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The Right Way to Quit Your Job

Alexandra Levit -- Unless you want to erase everything you've accomplished since you first accepted your current job, your departure must be as strategic and deliberate as your arrival.

After the stressful process of looking for a new job while you're still employed, accepting an offer is a huge relief. At last, you1re free! You probably can1t wait to share your good fortune with the world and tell your boss where she can shove that evil assignment she gave you last week. You might think that since you're leaving, you don't have to worry what people think of you anymore.

This is not the case. Unless you want to erase everything you've accomplished since you first accepted this job, your departure must be as strategic and deliberate as your arrival.

This starts with your resignation. Under no circumstances should you let on that you're leaving before you have a signed agreement and official start date from your new employer. If you jump the gun and blab to everyone and your job offer falls through, your best case scenario is that you've got egg on your face. The worst case, of course, is that your boss is insulted enough to fire you.

Here are some other suggestions for making a smooth exit:

Tell your supervisor first: you want him to hear the news from you, not from someone else in your department;

Give two weeks notice: stay for the full period unless the company requests that you leave sooner;

Be modest: don't alienate your colleagues by bragging or chattering incessantly about your awesome new gig;

Don't insult anyone or anything: whether it's true or not, show that you regret leaving such wonderful people behind;

Stay on top of your responsibilities: remember that you're accountable for your work until 5PM on your last day;

Continue to adhere to office protocol: you worked hard for that corporate persona, so leave them with a lasting impression of professionalism;

Review the employee handbook: understand what you're entitled to regarding benefits and compensation for unused sick or vacation days;

Organize your files: make it easy for your colleagues to find materials so that they can transition your workload seamlessly and won't need to call you at your new job;

Do a great job training your replacement: these people paid your salary for a year or more, you owe it to them to leave your job in good hands;

Don't take anything that doesn't belong to you: this includes office supplies and work product that was not developed by you personally.

Many companies request that departing employees do exit interviews with HR. The person conducting the interview, who probably doesn't know you from a hole in the wall, will usually expect you to divulge why you are leaving and how you feel about your experience with the company.

When it comes to exit interviews, the general rule is: if you don't have anything nice to say, lie.

Stick to official business as much as possible, and if you must provide constructive criticism, proceed with tact and caution. While it may be tempting to use the meeting as a forum to spill your guts about the company's difficult personalities and insufferable policies, don't give in. Once you've made the decision to leave, airing your grievances won't do you a drop of good and the risk of offending people is way too great.

The most important thing to remember when leaving a job is to fireproof your bridges. It's a smaller world than you think and you never know when you're going to need these people again.

And who knows? Maybe you won't even like your new job and will want to come back someday. At the very least, you want to be able to count on at least one person at the company to serve as a reference for the future.

During your last few weeks, do everything you can to leave behind a squeaky clean reputation. Be conscientious and thorough as you're wrapping up or transitioning projects. Even if you're leaving because you can't stand your department, act like a team player and keep your negativity to a minimum. If your colleagues take you out for lunch or throw you a going away party, congratulate yourself. It means you've handled your departure in exactly the right way.

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004), This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

© 2005 Alexandra Levit

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