Burning bridges can cool a career

Keep in mind when leaving a job that you could find yourself working again with former colleagues and bosses. Make your last impression a positive one.


Last impressions count in the workplace. When it comes time to resign, the way workers handle themselves on the way out the door can be as important as the impression they made on their first interview. In today's climate of frequent job changes and company mergers, workers should remember that they're likely to meet current colleagues again - whether it's at a new job or if they find themselves looking to return to their old employer.

It's best for workers to leave on a positive note by being honest and polite, according to career experts. They also suggest that employees study the company's departure policy so that they know their actions are in keeping with company norms but also in case their exit becomes more immediate than they planned.

Career experts and workers who have left companies said the most important thing to remember is to ensure that a job departure doesn't eliminate good references or the possibility of returning one day.

Darryl Roberts made sure he left on good terms when he switched careers 15 years ago.

"If you burn bridges, you die," he said. "Find the positive aspects and make them the crux of your discussion."

He is now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Even though he left his job as an electrical engineer to become a nurse, he thinks the way he handled himself when leaving his old company would probably help him get rehired there.

It's a small world: Yesterday's boss or colleague could be your future supervisor or co-worker.

Rhonda K. Reger, associate professor of strategic management at the University of Maryland, College Park, tells the story of an employee who said he would never work for the company again when he told his boss of his resignation. When his old company bought the firm he left for, his former boss called him into the office to remind him of his comments.

He was then fired.

"You should not be negative toward the company or person you are resigning from - in speech or in writing," said Lee J. Richmond, a professor at Loyola College in Maryland who teaches career development courses. "Thank them for the time that you spent there. Be as polite as possible."

Workers should resign according to company standards and reach an agreement with their bosses on a departure date with their boss, Richmond said.

As a university professor, she said, she is expected to give a year's notice. In many professions it's as little as two weeks.

Other companies make it more immediate.

In some industries, companies require workers to hand in their security passes and leave the building once they have given notice. So before that resignation conversation, workers should be ready to hand over their office keys, experts said. And they should already have removed any personal items from their desk in case they are asked to leave quickly.

"If you know the culture in your company is to let you go immediately, make sure you have prepared," said Marc Himmelberger, an early intervention specialist for the state who helps find people jobs. "Make sure you let your new employer know that you will be available before two weeks is over."

Himmelberger noted that Maryland is an at-will work state, which means workers can be hired or fired for any or no reason.

Chuck Durakis, president and owner of Durakis Executive Search in Brooklandville, recommends that workers have everything in order before announcing a departure. Knowing about noncompete clauses and how health benefits, pensions and bonuses are treated lets workers make decisions about their future before announcing their departure.

Even high-profile workers such as radio host Howard Stern have found that departure announcements can cause competitive concerns. Stern's spokesman said he served a one-day paid suspension from his radio show yesterday after promoting his pending move to satellite radio. Stern announced his departure last year.

Durakis also said workers should ensure that the job they're going to is a sure thing. Some workers sign contracts; others receive written offers.

"You don't want to resign your job unless the job you are going to is solid," he said.

Before leaving, workers should take note of their current duties at the office and make sure their responsibilities have been met, Durakis said. Those in the middle of a project should offer to consult for a few months to ensure it gets completed, Richmond said.

But be ready for the realization that the help might not be needed: Most people think they are more important to the company than reality bears out, Durakis said.

"The company rallies quickly within the first week or two," he said. "Most people who have given several weeks' notice find they don't have as much to do as they think."

And forget about a counteroffer. Some workers serve notice expecting their boss to try to keep them, but career experts said it's not a wise assumption.

"If I'm going to quit, I have to have already decided I'm not going to take a counter," Himmelberger said.

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