Leaving a job can mean a whole bunch of different things—sometimes it feels like you left your family behind, while sometimes it feels like busting out of jail. Either way, resigning marks a pretty significant change, a step that requires careful calculation. Whether you want to leave your first job or your fourth, whether you feel heartbroken to leave or you’ve been packed up since day one, an articulate, positive resignation letter provides the key for a dignified, classy departure. And while making sure that your resignation letter reads positive and articulate (and doesn’t make your boss feel like the warden) can feel like a scary task, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
What is a resignation letter?
A resignation letter informs your boss know that you want to leave your position in a professional, respectful way. Most employers require that you give at least two weeks’ notice, so the basic gist of the letter is, “Hey boss, this has been great, but I’m outta here in a couple weeks” (but probably not using those exact words).
Why does a resignation letter matter?
You might feel tempted to just walk away from your job and never look back, but this rarely does anyone any good. “[A resignation letter] reflects one’s sense of professionalism, creates a sense of the resigning person’s commitment to moving forward,” said Amy Bolotin, director of the JCC Early Learning Center in Brookline, MA. “It says, ‘This position is not right for me at this time’ or ‘there are opportunities I wish to pursue.’”
Contrary to what some people might think, the goal of “resigning professionally” consists simply of showing respect for your boss and leaving on a positive note, not avoiding confrontation and blindly seeking approval. When the time comes for you to apply to new jobs, you have to get recommendations from somewhere—and the probability of an employer you basically abandoned agreeing to help you out? Not so great. “I don’t always feel comfortable recommending someone who didn’t resign professionally,” said Amy Mueller, Artistic Director of the Playwrights Foundation in San Franciso, CA. In such an instance, you don’t just set yourself back, but you also put your former employer in an uncomfortable place, creating a lose-lose situation that sends everyone home unhappy.
What should I include in my letter?
Keep it simple and don’t overthink this part: The “less is more” rule definitely applies here. “If there isn’t a separation/resignation form specific to the organization, it should be a standard business letter, with full address and greeting above, clear statements within the body of the resignation and position and department and date of separation, and formal closing below,” said Alene Moroni, Head of Reference at Forbes Library in Northampton, MA. “Include positive feedback if there is any. It’s fine to say you’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with the supervisor/department/company.” If you find yourself veering off the professional path and into “I’d like to thank my mom for always believing in me” territory, you know you’ve gone too far.
What should I avoid in my letter?
Always remember that a resignation letter and a swan song have completely different purposes. “Long explanations of any kind, negative feedback [and] suggestions for improving the work environment should never be included,” said Bolotin.
Don’t dive headfirst into your thoughts and feelings about the company. “I would avoid [giving a reason for your departure] if you are disgruntled or unhappy,” said Mueller. Telling your boss that you’ve found a better fitting job or that you just couldn’t handle the fluorescent lights for one more day will feel super appealing. If you want them to maintain a positive opinion of you, however, you should probably avoid it.
Is a resignation letter my only option?
Like most situations in the professional world, resignation letters don’t have a one size fits all option. Sometimes a brief, mature conversation with your boss feels like a more appropriate way of informing them of your departure. However, in that case, following up with your resignation in writing makes the ideal next move. “I’ve always resigned from jobs (at least five that I can think of) by speaking with my supervisor. The letter has only been a follow up that contained the facts e.g. ‘This letter confirms our conversation of [date]…’” said Dano Weisbord, Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. “If you have had a good conversation in person about the resignation with your supervisor, there is no need to work too hard on the resignation letter itself.” Either way, your last moments with your company will remain just as important as your first.
When you find yourself sitting at your computer, trying desperately to turn a blank document into an articulate resignation letter, take a deep breath. Employers and career counselors have made it plenty clear that your writing should keep it simple and professional. Read your letter to a friend or say your resignation speech to yourself in the mirror. Do what you need to do in order for the final product to feel natural and respectful and the rest should fall into place.