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Leaving Your Job

August 2015

In senior management, how you leave a job is just as important as how you begin it. Of course, the ideal scenario is to leave your current role when you choose and because it's the right move for you. However, it’s also critical to maintain composure when a departure is not your choice. A well-managed exit, no matter the cause, can pay dividends later in your career.

Pave the way

The more advance warning you have about a pending move, the better prepared you will be to plan your next step — or avoid having it imposed on you. If the main aim of your exit strategy is to be ready to move on to a better position, you need to learn how to predict change and read your sector.

Executives need to have their “antennae” out constantly, sensing any developments that could impact their job six or 12 months down the line. Being sensitive to company performance also includes being in charge of your own career management. Organize regular performance reviews with your boss to ensure you are on track with goals and to receive early warning of any problems.

While you're monitoring your industry and your career performance, you need to stay connected outside your immediate role. This means maintaining links with other networks, such as alumni and professional associations. Follow companies of interest on LinkedIn and Twitter. Build up contacts with the key people in your industry, including recruiters. Search consultants remember people who have taken the time to help them — and one day you may need them.

No dramatic exits, please

Once you've decided to leave, it's important to maintain your professionalism every step of the way, no matter how eager you are to move on. This centers on how you deliver the news.

One technique is to ask for a meeting at the earliest opportunity to “discuss some career choices” you have made. Such a remark usually only means one thing and your boss will appreciate the advance notice. Do not undermine your professionalism by allowing the news to travel to your boss from another channel before you have had the opportunity to sit down face to face with him/her.

Once you decide to go, see it through

Of course, giving your employer time to react can often mean they come back to you with a counter-offer. This is the next test of your leaving skills.

Reiterate that your decision has not been made lightly and that you are going to see it through in the most professional way. Being persuaded to stay on may assuage your guilt and buy your boss some time, but it will do nothing for your reputation. Your resignation has already signaled to senior management that you were ready to walk out.

Coping when it's not your decision

Many, if not all of us, will experience the pain of being let go at some point. In this situation, it is vital to maintain your professionalism so that people remember you in a positive light.

You may feel resentment toward your company, but don't let it show. Even if it means gritting your teeth, try to stay upbeat. Remember, this could be the last memory people will have of you, so behave as if you are leaving out of choice.

Don't leave empty-handed

There are some practical tips to cope with the shock of being let go:

  • Ask your superiors and peers for letters of recommendation before you leave.
  • Negotiate the use of company facilities (e.g., laptop use for one month after departure) so you can immediately begin your search for another role.
  • Use your professional skills while you're job-hunting, for example, performing paid or unpaid consulting.
  • Take advantage of the downtime — learn a new skill or simply spend more time with your family so you can approach the job search refreshed and ready.

What goes around comes around

However emotionally charged the situation, avoid getting personal. For example, one executive got into an argument with his boss when he decided to leave his bank for a competitor. Four months later, the bank bought his new employer and the executive knew he would be ousted. With consolidation across almost every industry, it's important to keep relationships as positive as possible.

Avoid opportunities to unload at exit interviews. Remember that the way you behave with superiors and peers during this time will often come out during the reference-taking process. Search consultants often use a 360-degree approach. They will contact many of the people with whom you worked, so think carefully about the impression you leave. Finish with a professional attitude and your reputation will precede you — in a positive way — as you pursue your next opportunity.