Writing a good resignation letter (resigning yourself to a good letter)
Writing a resignation letter is often the first step to starting a new job. Approach it as a new beginning. (Why you’re plunging yourself into yet another exploitative hellhole is an entirely different question; one best ignored in a haze of Chablis) Here are some tips to help you leave on a positive note and keep open the possibilities for future employment opportunities. (For, « in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing » [Oscar Wilde])
1. Be concise
Reading resignation letters are never pleasant. So keep it brief and stay on point (besides, points cut deepest) If there is something you want to let your manager know, particularly if of a personal nature or is about one of your colleagues, it is best to do so in person (leave no evidence behind). Remember, this letter goes to HR and stays on file (never trust ones who treat humans as resources).
2. Keep your tone professional
Even if you and your manager are friends (it is not so much that we can live with fictions: it is more so that it is fictions that we need in order to live), never forget this is an official letter. And it remains — permanently — in company records. Communicate your reasons in a respectful way. And be professional: a resignation letter should not contain complaints about your colleagues, managers, or the organisation (gossip is best spread at the bar amidst whispers; and plausible deniability). Don’t burn your bridges (unless it brings down the citadel): you may want to work with them again in the future.
3. Read your employment contract
Make sure that you have not breached any terms of your contract (or you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll come for you). This includes your notice period. If you need to leave sooner, bring this up in person with your manager. Showing that you adhere to an agreement is a mark of being professional and responsible. (This is also the point to take a moment to feel a profound sense of regret for signing your life away: and owe-ing your soul to the company store [Merle Travis])
4. Speak to your manager
It is best to speak to your manager before handing in your letter, both as a sign of respect and to ensure that they are not caught off-guard by HR or their manager (there are few things more dangerous than a cornered animal). Not only is this being courteous, this will also increase your chances of a good future working relationship.
Jeremy Fernando, le couteau, 2017
Format for writing a good resignation letter
A resignation letter is a standard business letter (ie: so bland that anyone would click ‘accept’ to be spared reading its ‘terms and conditions’). However due to the nature of its content the tone should be both professional while remaining sensitive to the feelings of the recipient (« Baby don’t lie to me/ You know that I’ll believe you » [Matt Berninger]).
1. Date (since taking this job, when’s the last time you went on one)
This should be at the top. It is important to show when it was written and submitted in the event of a dispute over your notice period.
The company name should be on the first line, then the street address, followed by city and post-code (despite the fact that everyone involved is probably already in the same building; then again, try not to forget that HR live in a different universe).
3. Addressing the letter
The letter should be addressed to your immediate manager. This is a formal letter so address them with the appropriate honorific (flattery will get you everywhere) followed by their family name. e.g. Ms Aw; Mr B (in spite of preferring not to); Dr Chen. Be cognisant of cultural specificities: family names do not exist in some traditions so make sure you address your recipient appropriately.
4. Reason for resigning
This provides closure for why you are choosing to end the relationship (« baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more » [Haddaway]). There are many possible reasons but stick to the main one: no one wants to read a litany. Be precise, honest, and remain professional: a resignation letter is not the place to air grievances (even though, by now, you’re clearly on your third goblet).
Different reasons call for different approaches. These include:
(i) Personal reasons
It is your right to leave a job regardless of the reason ( « St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store »). So there is no need to apologise (everyone loves a good groveling). However do remember that not everyone shares the same worldview: explaining your perspective often helps to smooth things over and lowers the chances of ill-will.
(ii) Other professional opportunities, including joining a competitor
Be honest. Industries are small circles, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows (especially since you’re going to be the one spreading the news). Thank your manager for their guidance in your development: knowing that you appreciate and acknowledge their role in reaching a new professional milestone helps maintain a good relationship.
(iii) Shifting to a completely different profession
Be upfront about your change in professional direction. Letting them know you are not a future competitor might be a source of relief (and, to be fair, amusement that some other eejit has hired you). It might also open opportunities for future cross-industry collaborations.
Regardless of your reasons be aware that leaving might cause some consternation (one can only hope), including (read: only because it’ll cause) an increase in workload for your colleagues and manager, and having to search for a replacement. Offer to help ease the transition (nothing wounds more than pity), such as by serving your full notice-period and training the person who is taking over (“and I’ll be there, before the next teardrop falls” [Freddy Fender]).
It is important to sign-off, as this is a document pertaining to a legal contract. You should include a professional closing above your signature, such as (regardless of) best regards or sincerely.
6. A note of gratitude
It is good practise to thank your manager for the opportunities presented to you and the experiences gained working under their guidance. After all, you might need to get a reference from them. More importantly, it is the courteous thing to do and reflects well on you. Remember that your resignation letter is often the final thing your manager and company see of you. Make sure you leave them with a positive impression of you (« Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art » [Wilde]).
Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it, ah, out of sight
You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, oh, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red
~ Bertolt Brecht, Mack the Knife
Jeremy Fernando reads, writes, and makes things. He is the general editor of Delere Press; curates the thematic magazine One Imperative; is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School; co-creator of the private dining experience, People Table Tales; and the writer-in-residence at Appetite, the sensorial laboratory exploring the cross-roads of food, music, and art.
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