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Planning the Graceful Exit

  |  October 11, 2012   |  Comments

Continuing to work hard after you've given your two weeks' notice may be more beneficial than you think.

There's a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over - and to let go. It means leaving what's over without denying its value.

- Ellen Goodman, American journalist

A year ago, I shared my tips and experience with starting a new job in a column called, "The First Days." I compared starting a new job with "entering a foreign country on your own." For this piece, I'm writing about the "last days," specifically the weeks after you've given notice. You're no longer a foreigner; in fact, you're a seasoned denizen and you're now leaving for another country.

First, let's get one thing out of the way (and this may sound harsh) - life goes on. Although you may think that there will be civil unrest and economies will collapse, the truth is your company will be fine in the long run - maybe even better. It's not that your work and contributions weren't appreciated and admired, but, most likely, if you've reached your end point, so has your employer. Now this is the long-term picture; the short term may not be as bright.

If you're a valued employee and have been doing a good job, your departure will create short-term angst. My recommendation is to recognize this and realize that you have two weeks to work the hardest that you have ever worked at this job. This is not the time to hang back, take three-hour lunches, and call out. You may be thinking, "What's at risk? I already quit," but there may be more at risk than you think - like your reputation. Your team, colleagues, and clients will remember how things went down because they will be the most impacted by it and the impact will last weeks and months after you have left. And don't underestimate the power of networks and future positions. The report you didn't finalize (which you said you did) is now keeping your colleague up all night, the same colleague who you may be asking for a reference or even a job some day.

My belief is that true character is displayed most when you have nothing to lose or gain. If you know that your job is not on the line anymore, then everything you do to make the transition better for someone else means so much more because it's for their gain not yours. And people take notice and are way more appreciative of your efforts (and appreciation goes a long way). Also, since your team is probably accustomed to people leaving their jobs in disarray and leaving them with a mess, they will take notice. Commit to leaving them with the best impression ever.

Consider every possible thing that your colleagues may need once you're gone - think small. One of the biggest time-suckers when someone leaves is trying to find contact information and stored files. Therefore, provide them with the most updated information and locations on where they can find things. Also, think big. The hardest part when someone resigns is that history is lost. Conversations, verbal commitments, disputes, etc. tend to get lost or misconstrued. Think ahead to where these ghosts may lurk and make your colleagues aware.

Leaving a company is also an opportunity for reflection and honesty. If there is any constructive feedback that you can provide (done with love and humility instead of haste or judgment) to your manager or colleagues, then consider doing so. For example, you may recommend that the person they consider for your job have a certain level of experience or strengths based on the challenges you faced or how you saw the role developing. You may also consider leaving a note or letter to the person who will be replacing you even if they haven't been identified yet.

Furthermore, this is a time for gratitude for what you have learned and the experiences you have gained. Make sure you thank the right people and it's always nice to be specific. For example, "Dear Jim: Thank you for trusting me to handle that meeting on my own. Although I was nervous, your confidence helped me get through it and now I know I can do it."

And finally, stay in touch. Even with the best laid-out plans, the unexpected always surfaces and you may know the answer to the mystery that your colleagues are trying to solve. Or at the very least, if you've done everything else right in the weeks before you left, your colleagues will be happy to hear from you.

Exit image on home page via Shutterstock.



Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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