How to Leave a Job Gracefully

4 minute read

The day has finally come—the day you’re resigning from your job. Whether you’re excited or you’ve been dreading it, remember to tread carefully. The charity sector is a small world. As a minimum you need a good reference, and chances are your path will cross with some of your colleagues’ again in the future. So whatever your feelings, it’s important to leave in a positive, dignified way. Here’s what to do to leave a job gracefully.

Tell people the right way

Tempting as it might be to immediately tell your work bestie your exciting news, you should speak to your manager first, out of respect. You don’t want to risk them overhearing it on the office grapevine. Giving them the heads up means they can then start planning how to fill your role and cover the vacancy in the meantime. You’ll also need to write a formal resignation letter of course, but it’s polite and professional to explain in person in the first instance.

Once your manager has given you the go-ahead, you can tell your team and colleagues you work closely with. Give people as much notice as you can, so they can prepare for your departure and get anything they may need from you. It’s good etiquette to tell anyone you work closely with in person, but it’s also fine to send an email to the wider office, if your manager hasn’t done so already.

Give your best in your notice period

It’s important to still work hard and give your best during your notice period, whether that’s two weeks or three months. Don’t coast or stop caring if you want to keep your reputation intact. While you may not always have control over it, consider the timing. If you’re in the middle of an important project, then offer to stay long enough to see it through, if you can. Or, if you can’t, think through and plan how much of it you can do in your notice period and how much could be covered by others.

Two men in an office sitting at a table. One has a laptop in front of him

Be thorough with your handover

Prioritise doing a proper, detailed handover. Assume your manager and your replacement know nothing at all about how to do your role and start from the beginning. Don’t forget to include things like log-ins and passwords, key contacts and where to find files and folders. You can also use online tools like Awesome Screenshot to record your screen to demonstrate how to do things. If your replacement starts before you leave, then offer to train them, or walk another colleague through how to do key tasks.

Stay focused on the positives

Now is not the time to slag off your boss, colleagues or the charity. Nor is it the time to brag about leaving, or your fancy new job. People will remember your words long after you leave, so be professional and focus on the positives.

Be honest in your exit interview, but make sure any feedback is constructive. Be gracious and show gratitude for the opportunities the role has given you and the skills and experience you’ve gained. That doesn’t mean you should keep quiet if you’ve experienced bullying or discrimination though—if that’s the case, then follow any reporting procedures your charity has, or speak to a colleague you trust separately.

Gather evidence of your work

Don’t forget to keep any work samples and training notes that might be useful in the future (as long as they are your property and don’t belong to the charity), and make a list of all the projects you’ve been involved in, experience you’ve had and skills you’ve learned as you do your handover. This will be very useful in the future as you’ll quickly forget the details once you get stuck into your new job.

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Tie up all your loose ends

Try to tie up all your loose ends in a timely manner, to avoid a last-minute rush on your final day. Return all charity property, clear your desk and organise all your files—both paper and electronic. Make sure your filing systems are logical and people will understand where to find everything they need for key projects. Delete any personal files and emails and clear your desk of personal items. Don’t forget to set your out of office.

Office administrator working at desk

Plan how to say goodbye and thank you

Leaving your colleagues is often the hardest part of changing jobs. Have a think about how you want to say goodbye. Anyone you don’t know as well as you’d like? Or who has particularly enhanced your career? Invite them out for a coffee or lunch to say goodbye and suggest keeping in touch.

You could send an email to colleagues you’ve worked most closely with, saying goodbye and giving your contact details. And make sure you connect with your team on LinkedIn so you keep them within your network.

Think you might be called on to make a speech on your last day? Don’t panic! Plan what you’ll say in advance—it will be much easier if you’re prepared.

And it goes without saying really, but don’t forget to say thank you. Send a thank you note for your send-off and any cards or leaving gifts. You may want to personally thank your head of department or chief executive on your last day, as well as your team. You could even handwrite some thank you cards—these are remembered for much longer than emails.

Leave a good last impression

People always think about first impressions, but don’t forget that last impressions really count too. How you behave in your notice period is most likely what people will remember you for. Leaving an organisation on good terms bodes well for networking and leaves the door open for future opportunities. So be respectful and helpful, and you’ll soon be out the door with your professional integrity intact.

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