David Letterman recently left his job of 33 years as host of the late-night TV show, The Late Show With David Letterman. He left in style; lots of celebrity well wishers, some sentiment, and even a little self-mockery.
Whether you leave your job because you are retiring or moving on to another company, there is a right way to make a memorable exit without burning bridges. As tempting as it may be to say adios without looking back, giving the middle finger to your former employer is not advisable.
“In the unpredictable work world, your network is the most valuable thing you have. Your past employers should be your biggest fans. You never know what opportunities they may have or when you may need them for a recommendation in the future,” warns Stephanie Seibel certified career coach at RedThreadCoaching.com.
For starters, don’t quit without notice. “Be sure to give them plenty of notice and explain your reasons honestly. If you are leaving to pursue an opportunity you’re passionate about or to move towards work that’s truly a better fit, tell them. They will likely see your next move on LinkedIn so white lies are risky. And if you’re doing something you’re proud of, there’s no shame in that. In fact, they may even surprise you and offer support in unexpected ways,” says Seibel.
Think about how your former workplace will function without you. Put a plan in place to help your replacement continue the work you’ve started. “Put yourself in their shoes and do everything you can to make this transition easy for them. Can you help find a replacement? Can you assist in training or pass on your knowledge? Go above and beyond. Let them know how much you appreciate the opportunity they gave you and even share some things you learned or a small gift of appreciation,” Seibel tells MadameNoire.
And when you are leaving, don’t go printing out or downloading all your work documents. You don’t want your former firm to think you are stealing contacts or company secrets. “Your employer might accuse you of stealing trade secrets or of violating any confidentiality agreement you may have signed, even if you didn’t. Especially avoid sending yourself client lists, pricing information and other information that might have value to a competitor,” Donna Ballman, employment attorney and author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, tells Forbes.
And just because you’re leaving, it doesn’t mean you can take it easy. “How you exit a company is very important. I have noticed in my career, you never knows who knows who, in any particular industry. You want to make sure to be professional in the last days because people before you have not always done so, most companies are expecting those who give notice to become slack after doing so. It is better to do the exact opposite, I have had employers call me and thank me for my professionalism leading up to my last day because my work never waivered,” Cheya Thousand, founder of The DreamCatcher Firm, a lifestyle consulting firm for millennials, tells MadameNoire. And thank your boss and co-workers, something many forget when leaving a job, says Thousand.
Time permitting, try to schedule time to spend with your colleagues. “As your exit date becomes public, schedule coffees and lunches with people you’ve worked with. Have an agenda in your mind for each meeting. Do you need anything from them for your next step? Can you offer them anything? Be sure to highlight your accomplishments at the company,” career coach Angelina Darrisaw shares with us.
Don’t complain about the company and be as positive as you can about the situation, even if you can’t wait to leave. “People talk across companies and industries and you don’t want to stain the hard work you’ve done with a messy exit,” adds Darrisaw. “Industries tend to be pretty incestuous with sharing talent and even if you feel you’ll never work in that industry again, you may end up wanting to later. How you leave your company can affect your ability to come back to the same company or work with some of the same people if you later want to.”
Always leave them wanting more, as the saying goes. The goal is to have your former boss regret losing a valuable employee while wishing you well in your next endeavor.