Tips for a professional resignation

Offering a resignation is something most of us do rarely.  There is no rule book, but we've put together some ideas that should help you manage the process professionally



Few people have extensive experience of the resignation process. The aim of this process is to enable you to exit the organisation in a way that reflects positively on all parties, keeps the process succinct and facilitates a timely and professional departure that is not up for debate or question.

Another key aim is to anticipate issues and to have developed responses to them rather than being caught off guard. While many managers will accept your decision with grace, frequently their response will be surprising or confronting. Common reasons for this include:

• They take the decision as a reflection on them personally: you are leaving because of them or they have failed to keep you interested and engaged
• They fear the decision will reflect badly on them with their own superiors
• It presents a threat to the business. You may be going to a competitor; intellectual capital may be lost; the organisation might lose prestige depending upon your profile

So it’s of real benefit to prepare for the potential of an adverse or coercive reaction. Common ones being:

• Your manager does not accept your decision and looks to stall through suggesting that he needs to consult with others and get back to you
• As an extension of this strategy, managers will often suggest that you need to go through a battery of other meetings where people will look to wear down your decision – often through counter-offers, attacks on the quality of your career choice or a combination of both
• Managers often also play the disloyalty card, suggesting that if only you’d talked to them about your upcoming decision they would have responded in a way that meant you would be happy to stay. Indeed, it is often implied that they were just about to promote you, provide a fresh career opportunity and improve your salary anyway…whatever they think negates the need to leave.

It is very important that you anticipate that this is the response you might face. History shows that the vast majority of those who accept counter-offers regret their decision and end up leaving anyway within twelve months. The driving forces that led you to your initial decision are still in play and essentially you have been bought back. In a worst-case scenario, your employer is simply looking to buy time to cover your role with someone else, as you will be now be seen as a flight risk and as someone whose loyalty is called into question.

These are the tips to keep in mind:

• Expect to be nervous. This is not something one does every day and, regardless of how you handle other business challenges, this is a confronting task for most people
• Decide to whom you are going to resign and ask them to put aside time. Avoid being door-stopped into a conversation there and then; you need to be sure you meet in a place where you can meet discreetly. If you have regular private meetings that fit well with your timing, use one of these to relay your decision. If not, try to ensure that your tone is light enough so as not to forewarn the nature of the conversation.
• Once the meeting is in play, do not say that you are there to resign. We strongly suggest you use the phrase “I am here to tell you that I have accepted another opportunity”. This implies that it’s a deed already done and not up for debate. It’s a positive step forward rather than a negative reflection on your present employer. Your aim is to move past as much of the debate about your decision as possible. You are presenting a fait accompli and they need to treat it that way. State quickly that the purpose of the meeting is to facilitate your exit as cleanly and professionally as possible.
• If they ask where you are going our advice is always not to tell them. This eliminates the scope for them to debate with you the merits of your future employer. There is a perfectly valid reason you can offer for not telling them. Advise them that your new employer has the right to announce your appointment before it gets out in the market and they have not yet made that announcement – consequently you cannot disclose where you are going yet. This is a professional courtesy that they would expect themselves
• Have a handful of genuine positive things to say about the organisation and your time there. This is like leaving a boyfriend/girlfriend! “it’s not you, it’s me”. You are leaving because of the opportunity you’ve been presented but explain why, and have examples of why, your time there has been positive. Your aim is always to leave on the best possible terms
• Have a letter with you that states “Please accept this letter as confirming my resignation as from (the date of conversation) and providing X weeks/months notice in accordance with my contract”. Don’t lead with the letter; make this the closing act if you can.

Controlling these conversations can be difficult. Sometimes people can react emotionally. Keep it low key, focused but stick to your guns. The aim of this outline is to keep the conversation as simple as possible. Always orient the conversation to the future, which from their perspective is the process of managing your exit. This conversation is not about what they can do to keep you.