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Negotiating out of your current role

August 24, 2021

Close up of handshake

It might carry feelings of guilt, pangs of regret and sometimes even cause you to question your decision. But even though you are about to start an exciting new role, you still have obligations to fulfil in your current position.

Understand your responsibilities

The first step is knowing where you stand. So, locate your employment contract and brush up on the terms and conditions of leaving your job and the company.

These might cover anything from the notice period you are required to give, which could be between a week and three months; what you may not take with you when you leave, including phone numbers and examples of your work; and conditions for future contact with your current clients. It is also important to know your company policy relating to entitlements and benefits, for example collecting your unused leave payments and any outstanding incentives or bonus payments. If this information is not included in your contract or is out of date, it is a good idea to seek further advice as to the legal standards you need to abide by. If still in doubt ask your recruitment consultant for their advice.

Resign right!

The first person to know of your intent to resign should be your direct manager. Your resignation should not be the knowledge of your colleagues nor be communicated at more senior levels before your direct manager is informed. Regardless of your relationship, you need to afford them the respect of managing this process. If you are really concerned you might wish to invite HR into the conversation concurrently. Make sure you can clearly articulate the reasons why you are resigning, and are prepared for further discussion on these.

Resign in writing: Even if your manager knows you are leaving or you are on great terms, always put your resignation in writing. This can help you maintain a positive professional relationship, close the door on any questions and prevent unwanted attempts at persuading you to reconsider. When your decision is in writing it is formalised and final, so it makes sense to take the time to write a professional resignation letter.

In your letter, you needn't say much more than you are giving notice and providing an anticipated end date so that everyone is clear on the details. It is a good idea to emphasise the positive and briefly thank the company or acknowledge how the company has benefited you, but keep it short. There are better forums for your expression of thanks and personal messages. In your letter be sure to offer to help during the transition and afterwards. Don't be negative. There's no room for this; you want to leave on good terms.

The resignation meeting: Book a time in your manager's diary where you can advise them confidentially. You might want to prepare your conversation in advance, however make sure you provide the written resignation letter at this meeting and try and keep the conversation as polite and professional as possible. If you anticipate some difficult questions around your reasons for leaving, prepare your 'tag' line in advance, for example "It is time for me to pursue new industry challenges" or "I have decided to make a career change". Keep it basic and don't accept any attempts to undermine your decision. Avoid discussions about your new role, unless relevant to the reasons for resignation (i.e. an opportunity for a senior role or more flexible hours). There is no obligation on you to share details of your new role or company unless you choose too.

Next steps: In this meeting it is important that you agree how and when your decision will be communicated to your colleagues and what your role will be from here. Reiterate that you are eager to assist with preparing and delivering a handover and that you will be available to answer any questions. Be careful to follow your manager's lead on this one, they will need to deliver the message to their superiors and manage the impact of your resignation within the business; it is important you honour this. If you are going to a direct competitor and disclose this, you may be asked to leave almost immediately and will need to gather your things and say your goodbyes quickly and quietly. This is not a reflection on your personally, but instead a common action taken to preserve a company’s intellectual property. It is important to be prepared for this possibility and to handle it as gracefully as possible.

Don't burn your bridges

It doesn't matter whether you love or hate your current job, you have a professional reputation to uphold and the way you handle your exit can reflect positively or negatively on your personal brand and integrity. You never know when you might need these business contacts down the track.

Avoid the water cooler traps: As news of your resignation spreads, your team and colleagues will inevitably share their reactions and ask you questions. This can be particularly damaging for company morale and it is important you don't get lured into conversations that advance a negative company perception. It is also really important you don't succumb to pressure or guilt to stay longer. You are not abandoning a sinking ship, this is purely your decision and you want to create minimal negative impact. Again, employ your 'tag' line and avoid casual conversations that focus on the 'what-if' and 'why's'.

Really work your notice: After handing in your resignation, it can be really hard to stay engaged, focussed and on the ball. With one foot out the door and your mind already on your next challenge, your handover period is hardly the most exciting prospect.

However, the very least that you owe your company and colleagues is a fantastic finish. Make an effort to turn up on time, attend all company meetings and prepare a detailed handover document and project report. Remember, you may need your colleagues and managers in the future, either as business contacts, potential referees or for referrals. Your professionalism as you exit will not go unnoticed.

Top tips

  • Do return any company property you have in a timely manner, including keys, documents, computers, phones, and anything else that doesn't belong to you. You don't want them to chase you up or to leave a negative taste.

  • Don't be neglectful in thanking your team, colleagues and stakeholders. A card or small gift for those who have been influential in your career can be remembered long after you have moved on.
  • Do be prepared for emotional fall-out. Regardless of how long you have been in your current role, you have invested time and effort into it and the company, and it may be hard to say goodbye. Keep a trusted friend or partner on speed dial for emotional support and a pep-talk. Also remember to stay in touch with your recruiter for advice and reinforcement.
  • Don't forget to ask for a written professional reference from your manager before you leave. As time passes and people move on, it's easy to lose track of previous employers and managers can become vague on the details.