At Pelton Graham we answer a lot of questions about age discrimination, harassment, and the like. Perhaps surprisingly, we have also had many occasions over the years to observe and advise clients as they leave their current job for a more attractive position. Here is a summary of what we have learned:
- Secure the new job first. We have worked with a number of French colleagues over the years, and when they are interviewing for or considering taking a different job, there is a nearly paranoid level of secrecy, even among “best friends” at work. The operational mode is that anything and everything can go wrong and no one can be trusted. Contrast this with the more relaxed approach here in the US, where colleagues often discuss their plans and opportunities with workplace friends. Our best advice here is to keep your plans entirely to yourself and be absolutely sure you have secured the new position via a written and accepted job offer before any discussion with friends at your current job.
- Prepare your personal items for a, perhaps, quick exit. Some employers react to a resignation notice with a security detail and cardboard box for you to quickly fill while under observation. You should be prepared in advance for this type of reaction. An important word of caution: do not succumb to the temptation to take any information of your current employer – no manuals, presentations, spreadsheets, customer or supplier information, electronic media – nothing at all. Your new employer doesn’t want it or need it, trouble will follow if your ex-employer suspects you have taken something, it’s unethical, and you will likely never make any good use of it anyway.
- Make your departure as orderly as possible. Tie up loose ends, resolve overdue issues that have been pending, leave memos or instructions regarding your key responsibilities, etc. The people you work for and with early in your career can be extremely important to your future and leaving a good impression may benefit you in unexpected ways in the future.
- Prepare a resignation letter. This will be part of your personnel file, so give it some thought, but keep it short. State your current position and responsibilities, that you are resigning as of a certain date, appreciation for the opportunity, and offer to cooperate in the transition. It is generally not a good idea to use the resignation letter to air grievances. On the other hand, if you are leaving because of a specific problem, you may want to obtain legal advice and be sure not to undercut your potential claim with a too-cheery resignation letter.
- Give two weeks’ notice, or longer if required by your employment agreement. Notice should ideally be given in a face-to-face meeting with your immediate supervisor.
- Tell insiders and outsiders – after you have given your official notice. As always, be as careful of what you say about your ex-employer, your departure, etc., on social media platforms as you have been during the entire process.
- Exit interview/releases. Many companies will conduct an exit interview, usually by a human resources person. It’s usually best to cooperate, but, again, if you have specific issues that have caused you to leave the job, you should describe them in a neutral and brief statement. Be very careful of anything you are asked to sign; companies have asked for releases from liability, descriptions of any “problems” the departing employee may be aware of (or statements that they are not aware of any problems), expanded covenants not to compete, etc.
- Stay in touch with your ex-colleagues, if permissible. As mentioned above, ex-colleagues can be an invaluable part of your network. Two cautions: if you had an employment agreement or covenant not to compete at your old job, it may well contain a “non-solicitation” clause, which could prohibit you from recommending your ex-colleagues for a new position. A second and very important caution applies if your new position is in the same industry as your previous one. The federal antitrust laws prohibit price fixing, bid rigging, and collusion among competitors, and provide for personal criminal liability for violations. Many successful antitrust prosecutions have revolved around former colleagues who go to work for competing companies and who “stay in touch.” Social contact leads to business discussions, which can lead to illegal agreements in restraint of trade. Be very cautious when dealing with ex-colleagues in this type of situation, and get advice from your company lawyer if in doubt.
If you are concerned about navigating a complicated or contentious resignation, Pelton Graham is here to help.