How to leave a job without burning your bridges

Don’t lie about your reason for leaving a job — you could get caught, advises Joanne Chang, who founded the local Flour Bakery + Cafe chain.
Don’t lie about your reason for leaving a job — you could get caught, advises Joanne Chang, who founded the local Flour Bakery + Cafe chain.

Aside from the job interview, the second most stressful day at the office tends to be the day you announce you’re leaving. Will you be shown the door instantly, or cajoled to stay? Will you be able to resist reeling off a list of criticisms about co-workers and company policies?

“The central tenet of resigning from a job is: Don’t burn bridges,” says Andrew Atkins, a former human resources executive at Fidelity Investments and Bank of America who now works at the Boston consulting firm Interaction Associates. “You want to be as professional on your way out as you were on your way in.”

Contrast that with the experience of Peter Blacklow, who runs a Waltham-based game development studio for the Game Show Network. A graphic designer with whom he once worked announced his departure by affixing a Post-it note to his computer monitor.


What are the right and wrong ways to give notice? I’ve asked human resources executives, business owners, and others to share their advice.

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Before you start looking for a new job: There’s some disagreement about whether you should talk to your manager about being dissatisfied before starting a job search.

“It never makes sense to let them know you’re in the market,” says Elaine Varelas, managing director at Keystone ­Associates, a Boston career management firm. “All sorts of things could happen where you wind up in being the position of being first to go” in the event of budget cuts or a reorganization.

But Audrey Lampert, director of human resources at the online jeweler Gemvara, says that you “might be surprised by your manager’s willingness” to alter your current job “so that you want to stay.” Even if circumstances can’t be changed enough to make you a happy camper, Lampert says, managers can point you to companies they know that are hiring, or provide glowing references.

And Blacklow adds that “if you’re not challenged, you’re not learning, or you feel like there’s no career path” you should “always tell your manager that,” since they can often address those issues.


Restaurateur Joanne Chang says she doesn’t expect employees to stay at her bakeries or restaurant forever.

“It’s nice to have a heads-up” when they are starting to hunt for their next job, she says. “That said, I know there are a lot of kitchens where once you say you are looking, you get treated poorly or even asked to leave.”

Announcing your resignation: Give as much notice as you can. Blacklow wasn’t thrilled when an employee quit on a Wednesday and said ­Friday would be his last day. “There just wasn’t time for an orderly handoff,” he says. Chang says that having six months warning before her general manager left gave her plenty of time to find a top-notch replacement and allow the outgoing GM to train the new hire.

Unfortunately, say Chang and others, a final e-mail saying “I’m not coming in today” is too common.

Talk to your manager behind closed doors. What words do you use? Atkins suggests, “I’ve decided to leave for an exciting opportunity, and I’d like to make sure this transition works as well for both of us as possible.”


Discuss how your manager would like to communicate your departure to the rest of the company. Follow the in-person conversation with a written resignation.

Be Honest with your boss

The “stars of organizations go that extra mile to help craft a transition plan,” says Patricia Hunt Sinacole, chief executive of First Beacon Group, a human resources services firm in Hopkinton, and a regular contributor to the Globe.

Kathy Robinson of the ­career coaching firm TurningPoint advises, “Take a moment and document all your major projects and contributions of the past five years, and leave a copy with your boss” — just in case you need to use him or her as a reference in the future.

Be aware that once you resign, “it’s kind of out of your hands what happens,” Atkins says. “You may get paid for two weeks and asked not to keep coming in. You may not get a goodbye party.”

What not to do: Don’t update your LinkedIn profile or blast an e-mail to colleagues about your departure before you have spoken with your manager, says Lampert at Gemvara.

“A friend’s daughter posted on Facebook about her exciting new job before she resigned,” Lampert says. “It was not a good way for her manager to find out.”

Your last days at the company are “not the time to throw darts or drop bombs,” says Varelas, who is a contributor to the Globe. “If your manager wants to do an exit interview with you, focus on making constructive comments as opposed to getting stuff off your chest.”

“Taking vacation or time off during your notice period isn’t a good idea,” says Elizabeth Famiglietti, senior vice president of human resources at PAN Communications, a Boston public relations firm.

Don’t lie. “We had someone leave us by telling us she was taking care of a family emergency,” says Chang, who started the local Flour Bakery + Cafe chain. “We needed to get in touch with her because she was the only person who had information on a catering order.” ­After calling her emergency contact number, Chang discovered that she’d made up the whole situation.

“Obviously, maliciously deleting files is not a good idea, but I’ve seen people do it on their way out,” says Atkins at Interaction Associates.

Acting professionally on your way out the door isn’t just a way to ensure that you can ask your old employer for a reference at some later date, say Atkins and others. They could wind up being a prospective customer or business partner in the future. Or you might want to go back and work with them again.

“I’ve rehired several people who left on good terms,” says Atkins. “Maintaining your reputation is the key.”

Some more tips

Not every employee leaves on good enough terms to get a good recommendation from a former employer. But here’s some advice from Boston-area HR executives about how you can avoid burning bridges:

- Tell your manager behind closed doors that you’re leaving (not with a mass e-mail to the company).

- Give as much notice as you possibly can.

- Offer to work out a transition plan so you can wrap up projects or hand them off to other employees.

- Discuss with your manager how your departure will be communicated to others.

- Resist the urgetolist all of your gripes.

- But if your manager asks for feedback, offer it when you’re not feeling emotional about your decision. Share your new contact info.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.