How to make a gracious exit from your job

Changing careers is a multi skilled business.

Maybe you’re currently honing your survival skills by staying put in a job that sucks until you’re ready to move.

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Perhaps you’re about to test your negotiation skills by asking to work fewer or more flexible hours so you can concentrate on your career change or side project.

If you’re leaving for good, making a gracious exit can make all the difference.

Whether you’re about to quit with class or negotiate new conditions, these are the skills that will serve you well.


Make it about you

But in a good way, separate fact from feeling.

If you’re leaving this can be tough if you’ve felt unfairly treated. Even if anger and frustration drove you out, your resignation letter needs to calmly explain why you found the job ‘unsustainable’. You couldn’t live on the salary or the hours made it impossible to meet family responsibilities. You need different challenges in your role or want to pursue your interest in a new field.

If you’re negotiating, balance your natural angst and uncertainty by bringing the strongest possible case. Build this by doing a detailed budget and deciding which hours worked when would suit you best. Would half days be better than whole days? Are you prepared to work a nominated number of hours at home or on evenings or weekends? List exactly what you need from your employer and note where you can compromise. You might have monster stomach butterflies, but knowing what will make or break a deal will help you to navigate a counteroffer confidently.


Make it about them

Be practical and accountable.

If you’re leaving do everything you can to smooth the way for whoever is going to pick up your work. Tie up loose ends. Leave detailed instructions for projects you can’t complete. If time allows, offer to help screen applications for your role or train your replacement. A job well finished is an ideal way to show you valued your role. Furthermore, leaving your employers with a lasting impression of your accountability and professionalism may help to rebalance a rocky relationship and protect your reputation. You never know when they might be a useful contact in the future.

If you’re negotiating, present a plan that’ll highlight the advantages of flexibility for your employer and explain the nuts and bolts. Outline alternatives designed to address the worries and ‘what if’s’ employers might have around granting your request. Giving them more than one option (that works for you) will show you’ve thought it through. For example, nominate any additional tasks you could do during the two hours you’ll save by not commuting. Present a schedule for meetings to update, and problem solve with your manager.

Your employer will almost certainly present their preferred options. Anticipating these and basing your priorities on everyone’s best interests will help steer the negotiation towards your goals.


Choose your moment

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If you’re leaving try to break the news in one of your boss’s quieter moments. If you’re not sure when these happen try asking someone who does. Like most awkward conversations this one will work better if you can minimise stress and distraction.

However keen you are to leave, give at least the standard notice period and an outline of how you plan to wrap up your work. This shows you’re ready to do what you can to reduce disruption. Conversely, if your company has a policy of escorting people from the premises immediately after they resign, make sure you’ve prepared for that as well!

If you’re negotiating request a meeting at a low stress moment and ideally after you’ve hit a significant target. Come to the negotiation flush with success and explain how working flexibly will make you happier, better balanced and even more productive.

Be ready to suggest a trial period. Even a weeklong test run could show your manager how motivated and committed you are and how effective an alternative arrangement can be for everyone.


Be honest and careful

If you’re leaving treat your exit interview (if you’re offered one) as means to making a good end. Whatever your relationship with your manager, be gracious about the opportunities that came with your job. Gauge the degree of honest critical feedback you give against your manager’s willingness is to receive it. If their autocratic management style or blatant favouritism were issues, it’s probably best to let that lie. Alternatively, if you have an ace idea for improving the office intranet or dealing with customer complaints or a change that would make your successor’s job easier, let them have it.

If you’re negotiating to make time to work on your side project or career change, you’ll need to decide how to play this. Chances are if your relationship is strong enough to be negotiating flexible work, it’s strong enough to be upfront about why you want to make the shift.

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Present a specific and detailed plan to manage your workload. It will reassure your employers that developing your new project won’t stop you being a star performer for them.

Conversely, you have no obligation to tell your employer what you do outside of work hours. Although you’ll need to present a highly credible case for change, you’re not required to reveal how you plan to use the time.


Ace your last day

If you’re keen to make a truly classy exit, try this hour by hour guide to getting through your last day on the job.


Need help to figure out what new work looks like for you? Book a chat.


By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know that when you find what you love, heart and soul, your life changes. I work every day with people who are reshaping their current careers, starting new enterprises or searching for a new direction. Basically I help people who don’t like their job to figure out what to do instead!

As a Careershifters and Firework Advanced Certified Coach and experienced career changer myself, I can help you figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.