Going out on the right
Remember the adage, "Quitters never win and winners
To move up the ladder of success in today's more mobile
marketplace, you're probably going to need to quit your job and
move on several times during your career.
"The typical career path is changing," says
Bruce Tulgan, Gen
X/Y consultant and co-author of "Managing
the Generation Mix." "In the past, people were likely to
have fewer jobs over the course of their careers than they will
today. As a result, there is less stigma surrounding quitting than
there was in the past.
"Prospective employers would have been very intent
on knowing why you quit a job in the past, whereas today, because
it's more common, you may have less explaining to do. It's much
less likely today to be an indication of failure."
The dynamics of a more fluid workforce have placed
renewed emphasis on the delicate art of quitting correctly.
"One of the most important assets you can have,
especially in a more fluid career, is good relationships with decision
makers. Your vendors, colleagues, subordinates or bosses at one
job might be in different roles to you throughout your career,"
"You may well find yourself crossing paths with
these folks in the future, whether you want to or not. Somebody
who is your boss today might be your vendor or your customer tomorrow,
or your subordinate today might one day be your boss."
Why employees bail
Workers move on for any number of reasons. While better pay is the
prime motivator, Tulgan says the next five job-change motives are:
- To work a different schedule
- To work with different people (bosses, co-workers,
subordinates, vendors, customers)
- To perform different tasks or have more job responsibility
- To acquire additional knowledge or improve skills
- To relocate
Rosner cites another reason employees reluctantly
move on: an employer acts in an unethical manner. Leaving on good
terms under these circumstances can take considerable diplomacy.
"If your boss is doing something illegal, you
might feel the need to say something for the sake of the people
who remain or even for the sake of the company," he says. "Well,
you can't fault somebody for wanting to improve a situation, but
it's got to be done really carefully."
Whatever your reason, how you quit can be just as important as why.
"A very important asset is your reputation,"
Tulgan says. "People talk, whether explicitly in a job reference
or less formally. To be on good terms with people is valuable because
they are likely to strengthen your reputation rather than diminish
Bob Rosner, the "retention evangelist" behind
Web site and author of "The
Boss's Survival Guide," agrees that the fastest way to derail
a promising career is to tell your boss to take this job and shove
"I'm a big believer that you've got to have a
darn good reason to burn a bridge," Rosner says. "If I
had a full bank account and was deciding to retire, even if I wanted
to blow off that last employer, I still wouldn't do it.
"Go for a run or play a physical game of basketball,
anything to get the stress off, and then think long and hard about
the ramifications of leaving on bad terms. Don't limit your possibilities
down the pike."
Five steps out the door
Once you decide to leave a job, do it properly. The art of a perfect
exit requires just as much planning and attention to detail as landing
the perfect job. Here are five steps to a graceful departure:
1. Make a plan. Develop a detailed exit strategy.
Include a timeline and list the key relationships you want to
protect. "The best strategy is to make a list of all those
people, have a conversation with each of them if you can, ask
them what they need from you and try to deliver it," says
2. Develop a brief explanation. Everyone
will want to know why you're leaving and where you're going. Settle
on a brief and simple explanation that is upbeat and doesn't point
fingers. Focus on the positive: You have a great opportunity available
to you to learn something new, advance your career or grow in
some way. One good technique is to pretend you're explaining why
you left to your next employer; they are not only bound to ask,
but may well corroborate your reply with your former boss. For
that reason alone, honesty is the best policy -- so long as you
stop short of being brutally frank.
3. Give plenty of notice. Two weeks is standard
practice and the professional minimum.
4. Work hard to complete your work. "That's
part of fulfilling your obligations," says Tulgan. "People
who leave organizations unsuccessfully often hang around for two
weeks and don't have a lot to do. People who leave organizations
on very good terms often are frantically busy in their last two
weeks because they are trying to fulfill their various obligations."
5. Keep in touch. Give your new contact information
to all your key relationships and gather their contact information.
It's a nice touch to send your former employer a thank-you note
focusing on the positive aspects of your work there. Once you've
departed, it's a good idea to stay in touch and keep everyone
apprised of your continued success and changing contact information.
After all, it's a small working world out there.
Mastering the fine art of departure can help you convert
hard knocks into building blocks for success.
"There are some people who have one experience
after another and these experiences don't build on each other,"
says Tulgan. "The most successful people are those who use
each experience as a building block to the next. You want to be
able to use all those building blocks in your next experience for
continuing growth and development. That means you don't want to
leave a disaster in your wake."
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor
based in Florida.
-- Updated: Dec. 17, 2004