Don't blow it: The proper way to resign from your job

Industry expert passes along wisdom after years of seeing people make their big mistake

Most people don’t know how to resign. 

Sounds odd, but I’ve seen plenty of people resign over the years, and most really blow an opportunity.

How so?

Let’s start with one critical presumption: You generally like your job and the people you work with. But you may feel you’ve been there too long; you’re not getting enough responsibility; you want to diversify your experience; you want more money; or you’ve been recruited to what seems like a better opportunity.

Put another way, if you’re really unhappy, you probably should leave, and how you resign is pretty immaterial (assuming you’re at least polite and give appropriate notice).

But if you’re leaving only because you’ve found something better, then here’s where people make their big mistake: They don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know what’s possible in their current employer’s environment, so they assume they must leave to realize their ambitions.

So, what happens? They go to their manager, announce their resignation, and then often the manager scrambles to find a way to keep the individual. Perhaps they commit to expanded responsibilities within a finite timeframe; maybe they offer more money; or perhaps they do any number of things to make the situation better.

Now the employee has a major conundrum. If the employer’s offer sounds good, should they stay? If they do, and they have to withdraw their resignation, a certain number of executives by this time know what’s happening and the dynamic can be a bit awkward. The employee also then wonders whether this has damaged their reputation – or worse, whether people think it was all a strategy to get more money. And if they stay, the employee must call their "new employer" and withdraw their acceptance. What are the implications of that? "They will hate me for life," they may think. "I’ve killed my opportunities with those people." And so on.

Given the above issues and anxieties, the choice is often to stick with the resignation and take the new job so the process doesn’t get all muddled and embarrassing. 

And there you go. A major mistake.

Why?

For all I know, this person should leave and take the new job. I am not passing judgment on the final decision. What I am suggesting is there is a much better way to get to the final decision.

If you have an offer in hand, consider going to your boss and saying, "I have a difficult conversation I need to have with you. I really enjoy working here, with you, and my colleagues. It’s terrific. But another opportunity has come along that is pretty compelling to me." Explain why. Then, "I didn’t want to accept this position until you and I had a chance to talk. I wanted your advice and to better understand what options there may be right here."

Nine out of 10 managers will appreciate this approach. You have initiated a gracious, professional conversation with your manager. You have given your manager the opportunity to more actively consider your future, and to consider fast-tracking your opportunities in areas that are of interest to you, including your compensation. If nothing happens, you are still free to resign. If your manager moves mountains and provides some great new opportunities, you have benefited from a very successful meeting. Or you could graciously say thank you and still leave.

But you haven’t crossed the "red line" of resignation and created a scenario in which you’d have to walk that back.

Don’t presume anything. None of us really know what we don’t know. 

Bob Feldman is a cofounder and partner of PulsePoint Group. He can be reached at Bob.Feldman@pulsepointgroup.com

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