A Checklist for How to Leave a Job on Good Terms

In the musical chairs of life, you will probably eventually leave your current job for a better one. When you do so, you should try to leave your job as gracefully and smoothly as possible. Some tips to help you move on without messing up:

  1. Don’t resign from your current job until you receive a final written agreement from your future employer (if you’re not retiring).
  2. Within reason, try to set your start date on your new job far away enough to give yourself enough time to tie up loose ends on your current job, say your goodbyes, and complete activities discussed below—all of which may take longer than you anticipate. (If you’re leaving your job for a job at another federal agency, the hiring agency will probably want you to start at the beginning of a pay period.) Also, if possible, consider taking leave between jobs to enable you to start your new job refreshed and raring to go.
  3. Resign in person to your boss and other managers before you tell colleagues about your imminent departure.
  4. Thank everyone who provided references for you or helped you in any other ways land your new job. An old fashioned hardcopy “thank you” card or—if appropriate—a small “thank you” gift will go a long way towards indelibly conveying your gratitude.(Thank your references and other helpful associates for extending themselves for you even if they helped you apply for a job that you did not get.)
  5. Research your agency’s exit procedures soon after announcing your departure. Beware that these procedures may require obtaining signoffs from many departments, which may take several days.
  6. Carefully consider which projects you will realistically be able to complete in the time remaining before your departure and which ones you will have to leave unfinished. When you do so, remember that once you’re gone, you’re gone—meaning you will lose all control over your projects once you leave your job. So if you really care about the way a pet project is completed, you might have to finish it yourself to ensure that it is finished to your satisfaction. But if doing so would consume an excessive amount of your time, accept the tough reality that you should hand it off to someone else, no matter how much time and effort you have already invested in it.
  7. Prepare your unfinished projects to be transferred to your replacement. This may involve leaving for your replacement suggestions about “next steps” on your unfinished projects and other types of background materials, such as an organizational chart.
  8. If your replacement currently works within your organization, consider introducing him/her in person or via email to colleagues with whom s/he will frequently interact.
  9. Double check that the HR offices of your current and future agencies are managing your transfer—and doing so according to the correct end and start dates.
  10. Ask your current agency’s IT office if you can be given access to your email account after your departure, if you want such access.
  11. Clear out your office space. Take copies of all electronic files and emails that you want to keep and delete personal information.
  12. If you want to be particularly helpful to certain colleagues and subordinates who have been particularly helpful to you, tell their bosses about their outstanding contributions.
  13. If you harbor negative feelings about your employer or boss, don’t show them during your final weeks on the job. If you have trouble subduing negative feelings, remind yourself that the adage, “Success is the best revenge,” applies to you because you successfully landed a desirable new job.
  14. Send a concise, positive goodbye email throughout your office at the end of your last day.
  15. After you leave your current job, maintain your circle of friendly colleagues and managers from your job (if only via occasional contact) in case you would like to seek their advice, use them as references or work with them in other ways in the future.

By Lily Whiteman, author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job” and trainer on career advancement skills; Twitter: @Lilymwhiteman

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Anne Hull

Great advice, Lily! On e-files – this can be sticky. take only contacts and personal files. Number 12 is a lovely parting gift that is often overlooked.

M. Evans

These are really great tips. I am in the process of changing jobs within the federal government, and I have been thinking a lot about how to make a smooth transition. I appreciate these tips, and I appreciate your book. It definitely played a role in helping me secure my new job!


While I agree for the most part – there are sometimes in which the leaving of the job is forced due to bad management — and I mean “BAD”! So, #3 is not always easy to do – especially if the boss drags their feet about agreeing to a “leaving date” and/or doesn’t follow through on paperwork for employee to transition to new position. What then?