Writing a letter of resignation is an inevitable part of your working career. And just as your cover letter can help you through the door to a job, a good resignation letter can warrant you a great reference on the way out.
Even if you are leaving for negative reasons, while you may have dreams of grandeur about pouring your heart into an expletive-ridden note, resignation letters have to be handled with the same professionalism you would display in hopes of landing a job. That said, there are ways to craft a perfect resignation letter that is simple and to the point, no matter what your reason for leaving.
Why do you need one?
When Goldman Sachs Executive Director Greg Smith published his resignation letter in the New York Times, the media was a flood with people weighing in as the former head honcho slammed his soon-to-be ex-employer. But many higher up figures decried his openness, not just for its scathing comments about the company itself, but for the fact that such behaviour would surely ruin his future career prospects.
A resignation letter is of course your parting shot from your current employer, but how you leave things with them can affect your employment future, too. Chances are Greg Smith never relied on Goldman Sachs for a reference.
Your reference letter will be a part of your personal HR file, and should clearly outline the terms of your resignation: the fact that you’re leaving, when you’re leaving, and a brief explanation as to why.
What to write
Firstly, keep it friendly, but professional. For example, you can write “Dear Jane”, as opposed to “Dear Ms. Doe” when addressing a resignation letter. It is best practice to resign in person and then send a follow up resignation letter detailing your leaving for company records, as well as your own. It is becoming increasingly common to send a resignation email, as opposed to a written letter, which is acceptable. However, a resignation letter should never be hand-written.
In the first line you should clearly state the fact that you are leaving, and detail when.
For example: “Please accept this as my formal resignation, effective immediately/in two weeks from now on x date/etc.”
With resignation letters, it is best to keep it short and sweet. Therefore, in the next paragraph, you can provide as much or as little information as you like as to why you are leaving. If it has been a positive work experience, perhaps highlight some of the things you learnt at your place of employment and explain politely that another opportunity came up, or offer details about your reason. If you are leaving under not so pleasant circumstances, you are better off keeping it brief. You are not obligated to provide extensive reasoning, and doing so is likely to dissolve into a rant or an attack – the last thing you want! No matter how much ill will you may bear, the world is small, and even smaller now with the advent of social media. Leaving on bad terms may well come back to haunt you in future endeavours, and not to mention you may well have to sit through an exit interview with your employer after turning in said rant – not pleasant. To save burning bridges, keep it short and simple.
Lastly, thank your employer for the opportunities you’ve been afforded (yes, even if you can’t stand them!). If you have a good relationship with your boss, this gesture will be appreciated and will likely lead to a stellar recommendation.
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Depending on your role and relationship with your boss/team, you may want to offer to help the transition of your job to a new candidate. This could involve helping in the actual process of hiring your replacement, or helping by leaving behind training materials or information. If you feel so inclined, you can even provide contact information so you can be reached after you’ve left to answer any questions or provide clarification. Again, this is certainly not expected and may not be necessary, but it does act as an excellent parting gesture.
At the end of the day, a resignation letter is a courtesy to your boss. While Greg Smith may have said everything you feel about your current workplace – leave it to him! Keep your resignation letter short, simple, and polite. If in doubt, stick to the basics:
- It should be addressed informally but not be personal
- It should include the date you plan to cease employment
- Include the reason for resignation, albeit a brief one
- Finish up with your written name and signature
Submit a copy to your direct supervisor, a copy to HR and keep a copy for yourself. Voila! Etiquette observed, you can now begin the next chapter of your career with bridges intact and a new beginning ahead.
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