How to quit your job without embarrassing yourself

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If you've been unhappy in your current job and you're ready to cut the cord, keep in mind that how you quit can either hurt or help your where you go next in your career.

As someone who has worked in corporate leadership for decades, I've seen all the embarrassing mistakes employees make after they decide they want to leave their jobs: Quitting without having another job lined up, quitting and then begging to come back, quitting with a dramatic exit, threatening to quit (without actually quitting) — you name it.

The main cause? Failure to think through the process. Once you put that resignation notice in writing and hit the send button, be prepared to witness a chain of events that's hard to stop.

Here's how to make a graceful exit without embarrassing yourself:

1. Know for certain why you're leaving

The grass isn't always greener, so be honest with yourself and think about why you really want to quit. Are you looking for a higher salary, more challenges, a better boss, a promotion or simply a change?

Once you have your reasons, ask yourself: Is leaving the company your only option?

If you've been planning your exit for months and already have a new job lined up (one that you're actually excited about), don't make any moves until you have a signed offer letter.

2. Resign in person

There are three important rules when it comes to breaking the news:

  1. Don't tell anyone else at the company without first telling your direct supervisor.
  2. Don't wait until the very last minute. At the very least, commit to giving a two weeks' notice.
  3. Don't resign over email; always meet in person and keep the conversation as private as possible. If you work remotely, schedule a video or phone call.

(The worst thing an employee can do is to walk off the job completely and never be heard from again. It's a rare move, but I've seen it happen — and trust me, it'll put a huge dent in your reputation.)

3. Take the high road

If you had a decent experience at the company, take the high road and keep the discussion with your supervisor positive. If you had a miserable experience at the company, you should still take the high road. 

Don't complicate the conversation. A simple way to start could be: "Mary, this is very hard for me, but I've decided to take a new position at..."

Then, tell them what you enjoyed most about working at the company, what you learned in your job, how it's going to prepare you for your next gig and why you're excited about the change. More importantly, express your gratitude for everything they've done to help you grow.

4. Have a backup plan

If you bring a significant amount of value to the company, your boss won't want to lose you.

I can't tell you the number of times I've sat down with someone and asked, "Is this the right move for you? Have you really thought it through?"

This calls for a "Plan B":  How you will respond to a counteroffer of more money? A promotion? More vacation time? A better title?

If you've already made up your mind, don't be tempted to take the shiny new offers. You might regret it later on.

5. Don't slack off

You're almost at the finish line, but there's still a lot left to do. Believe it or not, your last few weeks at the company may be the busiest you've ever been.

Make sure you leave your team in good hands by helping with the search for your replacement. Keep your commitments and let your supervisor and colleagues know who will be taking over what. Write a detailed memo about your responsibilities and what needs to be done after you're gone.

Consider it karma. Let the next person walk into your job the same way you want to walk into your new one.

6. Don't spill the tea

At this point, the news is out and some — or maybe even all — of your colleagues know about your departure. Do your best to encourage a positive work environment.

In other words, this isn't the time to share with your colleagues every negative experience you've had at the company or brag about how excited you are to "finally get out" of there.

No matter how much you disliked working at the company, keep it professional and don't burn your bridges.

7. No raiding

On your way out, don't be tempted to take everything with you. Don't try to download everything on the shared drive; if anyone finds out — and they easily could — you might be in serious violation of company policies.

Also, leave the stapler, pens, notebooks and Post-Its. You don't want to be remembered as the "employee who emptied supply closet."

8. Cut the long goodbyes

Don't be that person who blasts out an email to a hundred of their "closest colleagues" on a Friday afternoon: "I'd really like to thank everyone. I won't have access to this email after today..."

If you've made close contacts at the company, send them a note directly with your contact information. And remember to say goodbye to your supervisor in person before you walk out the door. They'll appreciate the gesture. 

Finally, do keep in touch with your colleagues and advisors. After all, you've spent hours and hours with them at work every day. Why throw it all away?

You never know, they might serve as a valuable reference or open doors to bigger and better opportunities down the road.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry, a firm that helps companies select and hire the best talent, and author of the New York Times best-selling book, "Lose the Resume, Land the Job." Follow him on LinkedIn.

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