6 Ways to Leave Your Job Gracefully (and with Your Network Intact)

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For many recent graduates, the decision to leave their first post-college job is happening earlier and earlier in their careers. In fact, according to a recent study, 55 percent of college graduates only expect to stay at their first jobs for 1-3 years.

Some say the reason is because GenY gets bored easily, while others speculate that we’re eager to get as much as experience as possible. Regardless of the reason, young professionals are moving on from their first jobs, and since it’s their first time making this transition, many have no idea how to go about it the right way.

I’m the first person to raise my hand and admit that I had absolutely NO idea how to leave my first job gracefully. When I accepted an awesome new job in November, turning to Google proved futile in finding the answers to questions like, “How do I give two weeks notice?” and “How do I write a resignation letter?” I quickly turned to a few trusted mentors for tips and relied on my professional instincts to get me through the dreaded day when I had to break the news to my boss and colleagues.

While I’m sure I could have done some things differently, here are six tips I found particularly useful for leaving a job gracefully and with your network intact:

1. Your immediate supervisor should always be the first to know. Out of respect, be sure to break the news to your immediate supervisor first, and preferably in person. Depending on the type of office environment you work in, you may need to request a meeting or simply ask if they have a moment to talk in private.

I’d recommend giving notice in the morning, to give your supervisor the chance to absorb the news and get the ball rolling on the resignation process. Also, have your resignation letter drafted and ready to submit.

2. Break the news to the rest of your colleagues in person, if possible. In person is always better. Avoid sharing the news of a new job in an email. You’ll find that most people will be happy and excited for you, and will appreciate the fact that you took the time to tell them personally.

3. Create a “how to be me” document. My first order of business once I gave two weeks notice was to create a master document of every single project I was working on, outlining point people, processes and deadlines. This document ended up being close to 10 pages long and extremely detailed, but it was worth spending the time; I wanted to offer a resource for whoever would take over my responsibilities.

4. Do what you can to make the transition as smooth as possible. After creating the “how to be me” document, I set up a meeting to review the document and allow my colleagues to ask questions and get clarification about all of my duties. I purposely scheduled the meeting mid-way through my final two weeks to ensure there was time to schedule a second transition meeting, if needed.

Additionally, if your supervisor is looking to fill your position quickly, do everything you can to help replace yourself. Spread the word on Twitter and LinkedIn, help review resumes, recommend people you think could be a good fit. After you leave the job, let your supervisor and colleagues know that you’re still happy to answer any lingering questions they may have about your responsibilities.

5. Show your gratitude. Buy a big box of thank you notes. And prepare to have your wrist hurt after handwriting multiple notes of appreciation for colleagues.

After spending a year and a half at my company, I knew I couldn’t leave without showing my supervisor and colleagues how much I appreciated that they took a chance on a fresh-out-of-college new professional, and most importantly, for their mentorship and friendship.

6. Keep in touch. This is perhaps the most difficult tip to follow, and one I’m still trying to figure out. We all know that staying in touch is key to creating a lasting connection and maintaining your network.

If you aren’t already, connect with your former colleagues on LinkedIn. Ask for a recommendation while your skills are still fresh in their minds – and be sure to return the favor! Stay in touch via email; share useful articles or send a note to say hi and ask how they’re doing every once in awhile. You don’t want to be a pest, but you also don’t want to be easily forgotten.

What other tips do you have for leaving a job gracefully?

Jessica Lawlor is a public relations professional in Philadelphia. In her free time, she manages a book review and writing blog and is currently writing a novel.


  1. Great advice Jessica. If there is some sort of farewell party, then use the opportunity to thank people once again. I made a farewell speech in 2003 dedicated to the others that had helped me get started. And everyone remembers that because it was about them and our relationship, not about me.

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  3. @napkin_mktg

    I always tried to write thank you notes and leave a “how to be me” transition document when I left a job. Great advice! Many of my ex coworkers have become very good friends over the years.

  4. TM

    These are all good tips. However, in reality many employers will not allow someone to work the remainder of the notice period and simply pay the person up to the resignation date. Also, no one should expect that the news will be taken well or that they will be treated well after resigning. It all depends on the employer and the circumstances.

  5. Thanks for the tips Jessica, I really enjoyed reading the article and really liked the idea of creating the doc… “how to be me”… this kind of doc would certainly help the person coming next….

    • lol. “Dear Colleague, I really appreciate your mentoring me through blabity blah.”
      Colleague: “Huh? What’s with the note? You going somewhere?”

  6. As TM mentioned, it’s not uncommon for an employer to release you before your notice period. In case this happens, do not plan on using your notice period to prepare for your exit. Be prepared before you give your notice.

    Also, just because you are being graceful and professional doesn’t mean everyone else will be. Your notice period may very well be a living hell, be prepared for that possibility. Do your best not to engage in those kind of games.

  7. Deadhedge

    I would call this post “5 ways not to be a jackass when you leave your job and one way to waste a lot of trees.” I thought what you wrote was common sense etiquette along the lines of not breaking up with a significant other through a text message. The thank you notes is nice in theory but thank you notes are kind of old school and likely to wind up in the trash.

    • It may be common sense, but it’s definitely something that some people need to hear. And as for thank you notes? Sometimes old school is the way to go. Since it’s “old school” as you say, it’s often appreciated more. It takes extra effort to select a card and write a heartfelt thank you note, rather then sending a quick email.

  8. ready2leave

    7. Don’t burn your bridges, even the rickety ones. Even in the best work environments, some work relationships are less than satisfactory. However, don’t consider your departure to be an opportunity to “fix” whatever was broken. Work especially hard to leave the edgy relationships on a positive note, to bring closure to the projects that weren’t completely successful, and to clean up any smudges on your reputation.

  9. Justin7485

    I’d add to continue to work your tail off until your last day. One great way to ruin everyone’s opinion of you is to slack off during your last weeks or months. A number of my colleagues, who were great 90% or more of their time here, ruined their reputation in the office by checking out before their last days.

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