If there’s anything that feels better than being hired for a great new job, it’s the pleasure you get when resigning from a bad old job. Sure, the bad old job used to be a great new job, but that was before you actually started it. Now that you know what the job is really like, nothing could feel better than writing your resignation letter, taping it to your boss’s forehead, and saying “bye-bye” forever.
Of course, there are rules for writing that resignation missive. For me, rule No. 1 is — start early. I recommend you write your farewell on the first day. Trust me, with your resignation letter safely in your desk drawer, you’ll feel better about your job, no matter how miserable it becomes.
You can call this negative thinking, but let’s face the facts: Even if it is the first day of work, you’re going to want to resign before you get fired, which, knowing you, will probably be on the second day of work.
For the other rules of resignation letters, I turn to Elizabeth Garone, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, unless, of course, she’s resigned. I certainly hope not, since Garone is a fountain of info on the subject of leave-taking.
“The most important question to be asking is what not to include,” says Garone in replying to a reader’s question on what to include in a resignation letter. “Less is always more,” adds Roy Cohen, a Manhattan-based executive coach. “This is not the time to set the record straight.”
The reason for keeping your mouth shut, and leaving the record crooked, is that you might someday want to return to the company, and you don’t want your new manager to find a snarky letter in your official file. Yes, you have an official file. They’ve been keeping it on you since kindergarten, when the teacher wrote you up for eating paste.
If you don’t mind risking the possibility of repeat employment, leaving a job is the perfect time to let your managers know what you really think of them. If you come off like a babbling psychotic, that’s fine, too. After all, it’s your managers who turned you into a babbling psychotic — you used to be such a nice, quiet psychotic.
Marilyn Puder-York, another East Coast executive coach, suggests striking a positive tone from the start. “One way to do this is to include a sentence or two at the top that shows your appreciation for the opportunity to work at the company and the experience it has given you.”
Agreed! Here’s a sentence for your next resignation letter: “I really appreciate the opportunity to report to an egomaniacal loser who doesn’t have the brains of a chickpea. Thanks to this wonderful experience, I know exactly what not to do at my new position.”
If you believe the experts, you not only have to stifle all your complaints, but you also have to be polite. “Small courtesies are important,” says reporter Garone. “This includes giving enough notice.” No one knows exactly what the right amount of notice might be, but Puder-York draws the line on a six-month fade-out. “You lose a lot of power and credibility in six months,” she says. That assumes you had any power and credibility to begin with.
For me, the ideal time to give notice is however much time comes between receiving your bonus check and cashing your bonus check. And if you don’t receive a bonus check, then what are you waiting for? You should be out the door before the boss realizes that you’re gone with the copying machine, the break-room microwave, the photo of the Harrisburg plant in the reception area, and 16 cases of printer cartridges.
The experts advise ending your resignation letter with an offer to provide your reasons for splitting in a follow-up discussion. This is the famous “exit interview,” which companies claim can help them to make the work experience better. Even if it were true, these interviews have become something of an endangered species — since it’s so discouraging for the employee who is conducting the interview, and staying with the company, to hear all that’s wrong with the place.
Think about it. If your exit interview ends with the interviewer asking you to slip his or her resume to your new boss, you’ve made the right decision. Especially when the interviewer is your old boss.
Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.