Did you ever leave a job you loved because you knew it was a good career move? What about the opposite – you couldn’t wait to walk out the door and never look back?

Over the course of your career, you’ll likely have some version of both scenarios. It’s easy to leave on good terms when you love the job and are respected by your superiors and your colleagues. What can you do when you’re leaving a job you dislike?

Here are five steps that will make your departure more graceful and make you look good in the end. These steps work whenever you leave a job, but are especially important when you don’t want to burn your proverbial bridges.

1. Keep It Close

Don’t spread the word that you’re interviewing or that you have a new position until you’re ready to give a definite final notice. People might guess and they might gossip, but to keep it professional, don’t say anything until you’re sure. Once you’ve accepted another job, tell your boss first in person (resist the urge to do a little dance of celebration!) and with a short resignation letter in hand.

2. Stay Positive

Your boss was a jerk, your coworkers shut you out, and you had an hour-long commute. Who wouldn’t want to unload all that when it’s time to give a reason for leaving? No matter how much you want to let fly your complaints, don’t say anything negative when you’re leaving. You can couch your valid criticisms in a positive way. “I’m excited about the team environment in this new role” sounds a lot more upbeat than “These cliques make me feel like I’m in high school all over again.”

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3. Give Them Some Time

You might want to say “See ya!” and run out the door, but you need to give your company enough notice of your departure. Two weeks is standard for most positions, but you can gauge if you need to stay longer or shorter than that. Some organizations will want you to stay to help with transitions and finalizing duties or projects, but some (especially if you’re higher up) might ask you to leave immediately.

4. Wrap It All Up

After you have told your boss of your intentions, make a plan to not leave anyone in the lurch. Before your last day, all your work should be transitioned to other people – right down to the smallest detail. If some of your tasks are more complicated, put them in writing.

5. Take the High Road

Griping about your old boss or organization in your new job is wrong on many levels. First of all, it’s unprofessional to speak badly of a former employer or coworker. No matter how justified you are or how horribly outrageous your stories are, sharing them only makes you look petty. Your new coworkers could wonder if you might spread tales about them, and, rest assured, your new boss will hear about it. Finally, remember it’s a small, small world. Your nasty boss could be your new coworker’s beloved sister-in-law. And a former colleague could end up being a superior at some point.

As tough as it is to keep a terrible work experience positive, it is the only thing to do when you’re on your way out the door. Even if others know what you went through, they’ll appreciate your professional and respectful attitude. 

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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