(3-minute read)

Throughout a career, the time spent leaving a job is relatively short. We spend exponentially more time interviewing and working. But the act of leaving is a critical part of career pathing. As disruption in the job market continues to accelerate and our new distributed workforce evolves, the art of leaving well is increasingly important.

Many people are leaving jobs voluntarily;
others are not.

When faced with an exit, planned or unplanned, the natural tendency is to focus on what’s next. But how you conduct yourself during your last days or moments in a job plays a big part in shaping your professional future.

An essential part of leaving well is communicating a positive last impression. Whether leaving voluntarily or because of job elimination, restructuring or termination, how you behave on the way out is what will be remembered by colleagues. With a positive last impression, colleagues are more likely to act as a reference and become part of your professional network. Leave badly, and you limit the size of your network and future opportunities.

Voluntary and involuntary departures share similar characteristics but diverge in your ability to plan versus reacting in the moment. You control the timeline, the workload transition, and your last interactions with colleagues when leaving voluntarily. An involuntary departure requires the presence of mind during an emotional moment to achieve the larger objective of a positive last impression. That said, it’s likely that during your career, you will face either job elimination or organizational restructuring. Planning now for how you will react then will serve you well in that moment.


 Take a Beat

If leaving voluntarily, you’ll be excited to move on. Don’t gloat. Some colleagues may be happy to see you go. Others may be envious. For both groups, be prepared to articulate what you learned and enjoyed in your current role. Communicating what you learned and enjoyed acknowledges current colleagues and creates a positive mindset for entering your new position.

For an involuntary departure, taking a beat is critical for not becoming a victim of yourself or having a crisis of confidence. When let go, the tendency is to focus on what went wrong. Write down what you did well in the role and how you contributed. These are the talking points you’ll need for positioning yourself for the next opportunity. Taking the time to pause and reflect helps minimize your emotional response and shift your focus to creating a positive last impression.


Don’t negotiate with yourself

When you leave a role, there may be an opportunity to negotiate an exit package. At this moment, your emotions may range from anger and confusion to fear for your future.

But to negotiate successfully, you’ll need to be clear, confident, unemotional, and strategic. Understand your value, compensation owed, and what you are willing to concede before an exit package conversation occurs.

Most importantly, don’t negotiate these elements with yourself. Have your negotiation points in writing so you can plan for any contingencies or unexpected circumstances when you speak with your employer.

As with any good negotiation, your exit package is not about winning but arriving at a mutually agreed-upon set of terms. Depending on the circumstances of your departure, you may want to consider negotiating through an impartial third party or employment attorney.


Plan your last impression

Planning your last impression is at the heart of leaving well. There is a clear correlation between leaving a positive last impression and remaining a valuable part of your colleagues’ professional networks.

Be clear on which colleagues deserve a 1-1 conversation and order these conversations appropriately from most to least important. For example, you don’t want to discuss your departure with a subordinate before speaking with your peers or boss.

Take the time to list the positive attributes of each colleague and go on an appreciation and recognition tour to let them know how you value them as individuals.


Finally, in many cases, there will be an exit interview. Exit interviews are the opportunity for a company to learn, not for you to vent. Plan what you want to say and focus on an unemotional response, highlighting what worked well at the company and where you believe it can improve. The Society for Human Resource Managers lists these as typical exit interview questions.

Leaving well is about playing the long game for your career.

Like every other part of your career trajectory, leaving well sets you up for future opportunities.



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