Speaking Up When You Quit

3 Things You Should Say Before You Quit

Many employees have “come and gone” during my three decades as CEO of a small business—interns graduate, professionals move across country with a spouse, some find a better job somewhere else. The vast majority left on great terms. A few—well, let’s just say they weren’t missed.

But here’s what each group had in common: Those who left under less-than-desirable terms wrote the typical one-sentence resignation: “I’m resigning my position as X, effective X date.” But those who left on great terms wrote a classy resignation letter or email.

And that classy resignation letter has served them well in several ways:

  • Future client referrals
  • Future positive references when they changed jobs the second and third times with prospective employers
  • Future character references for school, research grants, lawsuits, partnerships, credit lines

So what do you say—either orally or in writing––when you resign your job? Or, at least if you don’t write these things, you’ll want to make sure you communicate them orally to your supervisor so that he or she remembers what you said before you offer your resignation officially.

  1. “I’ve learned a lot here.”

If you can be more specific than this generic comment, that’s even better. Did you learn a specific skill? A process? How to work as a team? If your experience there hasn’t been the best, maybe you’ve learned what NOT to do: How not to manage.  How not to hoard information. How not to treat employees. How not to treat customers. How not to use social media. How not to ignore stated policies. How not to discourage employees by playing political games.

In cases of learning from a negative experience, of course, you’ll not mention the negatives specifically. But consider this:  All learning is valuable and will serve you well in the future. The attitude you’re expressing with such a genuine, neutral statement about learning is humility. Arrogant people do not admit to learning anything from others.

2. “I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had here.”

Gratitude will serve you well in the workplace and in life. Consider the opportunities you’ve had. If you can list them and are genuinely grateful, list them specifically such as “a pleasant work environment,” “working with supportive team mates,” “working on meaningful projects,” “work that correlates to my field of study,” “high-visibility projects as a team,” “positive interaction and support from the management team.”

  1. “Here are my plans at this time….”

Some people make it a practice never to mention future plans—whether they have accepted a new position, whether they are starting their own business, if they plan to return to school for another degree, or if they plan to drop out of the workforce to care for an elderly parent for a few months.

But brevity in a resignation letter almost always leaves a negative impression.  Brevity leads to a brusque, secretive, or even harsh tone.

If you’re accepting another position, you can always be vague about what job where. If you’re dropping out of the workforce to return to school, you can say to “finish another degree” without saying what degree or for how long.  In other words, you can be vague or specific about your reasons, but do give a reason of some sort.

Absent a reason, your manner seems secretive—as if hiding information.

And that tone often generates rumors about your departure with remaining coworkers—rumors that get passed on to prospective employers who probe during their hiring process.


So no matter how badly you want to leave a job, it pays to resign with class.

Want more tips on communication, executive presence, and writing? Sign up for the weekly ezine here.