Michael Sterling

Character Counts – How to Leave a Job Gracefully


Imagine a co-worker who trashes his cubicle, plays practical jokes on his replacement and slinks off with the copier on his last day of work. Is this a person you’d recommend to a prospective employer?  Or expect your firm to rehire? Or expect team members to want to work with again? Probably not.


No matter what your feelings are towards your firm, bad behavior degrades the employment experience for everyone. Keep things professional from the day you start until the day you finish. I recently wrote about the best way to resign in “Exit Strategy: The Right Way to Resign.” However, giving notice at your current firm is not a license for ‘anything goes’ until your final day.


How to Leave a Job Gracefully


When leaving a job, it is best to exercise decorum, whether the move is voluntary or forced. To make the best of an awkward situation, here are some tips to remember:


  • Keep your mouth shut. Leaving a job (like ending a personal relationship) is strictly a private matter; and waving your dirty laundry serves no purpose.
  • Stay cool. Even in the context of a “confidential” exit interview, there’s nothing to gain from scorching the Earth.
  • Keep your distance. Soliciting support (or inciting dissent) from your co-workers might create the impression of a conspiracy or coup d’etat – and unwittingly implicate innocent people.
  • Burn bridges at your own peril. The firm you left yesterday may need your services tomorrow. The team members you work with now, may be a prospective co-worker – or even boss- in the future. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t  say it.


Sure, it’s easy to be gracious when everything’s rosy. But it takes an extra dose of character to act like an adult when the going gets tough. If you’re ever caught in a sudden employment shift, try to maintain your composure and consider the consequences of your actions.


Workplace trends like office yoga and casual Fridays may come and go—but good manners are forever.


As Shakespeare wrote, “A person is remembered for his entrances and exits.”


As a career coach and recruiter specializing in public accounting, I advise candidates on issues like these daily. Interested in more career nutrition? Check out the Career Wellness section of the SterlingFreeman website. And connect with me on LinkedIn.


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