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Reinvention: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Many of us have heard the generic advice on how to gracefully leave a job: Give proper notice, keep it professional, don’t burn bridges, and so on. Once you find yourself in the middle of the process, however, unexpected situations can come up and infuse stress into what should be an exciting time of new possibilities.

As someone who recently went through the process of leaving one job for another, I’m here to share some tangible tips to help you make a smooth transition to the next step of your career.

Whether you are actively searching for a new job or someone reaches out to you with a new opportunity, once another job offer is on the table, you have a big decision to make. As with any decision, you need to identify the criteria on which you’re making it. Whether it’s tangible, such as salary or flexibility; intangible, such as working for an inspiring leader or curiosity for something new; or even something out of your control, like moving for a spouse or family member, prioritize all your reasons and make them specific where possible. For example, if your top priority is that you want more responsibility, decide whether that means managing a budget that is at least 2x larger, having at least one direct report, or leading a high-profile project. This will make it easy to determine whether a new opportunity meets your goals.

From an internal perspective, consider what you will do if your current employer presents you with a counteroffer. Ideally, you would have shared future aspirations or compensation requests with your employer before another offer is even on the table. I’ve met a fair share of employees who felt they deserved a raise or promotion, but had never discussed this with their supervisors. When specifying your demands, think about how you would respond if only a subset were met. For example, if a promotion is No. 1 on your list and a 20 percent raise is No. 2, would you stick with your company if they offered you an elevated title and a 10 percent raise? One caution here is to not be swayed by promises with no written backing. I’ve seen multiple peers stick to their current roles after being told such things as “after this quarter, we’ll have the budget to reconsider your raise,” and those promises are never fulfilled.

From an external perspective, think carefully about the world you are about to enter. It’s important to feel confident that you will fit into the new company’s culture. Your impression of the culture shouldn’t rely solely on interviews or the company’s public brand. Get additional perspectives from anyone in your network who already works there or search online reviews to see what it’s really like on the inside.

From an external perspective, think carefully about the world you are about to enter. It’s important to feel confident that you will fit into the new company’s culture.

The final step is to get the full offer letter in writing and set your start date. When deciding your start date, use the following formula: at least two weeks from the day you plan to give your resignation plus the time you need to relocate. If your new company doesn’t need you to start urgently, consider adding in time for a mini-vacation before you start.

Sharing Your Decision

Before you resign, be prepared that some companies will ask you to leave the day you resign, regardless of whether you are willing to stay longer. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including trade-secret concerns, so try to find out what has happened when other associates at your company resigned.

Break the news to your boss first (face-to-face, if possible) and have your written resignation letter ready at the same time. Practice delivering your message by role-playing the discussion with a spouse or trusted friend; the last thing you want to do is find yourself rambling and sharing more than you intended. The practice discussion should include tough scenarios such as “What are they paying you? What if we match that?” or “I’m disappointed to hear that. I thought you were happy here.” Know that you don’t have to divulge your reasons, but if you do, keep them positive. For example, you’re not leaving because your current job is not challenging you; you’re leaving because your new job is providing an opportunity for growth.

Finally, one way to leave a great impression is to have a transition plan created and ready to review with your boss during your resignation meeting. From this point forward, one of the most important things you can do is to keep working hard!

Owning Your Decision

As the news of your departure spreads, prepare for a variety of reactions from your colleagues. Regardless of the reaction, keep your messaging consistent. Don’t tell one co-worker you’re leaving because you were underpaid if you told your boss you’re leaving because the new role will give you a chance to grow professionally. Both could be factors in why you’re leaving, but gossip about your conflicting reasons will spread quickly and make it appear that you were dishonest.

Plan how you will say goodbye to those who have had a meaningful impact on your career. Some common approaches include a farewell email that contains your personal contact information, handwritten cards, a physical get-together, or a combination of these. For bonus points, set one/three/six month reminders to reconnect with anyone who is interested in knowing how you’re doing in your new role.

Once your final day has passed, maintain gratitude for all that your prior company has done to get you to this point in your career. You may be tempted to make comparisons about the old vs. the new on social media or within your professional network, but keep your focus on the new. Remember that a future endeavor could lead you back to your prior company, or at the very least, lead you back to working with your prior co-workers.

Best of luck in your new role!

Sarvenaz Myslicki has been an avid SWE member for more than 10 years. She has held leadership positions at the section and Society levels and currently serves on the editorial board. An engineering director at American Express, she holds a B.S. from the University of Florida and an M.S. from Georgia Tech, both in computer science.

Author(s) Information

  • Reinvention: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu leave a job

    Sarvenaz Myslicki, SWE Editorial Board

    Sarvenaz Myslicki has been an active SWE member for more than 10 years. She has held leadership positions at the section and Society levels and currently serves as chair-elect of the editorial board. A vice president of engineering at American Express, she holds a B.S. and M.S. in computer science, as well as an executive MBA.

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