If you start your own company, prepare yourself for plenty of advice. You’ll probably hear about business plans, starting capital, and legal representation. Most of that advice will be forward-looking and will not address the crucial relationship that your new business shares with your current and past employers. This article addresses the importance of gracefully quitting your job at Erstwhile, Inc. for the sake of your new company, Big Idea, LLC.
If you don’t understand the value of unburned bridges, then you should reconsider starting your own business. Gracefully resigning ensures that you will have a place to crawl back to if Big Idea doesn’t pan out. Moreover, the contacts that you made at Erstwhile will be crucial to the success of Big Idea. In fact, you probably landed at Erstwhile because of a personal or professional recommendation. People often describe starting a new business as “going out on your own”, but it’s actually the opposite: When you start a new business, you’re more dependent than ever on your professional network. Maintaining a good rapport with that network will be the difference between one month of warm calls and six months of cold ones.
Be gracious. A lot of people make the mistake of leaving their jobs in a huff. It’s easy to make that mistake, because you’re in the process of forging a new career identity — kind of like when you left home for the first time. Like your parents, Erstwhile probably has some idiosyncrasies that have you grinding your teeth. But also like your parents, Erstwhile must have done a good job of supporting you. They paid you that nest egg that will get you through the coming lean months, and they helped you grow the skills, experience, and confidence upon which you are founding your company. So when you resign, put any petty feelings aside, and let your former employer know how much you appreciate their investment in you.
You should resign: 1) in person; 2) to your boss; 3) in private. Don’t resign over email, phone, IM, or text. Would you dump your significant other that way? (You shouldn’t!) Resigning to anyone other than your boss is insulting to your boss. Resigning in public puts your boss on the spot and can embarrass them. If your boss is away on business, out sick, or on vacation, wait until she gets back. The world has waited for all of time for Big Idea. While the anticipation is great, it can wait until you respectfully deliver your resignation letter to your boss.
Sure, you’re resigning to your boss, but you’re actually resigning from the people that work beside you every day. They’re going to take on your load until your replacement is found and clean up any messes that you make on your way out. So while you’re excited about the bright future you have ahead of you at Big Idea, try to be mindful of the colleagues that you’re leaving behind. It’s important that your peers accept your resignation as graceful, because while your boss is only one node in your professional network, your peers are many.
You’re probably aware that you should give two weeks notice. But you should also ensure that your last day is convenient for your colleagues at Erstwhile. Two weeks doesn’t mean anything if you leave your colleagues in the lurch on a big project. Former employees are routinely blamed for problems anyway, and minimizing the hole that you will leave is your only defense against a burning effigy.
So you’ve handled the Why, How, Where, Who and When of your resignation with great aplomb. You’re on your way out, and your personal stock is at an all-time high. Your friends are intoning all of your “last times”, and even your enemies acknowledge that Erstwhile won’t be the same without you. You’re so close, but your greatest challenge is before you. Before the end of your last day, you’ll be asked, “What could we have done differently to keep you here?” Don’t mistake this as an honest discussion among equals and your chance to get some things off your chest. You need to answer honestly, but that answer must be palatable. Consider this your entrance exam to the business world, because you’ll need make the truth palatable all the time when you run your own business. Reflect on everything that we’ve covered, and answer carefully.