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How To Give Notice

If you land a new job while currently employed, you need to break up with your current employer. I know this is uncomfortable, but don’t make it worse than it has to be. Give notice well, and the transition can be respectful and professional instead of feeling like an awkward, junior high break-up.

Whether you went out and found another job got recruited, make sure you have a plan to inform your current employer and leave a classy final impression.

Future employers will want to contact your past employers for references. The circumstances of your departure will color their memory, for good or bad. With that in mind, here’s a simple checklist for how to give notice well.

  • * Schedule a strategic time to talk in person. Find a time to meet one-on-one with your hiring manager, but don’t tell them the topic. The ideal time is toward the end of the day, so you can wrap-up and then leave. Toward the end of the week is also better, as the weekend allows time for the news to sink in and space to let your boss work through preliminary details and return on Monday with a game plan for communication and wrap-up.

  • * Organize your thoughts. Before the meeting, take the time to write down your thoughts. Practice your statement out loud at home. Giving notice can be emotional and stressful, and a little practice will help you stay on message and be more confident.

  • * State that your decision is final. Early in the conversation, let your boss know that the purpose of the meeting is to give official notice. “Be straight with them. No fluff. Just facts,” as Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane says in Moneyball. Let them know that your decision is final, and you’re not looking to entertain any counteroffers.

  • * Focus on primary issues, not secondary issues. The first question you will get is, “Why?” Proactively answer by volunteering the key issues (one or two) that drove your decision. There will likely be another 5-10 things that you didn’t like about the job, but just keep those to yourself. These additional reasons will confuse the conversation. Ideally, your main concerns were already discussed in the context of trying to fix your role, so your decision to leave should not be a complete surprise.

  • * Tell them what you are doing next. The next question will be, “Where are you going?” Your boss may be concerned about the competition, so it’s good to let them know if you are not joining a rival. In any case, it’s only a matter of time before they find out—either through company gossip or LinkedIn—so there is no benefit in withholding this information. You can mention how the new role addresses your key issues and goals.

Show modest excitement in the new job, but, out of respect, don’t go on about how much better it will be. Limit the detail to the company, title, and general role scope. I would not share any compensation data. If you’re asked, respond with something like, “They did offer more money, but details are not important and not my primary driver for making a change.”

  • * Project management handoff. The next concern your boss will have is how to handle your current workload. This allows you to shift the conversation from the departure to project management. Come prepared with a list of open projects and a game plan for setting your successor up for success. Be prepared to talk in detail, but realize they might not want to dive into specifics then and there.

  • * Show appreciation and thankfulness. Let your boss know you have appreciated the opportunity to work together. State several things you really enjoyed about the job and the company. Give an example of how you grew professionally, and how you will speak well of the company to others.

  • * Tell co-workers. Ask your boss when it would be appropriate to tell other people on the team, so that everyone is on the same page. Stay on message and share the same primary reasons with others, even as you’re tempted to divulge the “real reason” you decided to leave.

  • * Finish strong. After giving notice, you will be more excited about your new job than your current one, which is normal. But finish strong by working diligently on remaining projects. Work some extra hours if you have to. Speak well of the company and make them really miss you. This will help solidify the last impression and future good references.

As you work through the checklist, be sure to avoid these two common mistakes:

Mistake #1: Be vague and try to keep everyone happy

Leaving a company can be tough, especially if you’ve been there for many years and enjoy friendships, shared experiences, trust, and a sense of family. Understandably, you want to make people feel good and leave on a good note.

That said, don’t sit down and tell your boss, “It was a hard decision, but I just felt the other role would be a good fit. I can’t totally explain it, and I may regret the decision, but I just feel it’s something I should do. It wasn’t anything you did, and everyone here is great. This just came up, and I decided to make the change.”

Can you see why your boss would think, “Huh?” Lack of specifics will not help your employer understand the situation. It actually makes them more concerned about the unspoken issues you are hiding. It also raises concerns about your decision-making process, if you can’t clearly articulate the change.

Ambiguity may also encourage your current employer to come up with a counteroffer. This draws out the process and, if the decision is truly final, you’ve just set yourself up for a second break up conversation. Ninety percent of people who accept counteroffers end up leaving in the next 12 months anyway. Trust has been broken, and the extra cash or title was likely not the underlying issue.

Mistake #2: Get specific and hurtful

The opposite overreaction is to take your exit as an opportunity to air grievances about all the things wrong with the company and the people you work with. Keep your professional filter on, and don’t unleash on your boss.

It may feel good in the moment, but emotion-induced verbal bombs won’t help your career goals.

Rather than go out with a bang, give notice and finish your job on a high note to preserve relationships and cultivate goodwill. Both are necessary components of a lifelong career journey.

For more helpful job search tips: Ultimate Job Search Guide: Recruiter Insider Tips


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