Making the decision to leave an employer and submitting a resignation is typically an emotional experience, and can be stressful the first few times one goes through the process. Valuable business relationships, friendships, and even legal/financial standing can be in danger if things aren't handled properly. If you anticipate an upcoming job change or are deep in the interview process with a potential new employer, start considering the following:
Some employment contracts contain clauses regarding the amount of notice required or non-compete limitations on who you can work for and what type of work you can do. When interviewing with companies, it's helpful to properly set the hiring party's expectations regarding your availability and any possible snags. Even if these restrictions may not be legally binding, you should read over any signed documents and consult an employment attorney if you have any concerns.
Keep a Low Profile Until the Ink is Dry
It is not ideal to have a current employer discover your job search while you are in the interview process and before you've received offers. A manager might get tipped off by several clues or combinations thereof, such as unusual use of sick/personal time, lengthy calls taken on mobile phones in the parking lot, or a sudden spate of LinkedIn activity. If you feel the need to share information on your job search with co-workers, proceed with caution. Be particularly careful if providing references from your current employer, as they may be called immediately (before an offer) without your knowledge by recruiters or hiring managers.
Opportunity doesn't always knock at the perfect time, but to avoid burning any bridges it is ideal to synchronize your new job's start date with the end of a cycle at your current employer (a deliverable, initiative, sprint, etc.). This is not always possible due to the nature of the business, but it's something that should be kept in mind and addressed during the interview process.
No matter how small and non-corporate your employer, you should always write an official resignation letter (even if you deliver the news initially in another format). The resignation letter should be short, direct, and written to serve a few purposes.
Notifies the employer regarding your last day of employment.
Expresses gratitude to the employer and co-workers.
Assures the employer that you will be productive during your notice period and helpful in transitioning reponsibilities and knowledge to replacement(s).
A positive close.
Please let this letter serve as notice of my resignation from $COMPANY, with my last date of employment being $DATE.
I greatly appreciate the opportunity and all I have learned and accomplished during my employment with $COMPANY. I hope to make my remaining time here as productive as possible to transition my knowledge and responsibilities to my co-workers or to help select my replacement.
Thank you for the opportunity, and I wish $COMPANY and my co-workers success.
Some are tempted to turn a resignation letter into a treastise on the state of the company with criticisms and suggestions for improvements, while others feel the need to provide multiple details on where they are heading and what they will be doing. These topics are not appropriate for a resignation letter, and the template above is as much information as you should offer in writing.
Once you've resigned from a position there are several possibilities as to what might happen, ranging from counteroffers to "pack your desk and GTFO". Regardless of the direction things go, your willingness to be cooperative and helpful during the transition period is one of the most important factors impacting your ability to use employees from the company as future references. I've conducted thousands of reference checks in my career, and references are often eager to share details of how an employee made a non-graceful exit.
Changing jobs can be a stressful time, particularly if you don't have a plan. These steps can help in making a smooth transition to new employers while preserving relationships (and references) from your past jobs.