Exit with Grace

Your last impression can be as important as your first impression.   Consider Raven’s linebacker, Ray Lewis.  What most people will remember about him is the way he left football – as a hard-working leader who brought his team to a Super Bowl championship in 2013.  On the other hand, consider Lance Armstrong.  Both Ray and Lance have proven themselves to be phenomenal athletes …  but how they will be remembered has much to do with how they ended their careers.

So it is when leaving any job.  Whether you are leaving for a better opportunity or you are asked to leave as part of a reduction in force, pay close attention to how you leave.   While you might want to set the boss straight or uncover the office slacker, when leaving a job strive to project a high level of professionalism and maintain your reputation.  Your co-workers and others will remember you for that.

Details matter.  Here are some tips to help you exit with grace:

  • Work with your current and future employers to determine an end date and start date to meet their needs – be as accommodating as possible.
  • Think about the order in which you want to tell people – your boss, your team, your peers, your clients—and, if possible, develop a plan so no one is forgotten.
  • Retrieve any contact information and personal files before notifying your employer of your resignation.  You may not have access to your work computer after you give notice.  Don’t be surprised if you are removed from the premises immediately.  Do not take it personally (they typically do this for security reasons), but be prepared.
  • Remain professional during exit interviews and during the time you have left on the job.
  • Finish strong and with style.  Finish any projects you have started or, at least, leave a plan for them to be seen through to conclusion.  Make yourself accessible to those you leave behind including your successor.
  • Extend your thanks to those who have been helpful to you along the way.
  • Be sure to connect on LinkedIn and/or other social media platforms with colleagues, customers, suppliers and anyone else you have had positive contact with during your tenure so as not to lose contact after moving on.

Your ultimate goal is to keep your reputation intact.  Treat people with respect; understand that although you are leaving the place of work, relationships will endure.

A couple of years ago a colleague left Darden to work for a competitor school closer to her family.  She was as gracious and professional in her departure as she could have been.  On her last day she dropped off a card thanking me for welcoming her to Darden and being a helpful colleague and friend.   “An Old Irish Blessing”  on the face of the card,  is displayed  on my shelf reminding me of Kathleen and what a class act she is.  Departing impressions can be lasting impressions.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and of Kathleen’s graceful exit,  I include the blessing here  :

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand. 

The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services can help you develop a graceful exit strategy or otherwise manage your career.  If you are an alumnus, contact us at alumnicareerservices@darden.virginia.edu to arrange free individual career counseling.

Connie Dato English, (MBA ’91) Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

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