Leaving? Be graceful

Leaving? Be graceful

I have been with my company for two years and am thinking of leaving my job. What should I do to ensure that I continue to be viewed positively by my boss and my company, even after leaving for another firm? I do not want people speaking badly of me in my industry and I know that these connections may be valuable in the future.

No one—whether it’s a romantic partner or your company— likes to be jilted. But the days of lifetime employment are over, so it’s inevitable that there will be a few “job break-ups” over the course of your career. Wise employers recognize this and won’t hold a grudge (after all, you could become a valuable contact for them in your new position. Many of the best management consulting firms encourage their employees to take jobs with client companies—which ensures a steady revenue stream, since their “alumni” will often advocate for their contracts). But this happy, win-win situation only occurs if you treat your company with respect and courtesy on your way out the door. Here are four tips to ensure a positive relationship moving forward.

Don’t be too hasty

As your career progresses, expectations about longevity change. For entry-level or junior positions, you’ll ideally want to spend at least two years on the job (otherwise, your company may be resentful that it has to go through an onerous and expensive job search process yet again). For more senior positions, which are harder to fill, you should plan to spend more time in your position or risk looking like a “climber” who is ready to depart at the first sign of a better opportunity.

Give appropriate notice

The surest way to alienate your company is to quit suddenly and leave them scrambling to cover your responsibilities. Two weeks is considered a standard amount of notice for entry-level jobs, but if you’re in a more senior role, it’s going to take a longer period for them to find a good replacement—try to let them know a month or two in advance, if possible.

Don’t ‘check out’ early

As long as your company is paying you, it’s your responsibility to give 100% of your effort. Just as high school students tend to slack off after they’ve been accepted to college, there may be a temptation to work less hard when you know you’ll soon be departing. Fight it. You’ll make a lasting impression on your employer if you work diligently up until the moment you leave.

Keep in touch and remain helpful

Some people may feel hesitant to keep in touch with former colleagues. They may worry they’re viewed as a traitor for leaving, or simply be unsure what to say now that they don’t have shared work projects to talk about. It’s essential, however, to keep your connections solid—so make a schedule to reach out regularly with a quick phone call or email. It may be inappropriate to “talk shop”, especially if you’ve moved to a competitor, so think carefully about topics that are okay, such as people’s families, hobbies, or future life goals. Try to be helpful whenever you can, whether it’s referring business to your old firm (where appropriate) or helping former colleagues personally by providing advice or connections. Someday, those relationships may prove valuable in helping you find your next job or client.

Parting ways can be awkward, and it’s human nature to avoid conflict. If you’re planning to leave your company, your impulse may be to part quickly and be done with it. But that’s making a crucial career mistake. Instead, be transparent, honest, and helpful, and your professional virtues will be rewarded.

This post originally appeared on the Mint website on July 1, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.