Resigning is sort of like planning a wedding – it is a fairly rare event in your life, you certainly hope to not repeat the process for many years (in the case of getting married, hopefully never).  There is a tendency to leave the wisdom you glean to gather dust in the deep recesses of your mind; alongside the 5-day self-defense course you took at University and the recipe to your Grandma’s chocolate cake, at least until the next time you find yourself in the position of needing this information.

Hopefully by reading these tips you might better position yourself to ensure your resignation is smooth – I am not sure any resignation can be seamless!  Resigning is undoubtedly stressful, so the more preparation and consideration you undertake the smoother the process will be for all the key stakeholders: you, your current employer and prospective employer.

Pre-resignation

In the closing stages of the interview process the prospective employer will gauge when you can start.  It is important to read your current employment contract and understand the terms you are legally obliged to fulfill and convey these, as required, to your prospective employer.  As a conservative measure, always assume your current employer will enforce them, especially if you’re leaving to their arch nemesis! e.g. if you have a 90 day notice period, don’t tell them your manager will let you go after 30 days because HR will likely follow policy. Regardless of how relaxed (or negligent) your current manager is, your company’s HR policy will override your manager’s opinion when you hand in your resignation.

At this stage, it is also prudent to seek outside counsel.  Talk with recruiters/family/friends/ex-colleagues etc. who can share their wisdom and best practice e.g. a friend of mine advised that unless you are moving to a like-for-like role HR may not necessarily give you gardening leave (where applicable), even if you are moving to a competitor.  Thus, be sure to understand the gardening leave clauses, if you’re banking on a month or three off in Ibiza!

Outside of negotiating your salary/bonus, annual leave entitlements, pension contributions etc. also give some thought to your start date.  Can you negotiate a career break by delaying your start date?  This may be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sneak in a cheeky 4 week holiday, volunteering stint or short course.  Of course, this has to be balanced with your future employer’s commercial need to get you onboard.

Before I could get to the awkward bit – “it’s not you, it’s me” – I researched whether I had to sign on the dotted line or hand in my resignation first.  In short, there was no clear answer, however, you need to minimise the execution risk.  That is, the risk of resigning and then the prospective employer retracting their offer.  Do not rely on a verbal offer.  Thus, it is best to resign once you have a written and signed contract.  Also, if you are this far advanced you should assume you will be walked immediately so clean out your desk and personal files at work before having “the chat” with your manager.

Lastly, just because you’re in the last round of interviews and know the Chairman doesn’t mean you’re a shoe in.  Maintain your professional standards e.g. working hours, asking for new leads/projects etc. as this way if you are unsuccessful or the role falls through (e.g. hiring freezes) your current employer is none-the-wiser and your form hasn’t dipped.  Yes, I do realise you are not a horse!

Resigning

The most professional thing to do is schedule a meeting with your manager, inform them of your decision and provide them with a short written resignation letter.  The business world is a small place and the time to burn bridges is not now.  Be courteous, professional and thank them for the opportunity to work at the firm.  Your manager will then get in touch with HR to get the ball rolling – either to counter offer or help you on your merry way.  Again, be pessimistic.  If you’re really hoping on a counter offer, be prepared for the likelihood that they don’t value you as much as you think you’re worth!

Post-resignation (for those without gardening leave)

Before you have a time to decompress your manager will want to communicate your decision more broadly e.g. upper management, your team mates, clients etc.  In my view, where possible try to do this yourself (with your manager’s approval).  This shows class, maturity and professionalism.  Post announcement, be prepared for an endless stream of requests for coffee and lunch…upper management will want to understand your motivations for leaving and how they can improve the environment for your team mates, your team mates will want to know how your manager reacted etc.

It may be tempting to talk negatively about the firm and throw some soon-to-be ex-colleagues under the proverbial bus in these feedback meetings – after all you’re leaving because the grass is greener elsewhere!  Your feedback to management and HR should be constructive and professional, but it is perfectly acceptable to be honest about why you are leaving. Again, the world is small and you never know when your paths may cross again in the future.

The hardest point is to continue to maintain your professional standards.  In fact, I don’t think it is possible. Your mind is already out-the-door, which is human nature.  The draw of promotion, bonuses etc. has been removed.  HR is realistic too (your manager may not be), thus my final point is to fulfill your contractual obligation.  If you’re obligated to work 9 to 5 with ½ an hour for lunch, then do so.  Don’t work a minute more or less.

Lastly, all the best for your new role!