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The Graceful Exit

Posted on June 12, 2018
A green exit sign with the added words "the Graceful" to say "The Graceful Exit"

When I was growing up, people (primarily men) took an entry-level position at a company and then stayed there for the remainder of their career, rarely, if ever, changing companies. Those who did change companies were viewed negatively as job hoppers, and they were the subject of cocktail party gossip. That is not the case today – it’s a rarity when someone works for one company for their entire career, which means there comes a time to submit a resignation and bid good-bye.

I have written a little bit about leaving a company in the context of not burning your bridges and leaving when you realize a position or company are a wrong fit, but I haven’t written much about actual exit. And how you exit is almost as important as how you enter.

When you decide to apply for a new position at a different company, do so thoughtfully and privately. You should not share your process, prospects, or possibilities with your co-workers until you have accepted a position. Of course, you may need to tell your boss if you need their recommendation, but keep in mind, once you disclose your intent to leave, your boss will view you as having one foot out the door. Coveted projects and clients will likely be handed to others.

While you are looking continue to perform at optimal levels because you want to leave on a good note – a basic tenant of not burning your bridges. It is far better to leave with everyone missing you and your abilities versus having management and colleagues feeling a sense of relief.

Once you accept another position, follow these six steps to ensure a graceful exit:

  • Don’t Leave Your Company in the Lurch – When you are negotiating your start date, think about your current projects, etc. to ensure you are not compromising a project or clients.
  • Speak to Your Boss First – Always thank them for their support and leadership – even if they were not the best leader or the most supportive. This is not the time to open the doors and let the complaints fly – again, no bridge burning.
  • Let Your Boss Control the Announcement – Ask your boss how they would like to announce your departure, i.e. don’t run out of their office and tell every person along the way or post an announcement on Facebook or Twitter. Give them the opportunity to think about it strategically. Customers may need to be notified when projects are re-assigned, etc., and your boss has every right to control that announcement.
  • Be Accommodating – If your boss asks you to stay for an additional week to close a deal, make it happen.
  • Don’t be Negative – Once the announcement is made or you are given permission to tell colleagues, clients, etc., do so with humility. Remember you are leaving, but everyone else is staying, so don’t start talking about how great your new job is by reciting a laundry list of how the new company is better than your current one. It is okay, however, to talk about how the new position will afford you more responsibility or there will be more challenges, etc. And it is okay to be excited about your new position.
  • Acknowledge the Help of Others – Make sure you acknowledge all who helped you along the way, all who were kind to you, day in and day out – this means senior leadership, co-workers, janitorial staff, assistants, receptionists, clients, etc.

A graceful exit speaks volumes about you as a person and a professional. Leave by being remembered well, not as an agitator. You want to keep the connections you forged, to foster them, so, if necessary, you can utilize them in the future.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips