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The 10 Commandments of Resigning from Your Executive Role Without Burning Bridges

You’ve finally landed your dream job, and you’ve probably been through a grueling recruitment process to get there. In your jubilation and excitement at receiving the great news, there may be one cloud on the horizon–you have to hand in your resignation to your current employer. One fact holds true: how you end your role is as important as how you began it. Leaving an exec-level role requires sensitivity and planning. Follow these 10 commandments for resigning without burning your bridges and you’ll keep your professional relationships and reputation intact.

Make sure you have a formal offer for your new role

First things first. Ensure you have a formal offer letter or contract from your new employer before you turn in your resignation. This is just in case while you are negotiating terms and salary if any problems arise in that process, you have the option to pull out without losing paid employment.

Check your current employment contract.

Next, read your contract from your current employer to understand your obligations to them when you resign, such as notice periods and if there are any restrictions such as a non-compete clause or a duty of confidentiality clause. These may impact what you can and cannot do, and for what duration, after leaving your current employer. You may even have a garden leave clause in your contract, by which your employer keeps you on the payroll at a reduced rate, and you cannot begin with a new employer until a set period of time in order to protect proprietary information.

Tell your boss first.

The reason is obvious–you don’t want your boss to hear your news from anyone else. You may feel uncomfortable about having this conversation; that's natural as no one likes having the “break-up” conversation. After you’ve told your manager in person, follow it up with a formal letter of resignation. When all that is done, be prepared that you will no longer be driving the bus in this process, and decisions surrounding your departure will not be in your gift. However, it is reasonable to expect to have a say in how your departure is communicated.

Give a reasonable amount of notice.

Whilst it is normal in US employment contracts to have two weeks notice, you may wish to offer your employer more. It can often cause some inquietude amongst colleagues and senior management when an executive-level team member leaves, and the more senior you are the more difficult it will be. Plus, you may need a handover period with the new incumbent so it's best to collaborate with your boss to create as smooth and ordered transition as you can. Be aware though to use your contractual notice period as a guide to work from, as overly long notice periods can be counterproductive and as soon as people know you are leaving, dynamics change and you could feel like an outsider.

Be ready for a counter-offer.

If you have a good relationship with your company and are a valued employee they may make you a financial offer to stay. Whilst it is very flattering to receive a counteroffer, and you may finally be being paid what you are worth, it is rare that money is the only driver in a resignation, so these are usually best politely declined. Counter-offers are usually made in the company’s best interests and not yours, and down the line, they may question your commitment.

Be transparent about where you are going.

Hopefully, you have developed some valuable working relationships with your colleagues and senior management, and although you are not obligated to discuss your forward plans, it is more respectful to be transparent about them. After all, everyone will know as soon as you update your LinkedIn profile, so preserve those relationships by being open about your new role, as soon as your resignation is announced.

Don’t gossip about why you are leaving.

In this instance the proverb “Least said, soonest mended” is apt. It really is best not to complain or explain, and although your peers may be curious about your new salary or range of benefits, confidentiality will serve you well in this instance. You really don’t want to be the hot topic at the water cooler in your last weeks at your place of employment, and you certainly don’t want your boss to hear a story about why you are leaving that they were not already aware of.

Create a handover report.

In your last days, even if you are doing an in-person handover with the new recruit, complete a comprehensive report, with all the details of current projects, any forthcoming actions needed, and signpost where relevant resources are. It’s highly unlikely you will be able to complete all your projects after all, and by providing as much information as you can, you are not only doing the right thing by the new person, but you are leaving with an impression of effective professionalism on your part.

Express gratitude.

Whilst you may be ecstatic about leaving your current company, there is always something that you can be thankful for: from your colleagues to what you have learned to things that have gone well. Expressing gratitude is not only beneficial for your mental wellbeing, it is gracious and classy.

Exit interview: How honest should you be?

If you have followed the first nine steps, don’t blow it at the tenth. Exit interviews are a minefield. This is definitely not the time to vent or air all your grievances, and anonymity, although promised, cannot be guaranteed. Your opinions are not going to change anything at this late stage, and could undo any good work you have done in the past. Keep it neutral, constructive and leave your emotions at the door!

If you take on board these principles next time you move on to a new role your transition to your new role should be smooth and friendly, and you’ll reap the benefits of goodwill, great relationships, and the door open should you need it down the line.


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