Resigning: what to do, what not to do

So you’ve decided to resign, have you?

Your next few steps will shape the rest of your life, but you already knew that, didn’t you? After all, why else would you google resigning?

Resigning is a bit like breaking up; depending on how you do it, it can either be a good experience for all concerned, or you could have your stuff thrown out of the apartment. 

So how do you resign and not get your stuff broken? The sad truth is, there’s no one answer that will fit all. All I can do is share my experience; the rest is up to you.


  • Write a resignation letter. A resignation letter is the official notice most companies need to have on file if you decide to leave. It only needs a few essentials. Your last work date, your name and date. A ‘thank you’ would also be appropriate, even if you don’t mean it. The reason you’re resigning is optional.  More on that in a minute.
  • Give at least Two week’s notice. If you’re in an ‘at-will’ employment state, you have no requirement to do this. If you don’t do it, the company will probably never hire you back, and could say that you didn’t give “two weeks notice” when you resigned.  Whether or not it’s legal for them to say that is another story. I am not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice.
  • Be prepared to be shown the door the same day you submit your resignation. If you’re in IT (either software or system administration) then you’ll possibly be shown the door the same day you resign.  It happens.  Don’t take it personally.  However, if there is any turnover in your departing company, you can usually figure out their M.O. before resigning.  If two or more of your co-workers was asked to leave the same day they resigned, then you can almost put money on the same thing happening to you.  While it’d be unethical to time your resignation so that you don’t lose any work time, it also may be your best bet in combating those types of companies.
  • Be helpful during the transition. You’re leaving. You probably have knowledge tucked away in your brain that was never written down.  Write it down, and help out your co-workers.  The last thing you want is to have a bad reputation follow you around.  The software world is pretty big, but it’s not that big.  Word travels. 
  • Use up available PTO; and account for that in your resignation time.  Most companies do not pay for Floating holidays or Sick days. If you’re in this type of company and you know you’re about to resign, check the company policy regarding PTO (Paid Time Off).  It’s in your interest to use up your PTO either before you resign, or during your transition phase (so long as you give them two weeks of time to have you around).  If they’re going to pay you for PTO, then you’re set. If not, use it.  It may feel unethical, but remember: This is time you’ve already earned, and you’re certainly not going to get any time off that quickly in your new job.
    Do Not

  • Include the reasons for your resignation in your resignation letter. If you’re leaving a company for negative reasons (the boss was hell to work for, or it was a continual death march), then including that in your resignation letter is just going to be a huge warning sign should you ever re-apply for that company. If you feel strongly that you need to share the reasons why you’re leaving, do it during the exit interview, or face-to-face. You’re always free to use the fluff language “I’ve decided to take an opportunity that is closely aligned with my career goals”, but keep the substance out of it.
  • Use your resignation as a bargaining chip for better benefits. So you want to negotiate for a better salary, or more PTO? Don’t resign. Talk to your boss and make a business case for you to get a raise. Underpaid? Same scenario. Once you hand in that resignation, you are no longer trusted. Whether or not it’s fair, you’ve already defected and are considered a liability. 
  • Renege in your resignation.  Grass isn’t so green on the other side, eh? Time to find a new job. You’re not going to be able to go back to your old job, and if you do, it’s the equivalent of cheating on your girlfriend: She’ll never trust you again. You’re better off walking away and learning from the experience.
  • Worry about the future of the company you just resigned from. It’s not your concern anymore. I have a problem with this.  I resigned from a position that I really enjoyed, and I did it because the company wasn’t the right fit for me.  But I didn’t stop caring.  I still approached my job with the same vigour, but instead of my co-workers realizing I still cared, they viewed me with distrust. My caring became a liability because it didn’t match up with what my co-workers thought I should be feeling. 
  • Flaunt the fact that you’re leaving. You’re a short-timer. We get it. Don’t flaunt the fact that you’re leaving.  It’s not just action that can be ‘flaunting’. You may also be measurably happier because you’re leaving. That’s all well and good, but your co-workers will see that. You’re just rubbing their faces in it, and it won’t make the transition any easier.  It’s ok to confide in close friends that you work with, but no banners, please.
  • Badmouth the company to your co-workers. They’re still stuck there when you leave.  When you badmouth the company you are leaving, it sends a bad message to your co-workers, and it could go as far as insulting their intelligence for staying at that company..  Be discreet in whom you tell why you’re leaving.  To most everyone, a simple “I found another opportunity” will suffice.


Sometimes these rules should be broken. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited.  Oh, and don’t forget your towel.


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