How to Gracefully Leave Your Old Job

How to Gracefully Leave Your Old Job

It’s almost always exciting to start a new position, especially after looking for it for some time.

Sometimes it is easy to get so wrapped up in the prospect of a new job, one forgets how to professionally leave the current job.

Time and time again, I have seen resumes where people have returned to a former employer later on in their career.

You just never know where life will take you, and, sometimes, it takes you back to where you had your overall best experience — known as being a “boomerang” employee.

This is the number one reason (amongst many) for leaving your employer on a high note. There are many aspects regarding how to do this, but all center around good communication.

Be Prepared for a Quick Exit

Regardless of the amount of notice that an employer has requested before you leave your job (typically two weeks), do not expect that you will have two weeks to prepare and move out of your office. Some employers will end your employment the day (and the hour) you give them your notice.

Expect that when you hand in your resignation, that may be your last day of work for that employer, perhaps your last hour. Many people have shared that they were escorted out of the office, permanently, immediately after they offered their resignation.

Pre-resignation preparation is the best strategy. Prepare by:

  • Replacing your work contact information (particularly your work email address) with your personal contact information on sites like LinkedIn and other professional websites so you retain control of your accounts when you no longer have access to your work email account. Read How to Safely Publish Your Contact Information on LinkedIn for details.
  • Copying your personal information from your office and your employer’s equipment, like your work computer and work cellphone. This includes items like your performance appraisals, your professional network contacts, reports and presentations you created, etc.
  • Deleting personal email and text messages and other very important personal information like your passwords for your social media and other websites from your work computer and work cell phone.
  • Removing all personal apps from your work computer and work cellphone. Also consider deleting your browsing history.
  • Removing your other personal documents and personal items from your work location. If something is particularly visible, like a plant or a photograph of your family, you may want to delay removing that item until your last day at work.

As you archive information for future use or reference, pay heed to any “company confidential” or intellectual property agreements you have agreed to as part of your employment.

Communicate the Reason You Are Leaving

Typically, the best reasons for leaving a job are career growth or taking on a new type of profession — something perhaps that your current employer cannot offer you.

There are countless reasons to make a move, but the key is to make it center around you, not them.

It might be that you just want to see what else is out there, or how you can make an impact in a different way.

Or, you might be looking to work at a place that sells a product or service you really like.

Obviously, you are to steer clear of citing reasons why you don’t like working there. Being negative about your current job accomplishes little, and most times the true message is lost by time it is communicated to those who could make a change.

Basically, you gain nothing from being negative about the organization and the people you are leaving.

Often, this is what people are referring to when they warn against “burning bridges” when you change employers, or even when changing jobs within the same employer.

People often struggle with how to present this decision, and that is a natural reaction. It is not an easy message to deliver.

If you are struggling, I recommend writing a letter (not an email) and presenting it to your boss in person. Let them read it, and then discuss it with you.

Give Appropriate Notice

Professional courtesy is to offer two-week’s notice before leaving.

You might want to present an action plan of what you will accomplish during that time and how you propose to hand-off projects to others. This might seem like the boss’s job, but, when you do this for them, it makes the whole process easier. After all, one of the first things they worry about is “how am I going to make sure the work gets done?”

Occasionally, an employer opts to have you leave right away. They may not want you hanging around telling others where you’re going and that they should join you.

Other companies ask you to leave immediately due to policies regarding protection of intellectual property.

With this in mind, make sure you ask your new employer about flexibility on start date. You may have a gap in your paychecks if you’re locked into a later start date.

If You Receive a Counter-Offer…

Sometimes when a job seeker submits their resignation they get a surprise in return: a counter-offer. Quite frequently, this includes a match on salary with the new company’s offer and, sometimes, an increase in responsibility and/or better job title.

  Why an Employer May Make a Counter-Offer  

I’ve talked to many hiring managers about this, and many do not make counter-offers for a myriad of reasons.

Although no one likes to lose good employees, when an employee makes the hard decision to leave, most employers realize keeping them on is only trying to band-aid the situation (it will likely prove to be a temporary fix). The joy of a raise and new title is short-lived in the working world. Six month later, the employee will realize they still want to move on.

Sometimes the boss offers a counter just to protect their own reputation. Are you first to leave the group in a while or part of a trend of folks leaving? Is the timing really bad for the company?

You need to assess why the offer is being presented.

Is it simply because you are too good to lose? And if so, why did it take a resignation to prompt this kind of action?

  Why Accepting a Counter-Offer Can Backfire on You  

If you accept the counter, you should realize that:

  • You may be on “thin ice” if you stay.

    Some companies will start a search for a replacement, anticipating your future departure. This is a disastrous situation as you may be potentially fired (or overlooked for future promotions).

  • You will have burned the bridge with the potential new employer.

    If you don’t start your new job, you have wasted their time. They probably will assume you got their offer to get a counter from your current employer.


Think long and hard before accepting a counter-offer.

Maintain Your Network

Make sure you connect with your colleagues via LinkedIn, or capture their contact info before you leave.

You never know when you’ll need to contact them down the road. It could be a professional request (as a potential customer), a reference (for another job), or even to hire them (maybe not at your new employer, but the one after that). If possible, stay in touch after you leave.

Networking is a constant in our professional careers, not something to be done once in a while. Hopefully, you have already done this.

The Bottom Line on Leaving for a New Job

Leaving a company is often difficult. But if done professionally and gracefully, you’ll be remembered in a positive way. Your reputation in your industry can be paramount to your long-term success. You want the company to say only how much they miss having you, not how glad they are that you left.

Read on for how to answer the question “why are you leaving your current job” in an interview.

For More Information About Finding a Job While Employed:

More About Working with Recruiters:

Jeff LipschultzAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
More about this author

Don't forget to share this article with friends!