CPA INSIDER

The right way to leave your job

A graceful departure can help you retain key relationships.
By Cheryl Meyer

If you're contemplating a career move this year, you're not alone. In June, global talent solutions firm Robert Half reported that nearly one in three employees (32%) plans to look for a new job over the next several months. Job openings are also on the rise. According to Robert Half's "State of U.S. Hiring" survey in July, 51% of respondents — more than 2,800 senior managers —said they expected to add new permanent positions in the second half of 2021.

"We have never seen such a high level of employee turnover," said Michael Steinitz, a Robert Half senior executive director overseeing finance and accounting talent and recruiting. "It's very much an employee market, and companies need to sell themselves in terms of opportunity and flexibility."

That's great news for job seekers to be sure. But if you're considering changing jobs, don't underestimate the importance of making a graceful exit. Mistakes you make in your final weeks on a job — such as slacking off on work or sporting a negative attitude — could hurt you later in your career. "The care in which you communicate your next step matters, because you never know if you'll be working with any of these people again," said Dallas-based Jennifer Zamora, a career coach with management consulting firm Korn Ferry.

Consider these tips for leaving your current job in a poised, professional, and polite manner:

Time it right. Be cognizant of your employer's schedule before jumping ship. "Especially in accounting, there are certain times of the year you don't want to leave," Steinitz said. "Be sensitive to that. "If you do receive another job offer while working on a critical deadline for your current employer, ask the organization that's hiring you if you can begin work at a later date."

In some cases, you are not obligated to give your employer two weeks' notice; that time period is a commonly accepted form of workplace courtesy and not usually a legal requirement. However, especially in a partnership or executive role, you may be under contract for several weeks or months, depending on your position. Or, two weeks may not be enough time for your manager and team to find a replacement to handle your duties. In the latter case, plan for a longer transition period if you can, as a courtesy to your current employer.

Speak with your manager first. Once you opt to quit, set up a meeting with your manager first. If you have multiple supervisors, choose the "supervisor you have the best relationship with," advised Michael Maksymiw, CPA, CGMA, a 2010 graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy and former partner at Marcum LLP. Once in the meeting, hand (or email) your manager a letter of resignation and offer to answer any questions about your work going forward, he added.

Maksymiw recently left his job at Marcum to pursue other opportunities, and first contacted the partner with whom he worked the most, to unveil the news. From there, he spoke with other partners and his team, he said. He stayed on for 90 days per his partner contract, and then departed once that time had concluded.

Rehearse the conversation. Be prepared to address your manager's possible responses. "You need to rehearse a couple ways that the conversation [could] go," Maksymiw said. Don't offer too much detail about the new gig, but briefly explain the reason for the change, such as feeling the new role fits you better, he suggested. Focus more on the new opportunity than your rationale for leaving your current employer.

Work with your manager. Talk with your manager about how you should communicate with staff and clients, Zamora advised. Don't take it upon yourself to determine how the news of your departure should be revealed. Also, ask your manager if a farewell email to your colleagues, requesting that they stay in touch, would be appropriate. 

Offer to help with the transition and outline your current work projects to make things easier for your employer. Maksymiw, for instance, worked extensively with his fellow partners on who would take over his clients.

You might even offer a suggestion for your replacement. "If you know someone who is a good fit [for your current job] and you are happy to make the recommendation, go ahead," Zamora said.

Follow the proper procedures. Let your organization's human resources department know about your departure after you tell your manager. They'll need time to go over such details as unused vacation time, health insurance, and your final paycheck. Also, remove any personal data from your computer in accordance with your employer's policies.

Nurture your network. If you're leaving due to personal or other conflicts, remain polite and positive. "You don't want to burn any bridges," Steinitz said. "Do things the right way so you can maintain your reputation." Avoid negative comments when communicating with people on your team. Don't bad-mouth the boss or employer. "You could be judged not just because you're resigning, but also because of the way you resign," he added.

Think twice before accepting a counteroffer. While it's flattering to receive a counteroffer from your current employer, accepting it is generally a bad idea, Steinitz advised. You are leaving your job for a specific reason, and unless that issue is strictly financial, no additional money is going to change that, he said.

Stay professional and hardworking. It's common for responsibilities to trail off as your departure date nears, but don't neglect your tasks. "As long as you're working for your employer, you still have to show up professionally and be respectful in your conversations," Zamora said. "Stay true to the professional brand you built for yourself. Be a good communicator, team player, and collaborator."

While leaving Marcum, Maksymiw said his goodbyes were bittersweet, several of his colleagues offered him references, and he remains in contact with people there while he pursues his next career chapter. "I can still call people up at Marcum," he said.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in Minnesota. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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