I remember the first time I had to quit a job. I was afraid my boss would be mad at me, and I apologized profusely for leaving. Many of my student employees have behaved in exactly the same way. At some point you realize we have HR professionals for a reason—people will constantly be leaving jobs, and some jobs even have an average “life expectancy.” Last week I left a job that I’d held for five and a half years—the longest tenure of my young career. This time, the process was extremely positive.
How To Leave A Job
A graceful exit starts before you even have a new job. If possible, let your employer know when you’re applying for other positions so they can plan for a possible transition and serve as a current, positive reference. Even if you don’t get the job, your supervisor will know what types of positions you’re interested in; this could lead to increased opportunities at your current place of employment.
I believe this conversation should be had before you receive a job offer. Trying to use another offer as leverage for your demands rarely works in student affairs, from what I’ve seen. Remember: NO ONE is irreplaceable. If for some reason you think you are, perhaps you should be spending more of your time sharing your skills with your colleagues.
When you have a job offer, ask for some time to think things over. Mickey Fitch previously wrote about some great questions to ask yourself and your perspective employer.
Next, you resign (assuming you accept the job offer). This part is easy. Write a short letter informing your supervisor of your last day in the office, perhaps thanking him/her for the opportunities they’ve provided. That’s it. Don’t go overboard; you’re not breaking up with someone.
This is where the work starts. You need to do everything you can to transfer your knowledge (and in some cases, skills) to other areas of your department so operations continue as normal. This may include training sessions, writing transition documents, and temporarily reassigning duties. For me, it also included contacting colleagues both within and outside the university to inform them of my “impending departure” and providing alternate contacts. By far the most important thing I did was empower talented student employees to take over the reins while a search was conducted for my replacement.
The last few weeks of your employment may include a lot of awkward interactions. Mine ran the gamut of “will anyone be hired to replace you?” to “no one can do all the work that you do!” My director even jokingly asked a Vice Chancellor and Chancellor to issue an executive order forbidding me to leave. I’d suggest taking everything in stride, smiling, and trusting that your department will handle your absence well. Don’t seek out adoration from others or a validation of your time at the institution. You’re not royalty; you don’t need to leave a legacy.
Resist the urge to slack off. Power through, and realize which projects you need to finish and which ones you need to hand off. I didn’t stop plowing through work until 3PM on my last day, but my hard work paid off and did not go unnoticed by my supervisor. Her facebook status that day truly humbled me:
Now, I’ve left my former institution, but I haven’t left my colleagues. I’m still forwarding relevant grant proposals, and answering a question here and there. However, I know they have what they need to be successful. Without me.
What advice do you have for someone leaving a job? Did you learn anything the hard way?