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How to quit your job (and how not to): Globe column & bonus material

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 8, 2012 10:27 AM

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This week's Boston Globe column focuses on how to leave your job without burning bridges, with advice from people like Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe, Audrey Lampert of Gemvara, and Elaine Varelas of Keystone Associates. I wanted to write about quitting because so much attention is focused on how to get your next great job -- and not enough on how to leave your current one in a positive way.

The opening:

Aside from the job interview, the second most stressful day at the office tends to be the day you announce you're leaving. Will you be shown the door instantly, or cajoled to stay? Will you be able to resist reeling off a list of criticisms about co-workers and company policies?

"The central tenet of resigning from a job is: Don't burn bridges," says Andrew Atkins, a former human resources executive at Fidelity Investments and Bank of America who now works at the Boston consulting firm Interaction Associates. "You want to be as professional on your way out as you were on your way in."

Contrast that with the experience of Peter Blacklow, right, who runs a Waltham-based game development studio for the Game Show Network. A graphic designer with whom he once worked announced his departure by affixing a Post-it note to his computer monitor.

Here's even more good advice from Boston-area execs, which couldn't fit in Sunday's column:

From John Pepper, co-founder and CEO of Boloco:

I think you should always let your employer know you are looking... By doing it as partners, the trust is not only not broken (as it is when someone gives two weeks notice, and you start thinking about all the lack of productivity and white lies that often took place in preceding weeks and months), but is actually enhanced. For years, people didn't trust that it was OK, and we were always caught off-guard. Of late, two of our support team members gave us notice when they began looking for other jobs. One was ultimately six weeks notice, and the other was over four. Last year, we had someone give us 12 weeks notice, which allowed us to reset expectations and work together to make sure she had a happy landing (which she did.)

Have candid discussions about being unhappy and wanting to find solutions long before actually resigning.

From Kate Rafferty, Director of HR, Basho Technologies:

Keep it short and sweet. If you have made [the decision to quit], go in and be direct and confident in your decision. Resign in person, although some circumstances make that impossible. Never let your boss find out before you tell them personally. No matter how close you are with colleagues, your boss deserves the respect of finding out first. During the conversation, it helps to have a discussion on how it will be communicated to the rest of the team or company to make sure messaging is consistent. Follow-up with a very brief email to put the resignation in writing. While during the conversation, you can be more candid about reasons for leaving, the letter of resignation should only state the fact and confirm the last day of employment. Never be too naive to think that the company will honor your two weeks. It is best to be prepared to have that be your last day, just in case it actually is.

[When] people ask why you are leaving, take the high road & say, "For a better opportunity." Sour grapes never leave a good taste in anyone's mouth, even with your best friends at work.

Don't post negative comments or overly celebratory comments about your resignation on social media outlets. It looks bad to both current & future colleagues. Burning former managers or colleagues in blogs with overly obvious statements to identify the person being criticized does the same thing, especially if your blog is not anonymous. Who can ever really trust someone who not-so-discreetly blasted others with whom they have worked?

Amy Cohn, VP of Human Resources, Compete:

Think about a transition plan in advance – be prepared to talk about solutions. Companies are running lean, and there aren’t an abundance of resources to pick up the work of employees who leave. Share ideas about how to transition your work to internal resources for the interim and offer thoughts on the best profile for your replacement hire (perhaps even write up a job description) – your manager will appreciate this. It shows that you continue to care about the success of the company and the well being of your colleagues who are likely to take on the work you’re leaving behind. Share your feedback with the appropriate people. Most people leave on good terms but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ideas for how the company can improve. More importantly, if you are leaving due to dissatisfaction with the company, your work or your manager, be sure to express yourself through the right channels. Talk with your manager, human resources or the CEO. Take the opportunity to help make the company better.

Sarah McIlroy, Founder and CEO, FashionPlaytes:

A team is the most valuable asset of a company, so good employees are essential. If you have a team that you trust and respect, it’s better to have a healthy discussion about why the role may no longer be working (an upcoming move, hours, etc.) We’ve had several occasions where we’ve found positions for employees in other states through some of our partners or our networks. Everyone wins – the employer can work on filling the role, the employee can help find a strong replacement and ends up with a great new position. Give enough notice to wrap up key projects, pull together recaps, summaries and guidelines for a replacement. Be available for follow-up questions if needed. Ideally, help screen for strong candidates and find your replacement!

Elizabeth Famiglietti, SVP of Human Resources, PAN Communications:

Prior to your resignation, familiarize yourself with the obligations you have to your current employer post-employment. This could be in the form of an employment agreement for example, which may have specific requirements in regards to confidentiality of information, non-solicitation (employees or clients) and or return of company property. This will come up in an exit interview, so getting a head start and letting HR know you have read and understand your obligations will show your professionalism and preparedness.

Don't forget to say THANK YOU. Thank your manager and if appropriate, the head of your department (or President if it is a smaller company) for the opportunity to work for them. Employment is a relationship, so you want to make sure you leave on very good terms. While the employment relationship may be ending, you will want to be able to call upon these relationships for different reasons throughout your career.


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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