How to Leave a Job Gracefully

A lot of advice you’ll hear about how to handle your last two weeks at a job focuses on surviving. As if giving your two weeks notice is the equivalent of a zombie apocalypse or a vacation with your in-laws.

Rather than survive, wouldn’t it be better to thrive? Giving your two weeks notice isn’t an excuse to dial it in. It’s an opportunity to leave on such a high note that your employer will always think of you as the one that got away.

Clean up your messes

In the hustle of the day to day, new work piles up, burying old to-dos. Your final two weeks on a job are your last chance to finish what you started.

Clean out your inboxes, both digital and paper. Document your processes to help whoever will take over each task. Cheerfully train your replacement—that is, if they’ve managed to find someone as stellar as you. Change your voicemail and set your email responder. And, clean your desk like you’d like to find it on your first day.

Get your story straight

Everyone is bound to ask, “Why are you leaving?” Since “Agh! I hate it here!” is an answer you should only share with your therapist, you need to come up with a level-headed response.

Talk about the positive reason you’re leaving, such as getting your dream job, pursuing new challenges, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. Whatever the real story, don’t badmouth your employer or your boss. If you can’t say something nice and you don’t have a new job yet, just chalk it up to personal reasons.

Lend a hand

As your last days at work dwindle, you might have spare time on your hands. Instead of burning through hours on the latest and greatest cat videos, support your favorite coworkers. They’ll be picking up the slack after your departure, so anything you do to take the pressure off will be appreciated.

Offer to help them with pesky projects. Clean out the office refrigerator of petrified leftovers. Lend a hand so they can meet a deadline. Your help will earn you their adoration long after you’ve left the building.

Gather ye data while ye may

You’ll need to stay connected with your network and prove your skills to future employers. Don’t leave this information behind when you leave your job.

Make a copy of any important emails, work files, and key contacts from your address book and social media accounts. Look for praise and performance reviews, proof of personal successes, examples of your work, and before and after data that you can use to show how you excelled at your job. Of course, don’t take proprietary information and don’t violate any data security or intellectual property rights.

Say yes to an exit interview

An exit interview is not the time to rant about every grief you’ve endured during your job. Stay calm as you share both the good and the bad. During an exit interview, you don’t need to share everything. Explain why you’re leaving. Focus on the most important information that can help your employer better attract and retain people who can help it achieve its goals.

If you’ve had a sour relationship with your boss, they may be worried about what you might reveal and not offer you an exit interview. In that case, check with human resources to see if they’d like to have a conversation. Or, let it go.

Don’t burn bridges

Your relationships with your soon-to-be-former employer, boss, and colleagues will either bless or haunt you forever. Unless you’re retiring or pursuing your bearded hermit dream, you may need their kind words someday. Down the road, you may want a reference or LinkedIn endorsement.

In many jobs and places, you can still be fired after you’ve quit. Though the idea of an unemployment check may comfort you, it’s not often worth the downsides of being fired.

Say thanks

Even if you didn’t love everything about your workplace, there’s bound to be something for which you are grateful.

It might be a skill you picked up, an obstacle you learned to overcome, or laughs you shared with some coworkers. In your last days on the job say thank you to the people who made the workplace a better place. They’ll remember you well for it.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl.


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