It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.
How you leave a job is just as important as how you come in. Quitting, no matter how artfully executed, is an act of rejection. Even though it's not malicious, it still feels bad for your employer and the colleagues you're leaving behind. Replacing you and covering the extra work your departure creates all fall into the category of “frustrating problems.” By doing everything you can to soften the blow, you're making an investment in your future. Here are the things to remember to have a successful and amicable separation.
Don't Quit Your Job Until You Have an Offer Letter in Writing
“The same day I got a verbal job offer, I gave my two weeks' notice to my current employer. Hours later, the new employer called back and said they were sorry, but they were having trouble getting my salary level approved by HR. It took four days to iron out, but when the offer letter came in, I was forced to take $5,000 less than we'd originally discussed. I felt like an idiot.”
—Employee who had already spent that $5,000 in her mind
No matter how confident you are that you're off to greener pastures, do not speak to anyone at your current job until you have these three things: the offer letter, the offer letter, and lastly, the offer letter.
It's great that you've talked to the hiring manager at your new potential place of employment and come to a verbal agreement, but until you have the offer letter in writing, the deal isn't done. It's unlikely, but things can happen: the department you're joining could get eliminated. The CEO's nephew could need a job. The company could go into a hiring freeze. Don't take an unnecessary risk by resigning until you have somewhere to go—in writing. There are few things worse for your relationship with a current employer than trying to recant a resignation.
Always Notify Your Direct Manager First—Don't Skip Levels
There is a saying you'll hear if you ever get the opportunity to participate in management training: “People don't leave companies, they leave managers.” Fair or not, your departure will reflect on your boss. They'll be judged for not knowing you were unhappy, or recognizing you were undercompensated, or for being unable to convince you to stay. When bad things happen, it creates vivid memories. Today is a very bad day for them. They will remember everything about how you resign.
Hopefully you have a good relationship with your manager and you'll be parting with the company on good terms. Even if you aren't, it's in your best interest to show respect to the person you have been working for. That person's life is about to get harder without the work you do, so consider it your final task to make that transition as easy as possible. This will be the lasting impression you leave, and the one your manager will recall should you need a favor or recommendation from them in the future.
When you resign, here's how to do it well:
· Tell your manager you're putting in your resignation and give at least two weeks, notice.
· Explain why you accepted the new job (versus focusing on why you were looking).
· Ask for input on how to communicate that you're leaving to the rest of the team. Be clear on the plan and follow it. Don't let rumors of your departure get ahead of your manager. The more your manager feels out of control, the worse the situation is for him or her.
· Offer to assist in hiring a replacement for yourself including writing the job description, vetting candidates, and conducting interviews.
· Have a written list of what you're currently responsible for and suggestions for whom to offload those to.
· Offer to train someone internally if there isn't a ready-to-go handoff candidate for something you do.
Collaborating this way makes you and your manager owners/partners of transitioning you out gracefully. It will make a big difference in your long-term relationship.
No Touchdown Dances
While the new job is good news for you, it is bad news for everyone left on the team. They'll need to find someone to replace you, someone to cover your responsibilities, someone to onboard and train your replacement, and finally deal with the reality that the familiar is about to be replaced with the unknown. It sucks and they aren't happy. Be mindful of their state.
Don't overdo your excitement about the new job. Don't brag about your new salary. And whatever you do, don't rehash things you don't like about your current job. Here are the sentences to embrace:
· “I'm going to miss you.”
· “Working with you was one of my favorite parts of this job.”
· “I learned a lot from you.”
· “The hardest part about leaving is how much I enjoyed working with all of you.”
· “I hope we get to work together again.”
Any impulse you have to celebrate should be focused on the team—not your future. Help them find closure by celebrating your time together. Don't let the last thing they remember be you strutting out the door.
What to Do If They Counter
Remember the endowment effect we talked about earlier? Congratulations, on a scale from one to ten, you just sent it to an 11. There is nothing that will make your current company appreciate your value more than telling them you plan to leave. This can create the dynamic in which you've accepted a new offer, but the bidding has just begun.
A Lot of Employers Will Offer a Counter
Brace yourself. There's a good chance you're going to be asked some variation of, “What would it take to get you to stay?”
Never answer this question in the first meeting. The right response is “Let me give it real thought and get back to you tomorrow.” You want the full organization to have time to reflect on what your departure means. This will make the previously impossible, suddenly become possible—more money, a new title, more vacation time, changes to reporting structure, or even all of the above. Ask and ye shall likely receive.
But before making any ask, be sure there is a scenario in which you'd be willing to actually stay. Remember, the people from your former jobs are the ones most likely to get you your next one. Do not burn bridges here by negotiating in bad faith.
If You're Willing to Stay, Make Your Ask Big
If you are willing to stay, the key to this moment is going big. You have nothing to lose with another offer in hand, so you might as well ask for everything and discover the limits. Right now your “cost” has nothing to do with what the company pays you and everything to do with the full price tag of replacing you. Here is my advice for making the most of this moment:
· Ask for a minimum of 5% more than your new offer.
· Design the job you want—hours, work from home flexibility, and weekend/vacation boundaries.
· Demand opportunities to keep learning—areas of responsibility, conferences, or subsidization of ongoing education.
· Remove toxic people—eliminate anything you do that requires you to interact with people you don't like.
· Optimize your workspace—ask for an office, preferred cubicle location, or budget to improve your environment.
· Give a time limit of 24 hours. Don't let them haggle with you while your two weeks' notice is running out.
This isn't an exhaustive list of considerations, but it captures the essence of what I'm telling you. Nothing is off the table. Make your ask grandiose. The worst they can do is say no.
If You Accept the Counter, Tell the Other Company Immediately
You made your big ask and, whoa, they gave it to you. This is a moment to follow all the best practices outlined in Chapter 12, “You Must Negotiate.” Celebrate with them immediately and make sure they give it to you in writing!
Once you have it in writing, you have one final uncomfortable task to complete: notifying the company whose offer you accepted that you're pulling out. Here's how to do it well:
· Be quick. The longer you wait, the more you risk creating ill will.
· Be honest. Tell the company exactly why you're reneging. Learning that your current company valued you highly will only make the new company like you more.
· Be prepared. Don't be surprised if the new company tries to increase their offer. This is exactly the kind of situation in which an auction frenzy can occur. You'll need to decide how comfortable you are letting the two sides continue to bid up.
Don't Be Surprised If You Remain Unhappy After Accepting a Counteroffer
The problem with achieving your goals is the person you had to become to reach those goals has different goals.
The reality is it's difficult for any of us to describe what will make us happy. It's easy to think in the abstract that more money, authority, or appreciation would make the difference, but the reality is that ambitious people are rarely satisfied.
Can you really be happy if you stay? The data says even odds the answer is no. Of the employees who accept a counteroffer, 50% end up leaving within a year.1 Don't beat yourself up if you find yourself back on the market shortly after getting everything you thought you wanted. The good news is that after reading this book, you're a job-seeking expert, so the next job will be easier to get!
· Make sure you have your new job offer in writing before you quit your current one.
· Always tell your direct manager about your resignation first and work with them on a transition plan.
· Don’t act overly excited about leaving your current job. Be careful to maintain old work relationships.
· If your current company wants to provide a counteroffer, make sure the compensation and other benefits of staying are big.
· If you accept a counteroffer from your current employer, let the other company know immediately.
· Keep in mind that accepting a counteroffer won’t necessarily make you happier.
1. 1. “Why People Quit their Jobs,” Harvard Business Review, September 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/09/why-people-quit-their-jobs.