Is There a Right Way to Leave a Job?

By:
PEI-CEN LIN, CPA, SPHR
Published Date:
Jul 18, 2014

Q. I’ve received an offer from another firm,  which I intend to accept. How can I gracefully leave my current job and stay on good terms with colleagues there?

It may sound strange, but if you’re an accounting professional looking to switch employers, you’ll find sound advice for making the shift in the old Girl Scouts campfire song, “Make New Friends.” “Make new friends, but keep the old,” the lyrics tell us. “One is silver, the other is gold.” For our purposes, take this to mean that even as you make plans to sail off into the sunset with a new firm or company, you shouldn’t overlook the needs of your current employer. The accounting profession is a small world, and it pays to stay on good terms with “old friends.” Indeed, everything you do, from beginning to end, is pertinent to your career and reveals a bit about your character. A proper closure is just as important as a proper introduction. 

Here are some bits of advice for leaving an employer on a good note:

  1. Don’t give less than the standard two-weeks notice. Offer your employer even more time if you’re at a managerial or leadership level.
  2. Work out an agreed-upon termination date.
  3. Continue to maintain high standards, even after you’ve given notice.
  4. Organize your work responsibilities for the smoothest transition possible. 
  5. Help with the transfer of work by passing on your knowledge (i.e., history about clients, as well as about their staffs) to the next person, be it an intermediary filling in, a new hire who will be taking over, or your own supervisor. Document knowledge and processes as necessary.
  6. Complete and wrap up your deliverables, as time permits.
  7. Don’t bad mouth the firm internally or externally, particularly over social media.
  8. Keep in touch with colleagues whom you’ve built relationships with and send thank-you notes to any who might have been influential during your career or helpful to you throughout the course of your employment.
  9. Leave a number where your employer can reach you, in case your manager or other staff have a question about the work or clients you handled.  If they do call you, it’s likely to be about something simple that won’t take up much of your time. However, making yourself available in this way allows you to continue to be of value and to remain on your employer’s good side.

I’d like to share my own personal story with you to illustrate the benefit of leaving on good terms.

In 2009, my entire department, as well as many others in my firm, was hobbled by the financial crisis. As a result, my position was eliminated and I was laid off. I had been with the firm for a very short time—I didn’t even make it through one review cycle. (The interview process alone took nearly half as long!) I could have been upset about it, but I wasn’t. I recognized that while the words “we have to let you go” came from the mouths of my supervisors, they were merely the messengers—messengers who were also worried about their own employment. I held no anger toward the firm either; a company has to do what it has to do. It has a responsibility to its shareholders, among others. 

The moral of the story? I left on good terms with my supervisors and the firm as a whole, and followed many of the steps that I’ve outlined above. My supervisors were so appreciative of my maturity and hassle-free demeanor that they became my best advocates—to this day, they look out for me. They send me job openings that have been posted internally and externally, counsel me in career matters and help me to seize other opportunities.  I have since worked on a few temporary assignments back at the firm, which has allowed me to continue to grow and network.  Though I was laid off by the company, as opposed to choosing to resign from my position, the bottom line is the same: I gained more from leaving on good terms than I would have had I not.  So, my advice to you is to always leave doors open.

Pei-Cen Lin, CPA, SPHR, is a strategic talent management and organizational development professional in the human resources field, as well as a past chair of the NYSSCPA’s Human Resources Committee. She can be reached at pei-cen.lin@nysscpa.org.

DID YOU KNOW?
According to a recent online survey by CareerBuilder.com, one in five workers will be shopping for a new job this year. The website polled 3,008 full-time employees across a number of industries and found that 21 percent planned to change employers in 2014—up from 17 percent in 2013.

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