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How to Plan to Leave Your Job

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Have you ever thought about how to prepare to leave your job gracefully? What should you do before quitting your job?

I’ve got all the answers for you!

I’ve always tried to keep half an eye on the door. Even if you’ve got a great position right now, it might not be a great position in six months.

All kinds of things can change: you get a new manager, someone you don’t like as much. The company downsizes and jobs start to go. Or you take on a new project and it’s not interesting/not challenging/too much to handle/requires more travel than you’re prepared to do.

Ready to move on? How to leave your job and not feel bad about it

You might be ready to move on for lots of reasons, and whether your workplace is a horrible place to be or full of your best friends, there is no need to feel bad about your decision to quit your job.

You are moving on, and that’s a good thing, because you have made the decision on your terms.

But you want to go on a high note. You want people to know you tried your best until the last day, and left professionally. So let’s look at how you can prepare to quit. When everything is in place, you’ll feel confident about surviving and thriving after you leave your current employer.

I joined a webinar about preparing an exit strategy from your current role – in other words, how to leave your job on good terms. Krissy Jackson is The IT Girls Coach, so I was keen to find out what she had to say.

Krissy said that even if it seems difficult or time-consuming, it is worth investing the time in preparing a graceful exit. “It’s not nearly as daunting as it appears at first,” she said. 

Being prepared sends a clear message to the people who matter (or it will, when you start telling people) about who you are what you offer and, “why you are the best woman for the job,” she added.

Most people are looking to leave their job

Jackson presented the results from a salary survey (from salary.com) which had about 7,000 respondents.

Here are some of the results from the study.

  • Nearly 65% of employers do not believe their employees are looking for job opportunities.
  • Nearly 80% of employers do not believe their employees would initiate a job search in the next three months.
  • but

    • 65% of respondents said they were looking around
    • And 60% of those said they would intensify it over the coming months.

    So there’s a big gap between employer belief and employee reality:  lots of people are passively job hunting, and if you’re doing it too you are not alone. 

    But what happens when you get a bite? Are you ready to jump ship straight away?

    woman sitting by a window

    Work backwards from your goal

    According to Krissy, your plan to leave your job is like money in your career bank account. Your plan to leave your employer covers several things:

    • Maintaining your CV
    • Personal branding
    • Mentoring your successor
    • Reviewing your employment contract
    • Networking
    • Being clear about your career paths
    • Keeping up with industry trends.

    The best way to start preparing your move is to think backwards from your goal. Once you know that you want to find a new job you can start plotting it from that point, back in small steps (like ‘work out notice’, ‘hand in notice’, ‘go for interviews’, ‘find job opportunities’ etc).

    Two things that should be towards the top of the list are training and checking your employment contract. Before you tell anyone that you are leaving (and perhaps before you finally make the decision yourself) do any training courses, or other development opportunities that you’ve been wanting to do. 

    “Time appears for things when they are scheduled into your year plan,” Krissy says.

    someone standing typing on a laptop

    Check your contract

    Your employment contract contains all the details of how you can resign and what you can expect when you do.  Even if you don’t have plans to move right now, use your next performance review to check your contract is up to date. 

    You can be checking now what the restrictions are, like whether you can work for a competitor, as that could impact where you could apply for jobs.

    You may find that you hand in your notice and you’re told to leave the building straight away — even if you got on well with your boss.  With that in mind, make sure you are ready to go.

    A checklist for preparing to leave your job

    Leaving your job is a big decision, and not one to take lightly. You should prepare an exit strategy so you can leave your current job easily.

    Here’s a checklist of what you should do before quitting your job.

    • Delete cookies, web forms, saved passwords and any personal emails from your computer.
    • Delete personal contacts and text messages from your phone or BlackBerry.
    • Save any personal documents that you need on to a USB stick or email them to your personal account — then delete them. (Personal docs only!!)
    • You don’t want to give the impression that you are clearing out your desk, but if you have lots of personal things (shoes, in my case) at work, then start taking a few bits home.
    • Check that you have contact details for anyone that you might need to get in touch with.
    • Get anything you subscribe to (by email or post) that’s delivered to your professional address redirected.
    • Make sure you are up to date with your work — whatever circumstances you leave under you must make it easy for the next person to pick up where you leave off.

    “You only want to keep what’s relevant and necessary to the person who’s doing your job next,” Krissy said.

    person sat down looking at laptop screen

    What to do with email when leaving a job

    These days, most employers have email servers and all your messages will be backed up somewhere.

    Redirect any personal newsletters or subscription emails you get (like my wonderful weekly newsletter), so they go to your personal email address.

    Unsubscribe from the circular emails you don’t really read.

    Delete any emails that you don’t need to keep, but assume that there is a record of those somewhere. You aren’t deleting them to get rid of the evidence, but to make it easier for the person who has access to your inbox in the future to find what they are looking for.

    My inbox was full of the original discussions with contractors and vendors and loads of useful stuff, when I left my last role. Someone else might benefit from that.

    Having said that, your successor is unlikely to get wide-open access to your old emails. But someone might, and there might be a reason in the future for the IT security team to go through your emails to find something.

    The best strategy for email when leaving a job is to save down any useful attachments so people can find them on a network drive later. You could also create a list of contacts for your successor, based on people you email most frequently.

    2 people in a meeting at a table

    Training up your successor

    If you already have someone who is your second-in-command, think about your exit strategy for leaving as if they were going to be picking up your work.

    If you don’t have someone you could naturally hand stuff over to, it’s worth spending some time training and developing a colleague so they can fill your shoes when you are gone. That might also ease the guilt of leaving, especially if you love your company and your team!

    You might be asked to train someone to do your role before you leave. That will only be the case if the company has identified someone to step into your shoes before your last working day. In my experience, that didn’t happen, but your company may recruit someone and give you time to do a handover.

    2 people having a conversation with mugs of coffee

    Things to do before you leave your job

    When the time does come to walk out the door you want to leave on a good note. You should aim to leave positively and professionally, and not just because you want a reference.

    Here are some things to make sure you take into consideration after you hand in your resignation letter.

    • Hit any deadlines you have left — don’t leave a big pile of work that is running late for someone else to tidy up
    • Don’t up and leave (shouting “I quit” and just leaving is the worst possible thing you can do)
    • Make sure your files are in order so your replacement can easily find what they need
    • Have accurate and clear to do lists for the person picking up your work
    • Create documents about what you were doing and what you were planning to do
    • Leave on good terms with co-workers
    • Think positively about the company you are leaving and don’t gloat about your new job to people who might be jealous you are going and they are not!
    • Give all your new contact details to supervisors (this is something you can choose to do — I didn’t. These days, with LinkedIn, anyone who wants to find me can.)
    • Don’t give constructive criticism in your exit interview; state problems in a positive way and leave the interviewer with the impression that you have effective interpersonal skills.
    two people having a conversation, one holding a clipboard with paper on it

    Create a job transition plan

    Whether you meet your replacement before you leave, or go without someone being in place, your plan to leave your job should include how you will transition your work to someone else.

    Make a job transition checklist that covers all the things you do and how they are done. It should include all the routine regular work for your role like project reporting and so on.

    You can also include status updates of the in-flight work you are doing so they know what tasks are still outstanding.

    “As your world expands it also contracts,” Krissy said. You know more people and therefore more people will talk about you.

    A longer, successful career and a higher profile gives you a bigger network. That’s even more reason to make sure that if you are planning to leave your job you do it well and exit gracefully.

    how to quit your job

    About Elizabeth Harrin

    Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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