By Molly Brennan, Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead, Diversified Search Group
As an executive recruiter, I am in the business of helping people move into new opportunities. This usually means leaving a current role, and I’m constantly surprised by how many executives don’t manage the transition well. A graceful exit is essential to maintaining key relationships over the long term.
A 2019 national survey of more than 700 executives found that most respondents agreed that leaving a job poorly will have an adverse effect on one’s future career, particularly around reputation and strained relations with former mentors and colleagues.
Resignation conversations can be challenging and sometimes even unpleasant. If you may be resigning soon, the tips below can help you manage the process skillfully and professionally.
Give ample notice. The standard two-week notice really doesn’t work at the leadership or executive level. It’s just not enough time to pull together an interim and hiring plan, and that short of a notice could really leave your team in a bad place. On the other hand, you don’t want to give so much notice that it makes it hard for the team to move forward because you haven’t left yet. Of course, circumstances are different for every individual and every organization, but generally speaking, most candidates at the senior leadership level give around four weeks’ notice. One side note: You’ll want to make sure that your desired transition time works for your new role before sharing with your current supervisor.
Time the conversation well. Candidates often ask me if they should let their supervisor or board of directors know that they are thinking of leaving or wait until they have an offer in hand. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this. It will all depend on your organization and your relationship with your manager. But once you know you’re leaving, it’s critical to time the messaging appropriately. You’ll want to do it in person (or by video) and when your manager has time to respond and react. It’s a good idea to include it as part of a regular check-in (but don’t make it the very last agenda item before the end of the meeting) or schedule a half-hour update call. Make sure you let your supervisor know of your plans at a point when you are 100 percent sure you’re leaving, and with enough time to plan together for a good exit.
Plan what you’ll say. Map out a few bullets that cover the following:
- Why you’re leaving. You don’t have to give a specific reason for leaving, especially if it’s because of your supervisor or something that’s not in their control. But it’s a good idea to provide some rationale, such as feeling ready for a new challenge or an offer/opportunity that you couldn’t pass up.
- Your proposed last day.
- Preliminary thoughts on a transition plan. You don’t have to have it all worked out but be prepared to share some preliminary thoughts.
- Gratitude. Finally, let your supervisor know how much you’ve appreciated their support and how you’ve learned and grown.
Prepare for a potential counteroffer. Hopefully you considered how you’d respond to a counteroffer before accepting a new role. If not, take some time to think about how you might react to a higher compensation range, promotion, or other strategies your current employer might offer to keep you. Be aware that accepting a counteroffer may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it could have a negative impact in the long run. The national study referenced above found that senior executives and HR leaders alike agreed that accepting a counteroffer from a current employer will adversely affect one’s career, particularly when it comes to trust and reputation. Go into your resignation conversation having thought through the pros and cons.
Create a broader communications plan. Who, internally and externally, should hear directly from you and who can learn about your transition via a broader announcement? Create a list and devote the time it takes to have those one-on-one conversations with the people who are important to you, personally and professionally. Many people create a professional LinkedIn post on their last day, thanking the organization and team for everything. This can be a good way to announce that you are leaving while also demonstrating your gratitude. But don’t announce your new role in the same post—wait until your first day so the spotlight is on the organization and team you’re leaving.
Remain engaged throughout the transition. No one appreciates “short-timer’s syndrome,” when the person who is leaving disengages or fails to complete projects and tasks. Remain focused on ensuring a smooth transition and ensuring your team isn’t left in a lurch after your last day.
Avoid criticism of your current manager, colleagues, and/or organization during your transition. This is surprisingly common and can have a deeply negative effect on your reputation in the future because it will almost always come back to your former colleagues. I have heard about many candidates who “didn’t handle an exit well,” and can confirm that people remember this fact and repeat it for many years.
How you leave a job is critical for your career and long-term relationships. By following some of the steps above you can ensure that you navigate the transition with grace and professionalism.
Molly Brennan is Global Managing Partner and Nonprofit Practice Lead at Diversified Search Group; and author of the 2019 report The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors. Her focus areas include leadership, retention, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.