Take Five: How to leave a job on a high

Written by
Sarah Trounce
Illustration by
Hannah Robinson

Take five minutes and read five practical steps to help you level up in your creative career.

This month’s Guide explores a topic that is often fraught with guilt and anxiety: leaving a job. Sometimes telling your current boss that you’re quitting their business can be as nerve wracking as starting at a new company. However much you remind yourself it’s a professional decision – and a perfectly natural one in the long arc of a career – you can’t help worrying that your colleagues will take it personally. Of course, it is personal in many ways. The decision to leave your job is about your personal preferences as much as your professional development. You might be looking for more responsibility or flexibility, higher pay or better benefits, or just a change of scene. Whatever your reason, you’re taking control of the fact that your current job no longer works for you on some level, and you’re moving on. Below we suggest five steps for navigating the leaving process — with respect for the company you’re leaving, and respect for yourself.

Make Time For Interviews

So, you’ve decided it’s time to leave your job. You’ve considered what you really want from work; you’ve applied to the companies that have caught your eye; and you’ve started the process of preparing for interviews. This is a tricky moment as you won’t want to (and shouldn’t feel obliged to) tell your current manager what’s happening — not just yet. Your first option is to book a day’s holiday so you can have a whole day to prepare for, attend and reflect on your interview, without the pressure of your current job interfering. This isn’t always possible — many job interviews will be organised according to a tight timeframe and won’t offer much flexibility around dates. If this is the case, simply ask your manager for time off for an appointment. If you can, schedule your interview at the end of the day so you don’t have to return to the office afterwards. In exchange for them allowing you to take the time off work, you should show respect by preparing for your interview on your own time.

If the company you’re interviewing with asks for references, you have a few options:

  • You can tell them you’ll provide references only if a provisional job offer is made.
  • You can provide your current manager’s details and clearly state that they should only be contacted once a job offer has been made and you’ve had the chance to share the news in advance.
  • You can provide references that do not include your current company. Your ability to do this will depend on how many other jobs you’ve had and if your previous roles will provide suitable references.

Communicate Clearly At Every Stage

Let’s skip ahead to the part where you’ve aced your interview and received a new job offer (well done!) from your future employer. Hopefully the confidence boost from that job offer will give you the courage to tackle this next stage: telling your existing manager. It’s always best to have this conversation in person (or over Zoom if you’re working remotely). Email your manager and ask if you can schedule a catch-up, but try to avoid telling them you’re leaving over email. Though you may think you’re preparing them for bad news, they could perceive an email as abrupt and even disrespectful — not putting them in the best frame of mind for writing your reference. So, wherever possible, book a chat. It will make things easier for your handover if you’ve had the initial conversation face to face.

Refer to your employment contract in advance of the meeting and get clear on your notice period. Once you’re both in the room, don’t beat around the bush. Tell them that you’re leaving and then (if you genuinely feel this way) tell them that you’re grateful for the opportunities the job has given you and that you’ve enjoyed working with them. You should also offer to help your manager communicate your decision to leave to the rest of the team. You moving on shouldn’t be cloaked in secrecy or doom and gloom. In smaller companies, you and your manager should tell the team together and keep the conversation positive. Only insecure managers will be afraid of sharing when members of their team are leaving. So, if your manager is acting nervously (without good reason), accept that it’s their hang-up, and remember you’ll soon be moving on.

Give As Much Notice As You Can

Cat How is CEO, Founder and Creative Director at London, Lisbon and LA based design agency How&How. She tells us, “As an employer, of course it is always sad to see someone go, but if you’re the person leaving then the best thing to do is to give ample warning and to keep things upbeat and on good terms. Your contract might say you only have to give 4 weeks notice, but if you know it will take your boss a while to replace you as you’ve been in that job for a long time and are integral to your team — then I guarantee they will appreciate you giving them a bit more lead time… A few weeks before your official notice period is ideal, and shows you are thinking about them and the wider team.”

Prepare Your Handover

The handover process is a two-way street. The company you are leaving must put the necessary steps in place, and you should try to be as helpful and efficient as possible. Of course, this can be a stressful task. Time is running out; you may be anxious about starting your new role; and your current team may be treating you differently now they know you’re leaving. Try to maintain a sense of calm and courtesy. Set up handover meetings in the diaries of relevant team members and prepare a document where you can write down any key information that you need to pass on. This might include a mini status report on each project you’re working on and instructions for accessing files along with logins and passwords.

You may be asked by your current manager to take part in an exit interview. Again, out of respect for the company you’re leaving, take this process seriously and take the time to note down constructive feedback about your experiences of working there, and the reasons you are leaving. No need to get too detailed or personal — just give them some pointers on where they could improve processes and any information that might be useful in putting together the job description for your replacement. If there’s enough time during your notice period, you may even be asked to assist with recruitment. This can also be a valuable learning experience.

Make The Most Out Of Your Last Month

Once your handover is underway, it’s time to celebrate the good times and let go of the experiences you’d rather forget. Cat How reflects on a recent example: “We’ve had pretty good retention at How&How, and have only had one full-timer leave for pastures new — and they were a model of process and communication! It’s important as an employer to value someone’s decision to want to do something different in their career, and encourage them to spread their wings when they decide to do so.”

Always remember any place of work is a business first, and a social group second. So don’t get hung-up on feelings of guilt or betrayal. If you’ve been clear, honest and helpful throughout the leaving process, your manager will likely remember this about you in the future and the relationship you have built together will stay the course. How agrees: “When an employee left recently, I wrote a post on LinkedIn for her — promoting her skills and letting people know what an asset she would be to a team… I think it’s always important to make sure that leaving is a positive experience for all, and a normal, healthy part of running a business, and being in a job. As an employer you have to relinquish control, and as an employee leaving you have to show tact when you decide to move on. You never know when you might bump into each other again.”

Take Five

If You Could's Journal hosts a range of useful Guides to help you navigate key decisions at every stage of your career journey. Each Guide consists of 5 simple steps, alongside advice from professionals working across the creative industry. Read more from our Take Five collection here.

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