For one, it’s tough moving on from your work family. Coworkers are “folks who you interact with — it’s cliche, but it’s true — a lot of times more than your family,” said Keith Wolf, managing director of Murray Resources, a Houston-based staffing firm and resume service. “Not only are you changing work, you’re affecting people that you’re used to seeing every day.”
That amplifies the need to resign gracefully. “You want to leave on a positive note, [so] there’s anxiety in making sure that you’re not fracturing those relationships,” Wolf added.
HOW TO WRITE A RESIGNATION LETTER:
Thank your employer.
Express gratitude for the opportunity.
Give your final date of employment.
Offer to help with the transition.
Include your contact information.
Keep the letter brief.
Air any issues in the exit interview, not the letter.
Deliver the letter face to face.
Make sure your boss is first to know.
That strain is more intense for entry-level folks. With experience, the process feels less fraught, but “leaving early jobs is so, so gut-wrenching,” said Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, managing partner of Masthead Media and host of the “Coffee Break with NYWICI” podcast. The fact that employers often don’t formalize resignation expectations also makes it more challenging for early-career workers, she added.
But resigning professionally is, of course, a must. The stain of blowing off an employer without formal notice is impossible to scrub, while the benefits of a professional notice are just as long-lasting.
Wolf recalled how one former employee emailed her resignation, effective immediately — no meeting, not even a phone call. It happened years ago, but the experience still stands out. On the other hand, multiple former employees went on to work with Wolf in some capacity post-resignation, including one who consulted for the firm.
It may be obvious, but it’s worth stressing: Request in-person time with your manager, print a hard copy of the resignation letter and deliver the news face to face. No out-of-the-blue emails, no surreptitious letter drop-offs and certainly no ghosting.
“Setting aside time to get [the manager’s] full attention — meeting to make sure you’re actually talking to them, not just kind of doing it in passing — are both really important,” Ilkovich said.
It’s about respect. Yes, resigning directly and professionally is partially self-serving — why burn network contacts or potential references? — but it’s also just the courteous thing to do. Wolf recalled the justifiable blowback some companies faced after holding mass terminations via Zoom or conference call during the pandemic. Any departure — whether voluntary or involuntary — is sensitive, and should be treated as such by whomever is delivering the news.
“Give the employer the same courtesy you would want,” Wolf said.
WHAT IF YOU WORK REMOTELY?
Speaking of Zoom, how does remote work complicate the process? Even as more employees return to their once-shuttered offices, many companies have allowed some portion of their workforces to remain offsite. In that case, the etiquette still stands, just digitally.
Again, schedule a meeting time with your manager, block your calendars and deliver the news face to face on whichever video-conferencing app is the company’s default. Even if you’re anxious about meeting, don’t disable the video. Then, send the resignation letter via email after delivering the news. In short, even in the “new normal,” regular expectations apply.
“It’s obviously been a really interesting time to be in the career-advice space,” Ilkovich said. “But the standard, respectful rules of business don’t change, even though we’re in this virtual world.”
MAKE SURE YOUR BOSS IS FIRST TO KNOW
Inform your manager first, not your work friends. Otherwise, the news can spread, potentially sowing resentment.
“It’s important to let the company lead the process of how they want your resignation announced,” Wolf said. “I’ve seen that botched before.”
That’s especially true for more senior employees, whose departures are often a more delicate matter.
“Early in your career, it’s not as big a deal, but later on, as people’s roles become more important in an organization, that’s pretty sensitive,” he added.
Still, even early-career folks should avoid jumping the gun. That includes sharing “some personal news” on social media.
“Make sure all the key people know what’s happening within your organization before talking about it online,” Ilkovich said. “Also, understand what your new employer is comfortable with you saying. Yes, it’s your news, but you do want to be conscious that there may be some guidelines.”
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Before meeting your manager and handing over the letter, be certain you haven’t forgotten about any contractual agreements that might preclude your next employment options. That includes agreements like non-compete and non-solicitation clauses — “things that you may not have thought about for years and years, because you haven’t read it since you started,” Ilkovich said.
Always be sure to thank the employer for the opportunity, and let them know you’re appreciative of their hiring you and investing in your development.
That said, don’t overdo it. Resignations can be emotional, especially if you’ve been at the job for a while or had strong feelings about the employer, but avoid being overly emotional, particularly in the letter, Ilkovich said. The meeting is a better forum for expressing deeper sentiments.
GIVE A DATE
Make it clear when your last day will be. It’s customary to give an employer at least two weeks’ notice. In rare instances, that’s not possible. In that event, make sure to acknowledge the standard and apologize for not being able to meet it. (You may want to briefly explain the short notice, or simply leave it for the meeting.)
OFFER TO HELP WITH THE TRANSITION
When you resign, you’ll be leaving the organization a person down. So be sure to offer to help with the transition, whether that’s drafting a job listing, recommending potential replacement candidates, training a replacement, tidying up ongoing projects or whatever the organization needs to move forward successfully.
For technical roles, that likely means significant hands-on collaboration.
“You have to document the things you’ve been working on, and then meet with your managers to figure out who has the bandwidth to take them on,” Katelynn Weingart, a software engineer at LaunchPad Lab, told Built In in April. “Then have separate meetings with those people, and walk them through the code. Make sure they understand what you’ve been working on.”
INCLUDE YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION
This might seem redundant, since your employer likely has all or most of your contact information on file, but it’s customary nonetheless. Contact information — name, address, phone number and email address — is often listed near the top of the letter.
DON’T GO INTO DETAIL
Like a job-interview follow-up email, the resignation letter itself should be something of a formality. You can explain the reasons behind your departure during the resignation meeting and again at the exit interview. Despite what some advise, the actual letter isn’t really the arena to get into finer details.
“If you were to look up what you should include in your resignation letter, a lot of times it does say to include a little explanation about why you’re leaving. I don’t think you need to do that,” Ilkovich said.
KEEP IT BRIEF
Concision is key. Hit the must-do’s in the letter — and avoid the must-don’ts — and be done. A professional resignation letter is usually only a handful of sentences. When in doubt, err on the side of less.
“If you’re nervous about your writing ability and don’t want to say the wrong thing, then just keep it super short,” Wolf said.
Altogether, the resignation letter should briefly hit a few key points and maintain a respectful, even keel. Ilkovich has a helpful lens through which to think about it: Ask yourself, “Is this something I’d be comfortable having shared around the organization?”
“In the moment of writing, you may feel like, ‘Oh, this is just for my boss,’” she said. “But it’s something that could be passed along, or your company may document it in some way.”