Today's hot job skill: quitting nicely

"I quit."

Bolstered by a strong economy and a tight labor market, more and more people - from low-level workers to CEOs - are using that message on their way to greener pastures.

In July, some 843,000 people were unemployed because they quit their jobs, up from 768,000 a year ago, according to the US Labor Department.

And human-resources experts say today's job-hoppers could use a refresher course in the art of quitting gracefully.

"More than ever, you don't want to burn bridges, because you never know when you'll need the reference. And companies today are more willing to rehire people," says John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm. "You must do everything you can to leave with honor and grace."

Even before taking that step, experts say you should make sure the decision to quit is the right one. Will resigning further your career goals? If you simply want to change your standing within the company, discuss the situation thoroughly with your boss. Exposing your intentions might be a way to get more of what you want.

If the situation doesn't improve, however, it may be time to move on.

Next, decide how much notice you want to give your employer. The standard two-week notice will do in many industries, but perhaps not in all.

Peter Stewart, an educator who recently resigned as the head of a private school to join a family business in New York, says the fact that the educational-recruitment process is seasonal prompted him to give six months notice.

"In education there's more of a moral component to your decision to leave, because you're beholden not only to the people who sign your check but to your students," he says. "Six months to a year's notice is appropriate."

After deciding the length of your notice, the next step is how to deliver it: Should it be in writing or in person?

Answer: Both. An official letter is needed for your employment file and should be brief and positive. As for complaints, experts say they are better aired in person so they can be tempered by positive comments.

Bob Rosner, the Washington-based founder of Working Wounded, a Web site dedicated to workplace issues, says long letters that air grievances are "insulting," adding that "negative things should be dealt with in person."

That chance usually comes in the dreaded exit interview. How negative should you be? Should you vent like never before or simply say you're leaving for other opportunities?

"We tell people not to say anything negative at all," says Greg Pettenon, a Deerfield, Ill.-based consultant for Drake Beam Morin, an international human-resources firm.

"It's the impact and impression you leave that the company will recall for a long time in the future," he says. "If you have a new opportunity, it's better to focus on that as your reason for moving on."

Others recommend a "positive-negative-positive" approach. First, find something good to say, then share your complaints before ending on an up.

Mr. Rosner tells of a man who, in desperation to find a positive thing to say about his company, told his employer he had "nice carpet." Note: If at all possible, avoid personal attacks.

If you're leaving for a new position, consider making yourself available for a reasonable amount of ongoing support, like consulting and phone calls. (You might run this by your new boss if you're staying in the same industry.)

One Oklahoma job-hopper described a personal story on Working Wounded's message board: "I handed him my letter of resignation, which stated how much I had gained from my employment, how sad I was to leave, how much the people in the company meant to me," the job-hopper wrote.

"The real kicker was I could be retained as a consultant and would accept help phone calls after my normal work hours, would train, after hours, a person to replace me. I offered so much to them while leaving that I was retained as a consultant ... at a rate higher than my old salary," he added.

Finally, experts say, remember to seek a reference from a peer or a supervisor in addition to a company reference. Mr. Pettenon says the courts have made it difficult for companies to talk about people, so personal references from peers or immediate supervisors can carry more weight than formal references.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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