bad emotions from how to resign and how you ultimately handle your exit. Keep the whole event, from resignation letter right through to your final day, as professional and upbeat as possible. Stay focused while you’re there and leave with your head held high and your personal brand in great shape.

Knowing when and how to resign is just part of the picture. We can help you take the next step in your career to finding a job you love. Search and apply for jobs in Australia today. Read our related article: 

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