Record numbers of Americans are quitting their jobs in an era called "the Great Resignation." Reasons for leaving can range widely, often involving pandemic burnout or better career opportunities. However, it's always worth making a smooth exit regardless of what sparked the departure.
"It's a very small world, and when you're in a specialized profession there's a very good chance that you are going to come into contact with one of your former colleagues again," said Sean Gill, the founder and managing partner at Conexus, a recruiting company based in Los Angeles. "In other words, your past will catch up with you if not managed appropriately."
If you're planning to put in your notice, consider taking the advice of experts below and doing everything in your power to make your exit as strong as your entrance.
Give sufficient notice. It's standard to give your employer at least two weeks' notice when you quit your job, but those in accounting should consider giving more notice.
"Two weeks is kind of the corporate tradition, but I've always been a 30-day-notice kind of person because in accounting we have cycles during the month where certain things have to get done, and it would be tough not to have a person in place during those times," said Nikki Winston, CPA, an Atlanta-based senior finance controller at Microsoft.
Aim to time your transition so that you will be able to complete your upcoming set of deadlines before departing from your company. You'll also need enough time to transition into your new job.
"It's a balancing act of doing the right thing by your current employer while also being respectful to your new employer," Gill said.
Tell your manager face-to-face. It might be tempting to quit your job over email in order to avoid an awkward conversation, but doing so will likely be viewed as unprofessional.
"I would have a problem getting an email from someone saying they quit, because leaving is a major thing that should be done on good terms with a personal connection," said Edward Mendlowitz, CPA/ABV/PFS, partner with Withum in East Brunswick, N.J.
Gill recommends having that conversation in person or over a video call, and then following up with a concise letter of resignation.
"I would highly recommend that you have a conversation with your supervisor or manager to inform them that you are tendering your resignation before submitting a resignation letter," Gill said. "The resignation letter should be at the end of the process, not at the beginning."
When you're ready to put in your notice, Gill recommends requesting a meeting with your manager or direct supervisor within the next day or two. If they ask what you want to talk about, let them know you would rather discuss that during the conversation.
"Often that's going to be a clue, and they might suspect that you're going to be resigning," Gill said.
Have a direct and professional conversation. Once you're sitting down with your manager, it's usually best to open the conversation with the fact that you're resigning.
Gill recommends breaking the news with, "There's no easy way for me to do this, so I just need to let you know that I have accepted another opportunity and I'm tendering my resignation today."
You need to be clear that you're leaving in that conversation.
"Don't take a passive approach where you might give them the impression that they have an opportunity to talk you out of your decision," he said.
After relaying that you're resigning, Gill recommends pausing to allow your manager to absorb the information and perhaps reveal how they feel about it. If it seems your manager is overly upset by the news, you could try saying, "Please keep in mind, this is not personal," and then sprinkling in a compliment like, "This is a great organization, and I have valued my time here working for you."
If your manager tries to talk you out of your decision or asks you to stay on longer than you would like, Gill suggests replying with, "Let me think about that and I'll get back to you," in order to avoid agreeing to anything in the moment that would be difficult to retract. If your manager makes a counteroffer, you can likewise ask for time to think about it, or decline politely but firmly.
If you seem to be losing control of the conversation, Gill suggests reeling it back in by calmly telling your manager you'd like to focus on what needs to be done over the coming weeks to ensure a smooth transition. Ask your manager if it's a good time for that conversation, or if they'd like to schedule a time to talk about that in the near future.
In general, Gill said, it's best to avoid airing grievances you might have during this conversation and stick to a simple explanation of why you're leaving, such as the fact that you've found another opportunity that you want to pursue.
Submit a formal resignation letter. After you have informed your manager, it's time to submit a formal resignation letter, which should be as short and succinct as possible, according to Gill.
"A resignation letter is not where you're going to explain why you're leaving the company," Gill said. "It is simply a tool that is used so your company has evidence that you opted to depart from the organization."
Winston recommends copying someone from HR in your resignation email so they can get the ball rolling on any back-end tasks. This is also a good time to provide a forwarding address so the organization can send along tax documents.
Before you depart, be sure to gather information about rolling over your pension, health savings account, or 401(k). And while you still have access to your work email or computer, take some time to save any important contact information, documents, and whatever else might be useful to you down the road, as long as it's not proprietary to the organization.
Make the transition as smooth as possible. Your managers and colleagues are much more likely to remember you fondly if you tidy things up on your way out the door.
"When you leave a job, whether it's voluntarily or involuntarily, you should leave with the same energy that you had on the first day," Winston said. That includes not gossiping or badmouthing your soon-to-be-former place of employment, as that can reflect badly on you.
Be proactive in your departure by letting your manager know what open items are on your plate, tying up any loose ends, briefing the person who is going to take over your work, and sharing any vital knowledge you might have.
"One thing I've seen that has crippled a lot of companies is when certain employees leave and a lot of that institutional knowledge leaves with them, so be open to sharing that knowledge," Winston said.
Make sure you give yourself space to wrap up at your current company and ample time to decompress between jobs, which might mean taking a few days or even a couple of weeks to do nothing.
"You don't want to carry any residual feelings from that old company into your new role, so give yourself time to come down from that," Winston said.
Say farewell but keep in touch. Just because you quit your job doesn't mean can't maintain the connections you formed during your time at the company.
Mendlowitz recommends sending a group email during your final week to the people in your division, after you've spoken with your boss, telling them that you're leaving the company, but that you enjoyed your time working with them. Encourage them to stay in touch by providing your personal email or an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
He added that it's also a good idea to take some time after you've submitted your resignation to say farewell to any clients, vendors, and suppliers you regularly worked with so they know you appreciated working with them and have a way to reach out with new opportunities down the road.
Winston said, "Don't feel like just because you leave, you have to disassociate with the company or lose those relationships you created while you were there."
Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.