Don't Burn Bridges

By Ginny Frizzi

May 9, 2012 5 min read

The average working professional will change jobs 11 times in his or her career, which means, in most cases, leaving 10 employers. Successfully exiting a job presents a special challenge that should not be overlooked -- leaving without burning bridges.

It is possible to do this, according to Suki Shah, a co-founder and CEO of GetHired.com, which works with small and medium-sized businesses.

The first step is to make sure you have an offer letter from the company that has hired you.

"Plan to give your company at least two weeks' notice," says Shah, although some companies have other resignation policies. "Don't quit without notice, and don't quit dramatically or publicly. Show deference to your bosses by telling them in private first. If you burn bridges on your way out, the next company that hires you will think twice about you because you are unpredictable and unprofessional."

It is important to do a good job until the day you leave, which includes keeping a positive attitude, according to Shah.

"It is also a good idea to volunteer to train your replacement and create a simple and detailed memo to your team that gives an overview of the projects that are in progress," he advises.

Sophia Habl Mitchell, owner of Sophia Mitchell & Associates, agrees. "You don't want to leave and have your now former employer find bad news, such as work not done or projects not completed, when you move on," she says.

Mitchell, who does environmental consulting, believes it is critical to leave your former job on a positive note.

"Keep your former co-workers and employer in mind and look for opportunities to collaborate, if possible," she says.

Even if problems or difficulties on your current job are reasons for getting a new one, it is important that you take the high road as you formally exit your position, according to Mitchell.

"Not everyone leaves an employer on good terms. Even if that is the case, don't go around badmouthing your former employer, boss or co-workers," she says. "No matter how tempting it is, don't trash talk. It will only make you look bad, plus gossip travels fast, so the word will soon get back to your previous company."

Another way to avoid burning bridges is not to leave a mess in your wake, according to Mitchell.

"When you leave an employer, make sure your projects and work are complete. If you have ongoing projects, allow plenty of time before you leave to transition them to a co-worker," she says. "As for your physical work space, clean it up, too. Don't leave behind a bunch of unfilled items and junk. If you use a company vehicle, clean it out, as well," she says.

Keep your former co-workers in mind, too.

"I work in a particularly small industry, so when I decided to start my own consulting firm, I knew that maintaining a good relationship with my former co-workers and company was going to be critical," says Mitchell.

"If you come across an article or information that may be helpful to your former colleagues, drop them a note or share an email link with them. It will let them know you are thinking about them," says Mitchell. "If you see your former company or co-workers get recognition, send them a little congratulations note. Small gestures like this will make you stand out and keep the relationship going."

Some of her other suggestions include planning an occasional lunch or happy hour with former colleagues and, if it makes sense in your situation, looking for possible collaboration opportunities for projects and jobs.

"Maybe you know the perfect person at your old company to help on a certain technical or creative item for your current project. This helps continue relationships and can add to the bottom line at your current firm," says Mitchell.

And though it may be tempting, don't walk away with some clients, referrals or even the office supplies in your desk. Remember your ethics, and be above reproach in all of your dealings with the employer you are leaving.

Shah has one additional suggestion for people leaving for a new job: "Ask for a letter of recommendation."

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