How to Leave a Job on Good Terms | Part 2

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You’ve told your boss and your coworkers that you’re leaving and set your notice period. But that’s just the beginning of your job transition.

Depending on your role and organization, you may have to wrap up projects, train staff who will be taking over your work, or write transition documents for your successor. And no matter where you work, you want to finish strong so that you leave your job on good terms and can list your soon-to-be-former employer as a reference in the future.

In this part of our two-part post, we discuss three steps you can take during your notice period to end on good terms—and what to do if leaving your job doesn’t go as smoothly as you had hoped.

Leave clear and complete documentation

Once you’ve determined and submitted your final date in the office, it’s time to strategize with your boss about what needs to get done prior to that date. You should try to present your boss with a draft transition plan listing your main responsibilities and the status of ongoing projects so she can determine how to proceed.

Beyond figuring out the next steps for specific projects, it can be helpful to write an overarching exit memo or other documentation describing the key steps or processes you follow in your role. These documents can also include tips for your successor that you wish you had known when you started.

When Elisabeth Bradley left her nonprofit fundraising and communications job in June 2017, she wrapped up as many small projects as she could and laid out a clear timeline of next steps for the bigger projects that would carry on.

Bradley also wrote an exit memo with links to key documents and a guide to her file organization system so her successor could easily find files after she was gone.

Keep giving your all until the end

“Senioritis” (the notorious disease that causes high school seniors to slack off toward the end of their final year) has no place in a job transition. Not only can slacking off hurt your current employer by keeping things from getting done, it can also hurt your reputation.

So, how do you stay motivated during your notice period? Motivation can be very personal, but here are two tricks to try:

  • Think about your successor. Remember what it was like during your first few weeks on the job, and how grateful you were to everyone who helped you out? Many of the things you’ll do during your notice period are aimed at setting up the next person for success. So if the sense of closure and accomplishment from finishing these projects isn’t motivating enough, think instead of the person who comes next, and, to quote the golden rule, do unto others as you would like done unto you.
  • Reframe your notice period as less about finishing the work on your plate and more about getting ready for the new job. It may sound like semantics, but reframing can do wonders for your mind. Your current job may feel old and boring, but the new one is shiny and exciting; it’s something to look forward to—and something you can only reach if you get through the remaining days in your notice period. Focusing on the new experiences that await you can help you push through the urge to mentally check out.

How to handle your exit interview

In many organizations, someone from human resources will conduct exit interviews with all departing employees. If done well, an exit interview can help your organization understand why you’re leaving and identify areas for improvement while giving you an opportunity to leave a positive impression on your employer in your final days.

If your organization doesn’t require exit interviews, you can ask for one. If there’s no human resources department, you can do an exit interview with your boss, but that may make it harder for you to speak candidly about any management issues that contributed to your decision to leave.

When preparing for an exit interview, one of the first questions to ask is how confidential the conversation will be. The answer to that question can affect how honest (and specific) you want to be about any negative issues you encountered.

It’s also good to organize your thoughts ahead of time so you know the main points you want to make. Then, focus on delivering your feedback in a non-emotional way, and don’t forget to highlight the positive aspects about working at your organization as well.

Like any interview, you’ll want to anticipate the questions they may ask you. Common topics that may come up in an exit interview are:

  • What you liked and disliked most about working at the organization
  • Why you decided to leave the organization
  • How the benefits and salary at your new job compare to your current compensation
  • Your relationship with your manager
  • If you would consider returning to the organization in the future
  • Any suggestions for improvement that you may have

What to do if things don’t go as planned

Even if you follow all of these tips, you won’t be able to control every aspect of your transition. For example, you can’t control how your boss or your coworkers react, or if a last-minute development upends your transition plan.

However, you can control your response to these situations, so don’t let them discourage you from completing your notice period with grace.

And if the reason things didn’t go smoothly is because of something internal at your organization, resist the urge—now or in the future—to bad-mouth your employer. As long as you keep your comments professional and respectful, you will have done your part to leave the job on good terms.

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What advice do you have for how to leave a job on good terms? Has it ever gone not-so-great? Tweet us at @idealistcareers or share your story in the comments below!

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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.
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