Leave Your Job with Contacts, Connections IntactLeave Your Job with Contacts, Connections Intact

Once you’ve made the big decision to leave your current position to pursue another opportunity or start your own business, the way you leave can greatly impact your ability to benefit from those relationships in the future. Well beyond not burning bridges, by actively building on them, you can grow your network in ways that may open new opportunities down the road.

When the time is right

Even though people stay in jobs for relatively short periods of time today (just a little over four years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in both 2018 and 2020, well before the Great Resignation) saying goodbye can be tough. Whether you can’t wait to get out, leave with a great deal of hesitation or even get downsized, how you leave may impact your future success.

After all, everyone at your current company is a business contact who may prove helpful in the future. If you’re heading to another organization, they may become trusted sounding boards and sources of advice. If you’re starting your own business, even if they don’t become clients, they may connect you with other people who do.

Be up front

Unless you have an especially candid relationship with your boss, you’ve likely conducted your job search or the groundwork to launch a new business under the radar. Your boss and colleagues may be surprised to hear you are leaving. Some people may even interpret your move as “jumping ship.” The more transparent you can be as early as possible (without jeopardizing your situation) the more quickly those ruffled feathers will be calmed.

Always tell your boss first. No matter how much you want to let a colleague in on your news, unless they are serving as a reference, keep quiet until your boss knows and then let her make the announcement. The surest way to make your exit unpleasant is for your boss to hear it through the grapevine.

Expect to be replaced

The higher up you are in an organization, generally the more notice you provide of your intention to leave. Two weeks is the minimum for all roles but senior leaders may announce months ahead. However, this is a case where more is not always better. As soon as you give notice, you may detect a subtle shift in how others interact with you. If there is a natural internal replacement for your role, people may automatically begin going to them for decisions since, frankly, your input won’t hold sway much longer. That can be a bit painful, especially if you previously thought of yourself as indispensable; no one is. Be gracious throughout the transition but don’t drag it out longer than necessary.

Stick to your story

Resignations provide a bit of interesting gossip and colleagues will naturally be interested in your reasons. How honest you are depends on the circumstances but, whatever your explanation, be consistent and professional. If you’re going to a similar organization or even a competitor, simply state that the opportunity was a great match for your future career goals. Then reiterate how grateful you are for the experience and mentoring you’ve received with your current employer and how gratifying it has been to be part of the team.

If you have serious concerns, have been discriminated against or been sexually harassed, talk directly with HR and file a formal complaint. Otherwise, even in an exit interview, be careful about letting your hair down. What feels great in the moment may haunt you later.

Provide support

One of the most effective ways to build bridges as you leave is to be helpful. Formalize processes you’ve developed in writing so others can benefit from your proven methods. Bring projects to closure or to a stopping point and provide all necessary information and contacts others will need to complete them. Tie up loose ends with clients and introduce them to new team members who will handle their business moving forward. Ask your boss specifically about key projects and activities that she most wants completed before you leave.

Cultivate connections

Finally, while you want to maintain cordial relationships with former colleagues, you will not win any friends or future referrals by trying to take existing customers or team members with you. Over time, you may be able to offer former teammates new opportunities in your future role, but wholesale poaching right away is definitely frowned upon. The same goes for clients.

If you are leaving to start your own business and can be candid with your boss and others about your exciting new phase of work, there may be opportunities to work together in the future, but don’t assume so. Strike out on your own to build your clientele, refer people to your former employer when appropriate, and keep the door open to the possibility of future collaboration if it is ever desired by both parties.

When your last day on the job finally arrives, make sure folks know how to reach you, be generous with praise for those you’ve worked with and learned from, and then be gracious about your excitement around your next opportunity. You want people to wish you well, not feel jealous, angry or abandoned.