If you’re like many people in the workforce today, you wonder from time to time if you should bail. You might enjoy the comfort of your current job, but know in your heart that it’s time to move on. It’s never an easy decision. But once you’ve made up your mind to walk, you can be strategic in your approach so you enhance your career, not sink it.

Most people leave their managers, not jobs, which is why managing up helps so many tackle difficult work situations. Open communications in the office is often as pervasive as finding a needle in the haystack. Employees are afraid to ruffle feathers, and managers don’t generally like confrontation. So before you resign, first consider whether you've left no stone unturned. Have you, for example:

  • Made a list of what you can do to improve the job?
  • Focused on what’s right instead of only the wrongs?
  • Examined the pros and cons of leaving?
  • Made every possible effort to communicate effectively?
  • Tried to reason with your boss?

If you've tried all this and still find your situation untenable, then it’s likely time for the next chapter. But what’s the best way to leave on good terms? There are good and not-so-good ways of handling your departure.

Do’s and Don’ts on Quitting

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that will help keep your professional career intact – and help you stay in control during your transition. 

DON’T: Show your dramatic talents and make a statement. You’ll likely have a good audience, so take advantage as Tom Cruise did in Jerry Maguire.” You can also demonstrate that you really do have a sense of humor, and set your computer to “Out of Office Reply…I’ve left the building…and will not be returning.”

DO:  Be sincere. When HR asks you for feedback, explain why you’re leaving in an upbeat, forward thinking way. Explain a couple things about the new job that are hard to pass up. Be pleasant and gracious. Your professionalism will be long remembered.

DON’T: Write a resignation letter that honestly and completely reveals the 47 reasons that you couldn’t stand your job any longer, from the long hours and squeaky printer, to your neighboring cube dweller's incessant gum-snapping.

DO: Resign to your boss first with a personal conversation and a brief resignation letter. Give a copy to HR. Keep it positive. If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it. Think back on projects you’ve enjoyed and focus on those positive reasons.

DON’T: Leave all your personal files in your computer — especially your journal of personal grocery lists. Your replacement will enjoy getting to know you much better as a human being, as they try to get up to speed. They might even remember a few things they need on their grocery list.

DO: Plan ahead. Prepare for the exit interview by jotting down a few things you want to cover, such as your most rewarding projects and those with whom you've particularly enjoyed working. Remember to thank your employer for the opportunity. Make lists of what to wrap up beyond the smooth completion and transition of outstanding projects. Clean out your digital and hard copy files, desk and personal items.

DON’T: Make your last two weeks in the office a living hell for everyone else; after all, you’re leaving. Tell your colleagues about your grievances to “help” them in their career, ideally in a group setting. Tell them why you believe the new employer is a better choice. Make sure that you gloat with as many coworkers as possible about your impending incredible perks, so that they're genuinely happy for you.

DO: Stay enthusiastic and focused. Remain on good terms with everyone in the company and stay upbeat. Take time to reflect about the lessons you’ve learned, good and bad. Try to speak highly of your colleagues and don't feed the rumor mill.

DON’T: Become scarce the last two weeks of your employment, pursue long overdue retail therapy, take long lunches and hang at the water cooler to take extended breaks after such a long span of endless work.

DO: Remain a team player. Help with any transitions where possible. Complete your projects with diligence and keep your boss in the loop. Thank your mentors — and keep an eye toward keeping your network strong. If you’re needed for an extra week and can stay, then do it.

It can be easy to think in the present with your newly found freedom. But you may well be moving within the same, relatively small universe of industry colleagues. So think long-term as you move on to greener pastures.

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