How to resign without carnage

by Ryan Krumroy
Senior Associate Recruiter at Charles Aris Inc.

Having worked in the world of executive search since 2006, I have seen many individuals make the transition from one organization to the other in seamless fashion. I have also witnessed several partings which resulted in flaring tempers, ill will and unnecessary stress. Whether you have been feverishly pursued by a retained search firm such as Charles Aris or have just completed a long self-directed job search, there are some universal best practices for responsibly departing for a new employer.

Let’s start with what might seem obvious: Make sure you are going to leave your employer no matter what. I have seen too many people commit career suicide by entertaining and occasionally accepting counteroffers. My counsel is to figure out, early on, where your career is going and whether your current employer’s value proposition exceeds that of the prospective employer.

Superiors will say or do just about anything they possibly can to mitigate the crisis when a resignation letter is tendered by one of their top performers. New titles, group reassignments, compensation raises, internal executive conversations which have magically been centering around you – all these topics and more can be broached with resigning employees. Remember that the overwhelming majority of people who take a counteroffer are unemployed within 10 months.

It all comes down to making an objective decision to leave, not one based on the emotions of forecasted last-ditch promises. Either turn down the prospective employer’s offer or resign from your current organization with confidence. Whatever you do, don’t vacillate between the two.

Secondly: Write a resignation letter and create a transition plan. Your resignation letter should show gratitude for your time spent in the organization; be firm in communicating your decision; and convey a desire for both parties to succeed in the future. Make this letter four or five sentences and be done with it. A transition plan, meanwhile, will help quell fears and instill goodwill as you show your superiors and colleagues that there is a way to move through and past your departure.

Be prepared to quickly notify important parties (other senior leaders, people in the transition plan, friends) to prevent hurt feelings or resentment. I’d suggest having emails in your draft box ready to send within minutes of resigning. Let these parties know in person if possible, but don’t wait two days to inform someone in person when an earlier telephone call from you would be 100 times better than that person getting the word secondhand from a colleague. Make them feel special.

Execution: Be flattered but firm. This is probably the most important piece. You have to let others know that this is a non-negotiable decision, one that has been well thought out and is now final. You cannot give the impression that you are open to giving them a few hours or a day to talk internally before disclosing your departure. If you open the door, your superior likely will go to the ends of the Earth to get concessions by involving their superiors and expending political capital on your behalf. Rejection of new terms at this point can generate significant anger from leaders in your current organization.

Be sure your boss knows that you have resigned – not that you are thinking about resigning, not that you may resign if they can’t do something to keep you, but that what is done is done. Prevent the corporate jet from flying in with a high-pressure executive ego-boosting session by respectfully letting your organization go with appreciation and firmness. Band-Aids are best removed quickly.

It is also important to keep in mind that you don’t owe your current organization anything. You don’t need to fix its problems or heartburns. Give a positive exit interview, being gracious and encouraging, and leave any internal coaching to those who remain. You won’t benefit a bit from trying to fix any issues as you depart, but you could easily burn bridges – and that doesn’t help either party.

Be resolute with your decision, and those impacted most by your decision will be more likely to respect and appreciate you in the long run.