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How to leave your job and feel good about it

#jobsearch Dec 31, 2021

Happy New Year!   Many of you are actively looking for new jobs, or are planning to search for a new job in 2022.  While leaving a job can be emotional process, you can leave feeling good about your exit.  Here are some tips to leave your job:


Get ready to leave before you receive an offer

If you’re working in higher education, you’re used to hiring processes that take months.  You may give notice that you’re leaving a job 3-4 months before you actually leave.  If you’re applying to jobs in other industries, the process is much faster.  You may have a first interview and receive a job offer within four weeks.  Just as the hiring processes are faster outside of higher education, the amount of notice you’re expected to give an employer is much shorter.  The typical notice in many industries is 2-3 weeks.  Some employers may be flexible, but don’t be surprised if they’re not willing to push your start date beyond four weeks.

If you’re actively applying to jobs outside of higher education, be prepared to leave your current employer quickly.  Review your service commitments, if you have them.  If you’re committed to editing a manuscript, chairing a conference panel, or sitting on an editorial board, assess whether you’ll be able to honor those commitments if you take a new job.  If you want to continue with some of these activities, be prepared to discuss the issue with the new employer.  If you supervise graduate students, consider who else in your department can take them on. 


When should I tell my current employer?

There are different viewpoints on your timing. Some people will suggest letting your employer know when you’re actively looking for a job so they have lead time to develop contingency plans.  This strategy can work if you have a strong relationship with your current supervisor and your relationship is closer to a mentor/mentee one.  It’s also a good strategy if you’re  expected to be looking for a new role:  you have a postdoc or you’re on a short-term contract with a clear end date.

I suggest letting your employer know when you have formally accepted a job offer.  “Formally accepted” means that you have signed an offer letter and have agreed on a start date with your new employer.  While this means that your current employer may have less time to respond to the fact of your leaving, it also protects you from any awkwardness that may arise from your supervisor and employer knowing that you’re actively looking.  If you’re leaving an environment that is toxic and you fear retaliation from your supervisor, colleagues, or employer, wait until you have confirmed your offer and start date with your new employer before you announce your departure.


Let your supervisor know first

While you may have shared with a few trusted colleagues that you’re looking, the first person you should officially tell is your supervisor.  This may be your department chair or your dean if you’re an academic.  Ideally, you should let your supervisor know in a conversation whether that’s face-face, via Zoom, or phone.  Follow up the conversation with a formal email summarizing the conversation and what you have agreed to.  Once you’ve shared the news with your supervisor, you can share the news with your colleagues. 


Keep it simple

You may feel like you owe your supervisor or your colleagues a lengthy explanation about why you’re leaving, or you may be asked for one.  The reality is that you don’t need to provide an elaborate narrative on why you’re taking a new job, nor do you need to justify your decision.  If you’re asked why you’re leaving, saying “I found an opportunity that’s a better fit for me” is often enough to end the conversation. 


Focus on facts not emotions

In your conversation with your supervisor, focus on the facts:  when you’ll be leaving, the logistics and status of any projects you’re working on/courses you’re teaching.  You’ll want to give them information they need to take over your work, reassign it to others, as efficiently as possible. 

Leaving a job can bring many different emotions from positive to negative.  Acknowledge how you feel before going into a conversation about leaving with your supervisor or peers.  Especially if you’re leaving a toxic work situation and/or have strong feelings of anger, sadness, or frustration, it’s important to acknowledge and give those feelings an outlet before you have the critical conversation with your supervisor.  Journal, write a letter explaining why you’re leaving that you won’t send, give a speech to a friend to give voice to your feelings to help you feel calmer ahead of the conversation.


Wrap up your work

Once you’ve let you supervisor and colleagues know you’re leaving, it’s time to focus on your transition.  You may need to work with your supervisor on who will take on your classes, supervise students and other projects.  Be proactive about status updates and completing tasks as best you can.  Create documentation as needed for people to take on your work and be prepared for colleagues’ questions.  As your last day approaches, you may have much less to do.  Give yourself time and space to end your current job.


Get ready for your new job

As you complete the last days in your current job, get ready for the new one.  Some people like to write status updates on social media announcing the new role.  You don’t have to do this if you don’t enjoy writing status updates.  Reflect on what you learned in this job as you get ready for the excitement of you new one.

Do you have questions about your job search and how I might help you?  Schedule your free 15-minute appointment today!

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