Welcome to CB’s work-advice column featuring Emily Durham, a Toronto-based senior recruiter at Intuit, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Each month, Durham answers reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and offers her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected].
Q: I was just offered a new job and need to submit my notice letter to my workplace. I’m moving on to a better opportunity, but I don’t want to offend my boss by my departure. I want to leave on good terms so my manager will act as a reference for me in the future. How do I write a simple, effective resignation letter that is both professional and kind?
Making the decision to leave your job is not an easy one. It can takes months of deciding whether you are even ready to take the plunge and apply to new opportunities, so congratulations on making this exciting move.
With any resignation, it is important to do it in a way that is respectful and leaves the door open with your former employer, as you point out. In a perfect world, your boss and co-workers can serve as networking connections, references or mentors as you continue to grow in your career. Every connection you have made at the workplace you are departing is at risk if you leave the company in a way that is not well received.
The first factor to perfecting your resignation letter is timing. Every province and territory has different rules around notice periods depending on how long you have been employed by your workplace, so be sure to check the minimum amount of notice you are expected to give. (It is typically two weeks in most places.) Plus some organizations have policies about how much notice an employee must give when they quit, so refer back to the contract you received when you started your position. Those factors aside, I always advise offering your current employer as much notice as possible to ensure they can start thinking about next steps, ideally two to four weeks, depending on your seniority and length of employment with the company.
The best way to resign is to have a conversation with your manager before you submit your formal resignation letter. This prevents your manager from feeling blindsided by your news. I recommend booking a 30-minute meeting, either in person or virtually, to have a one-on-one with your boss.
Begin the conversation with thanking them for their time, support and coaching (or whatever fits) and let them know you’ve accepted another offer externally that you feel is more aligned to your career goals and needs. Typically, managers will be happy for you, and will express their gratitude right back. However, be prepared for them to try and retain you, or negotiate with you to stay. In the event your employer presents you with a counter offer (that you do not want to accept), it is completely appropriate to respond saying something like “I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to continue growing on your team, but I have made the decision to pursue this other position.”
After you’ve given your manager a heads up, it’s time to turn in your formal resignation letter. A well-written letter is typically less than one page and is addressed to your company’s HR department, with your contact information noted on the top. The first paragraph of your letter should include your full name, current title and length of service with the company. This is also the area where you need to explicitly state what your last day of employment will be in your role. You might write something like, “I, [your name here], am writing to inform you that I am resigning from my position as [your position here] at [the company name here] after [number of years here] of service. My last day of work will be [end date here].”
The next paragraph should serve as a “thank you” to your employer. Your manager will typically be evaluated by HR to understand if they impacted your decision to leave, so this is an opportunity to call out the things you’ve learned from them, or the elements of your experience that were positive. If leaving on good terms is important to you, a resignation letter is not a place to air all your grievances. This is simply a goodbye letter to something that no longer serves you. The best place to offer constructive feedback on your experience is during your exit interview with HR.
Finally, the last paragraph of your resignation letter should serve to summarize the work you still have ongoing, and where you have stored/saved this work for the next hire. Before your last day, it is best practice to pull together relevant documentation, emails or processes about your daily work to smooth the transition with your replacement—or at least help your former colleagues bridge the gap until someone new is hired. Exiting the company with grace and ensuring you are invested in their success can cement a positive last impression and reflect your personal brand.
Ultimately, a resignation letter is as simple as that. While it can feel emotional to leave a job, there is no need to over explain yourself in your letter. Instead focus on being clear, professional and gracious. That attitude will take you a long way in your career.