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How to Leave a Job on Good Terms | Part 2

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

Illustration of a path to an exit sign

Once you've told your manager and co-workers that you’re leaving and set your notice period, it’s time to decide what final work needs to be completed before saying your final goodbyes.

Depending on the role and organization, you may have to wrap up projects, train staff who will be taking over, or write transition documents for your successor. And no matter what, you'll want to finish strong in order to leave your job on good terms and can list your soon-to-be-former employer as a reference in the future.

In Part 2 of our series, How to Leave a Job on Good Terms, we lay out three steps to take to end your notice period on a high note—and what to do if leaving doesn’t go so smoothly.

Leave clear and complete documentation

Once you’ve determined and submitted your final date in the office, it’s time to strategize what needs to get done. Try to present your manager with a draft transition plan listing main responsibilities and the status of ongoing projects so they can determine how to proceed.

Beyond figuring out the next steps for specific projects, it can be helpful to write an overarching exit memo or other documentation describing the key steps or processes of your role. These documents can also include tips for your successor, or context for any organization tactics you employed in the role.

Keep giving your all until the last day

“Senioritis” (the notorious disease that causes high school seniors to slack off toward the end of their final year) has no place in a job transition. Not only can slacking off hurt your current employer by keeping things from getting done, it can also hurt your reputation.

How to stay motivated during your notice period? Motivation can be very personal, but here are two tricks to try:

  • Consider your successor. Remember what it was like during the first few weeks on the job, and how grateful you were to everyone who helped out? Many of the things you’ll do during your notice period are aimed at setting up the next person for success. So if the sense of closure and accomplishment from finishing these projects isn’t motivating enough, think instead of the person who comes next, and, to quote the golden rule, do unto others as you would like done unto you.
  • Reframe your notice period as less about finishing the work and more about getting ready for the new job. It may sound like semantics, but reframing can do wonders for your mind. Your current job may feel old and boring, but the new one is shiny and exciting; it’s something to look forward to—and something you can only reach by getting through the remaining days of your notice period. Focusing on the new experiences that await can help you push through the urge to mentally check out.

How to handle the exit interview

In many organizations, someone from human resources will conduct exit interviews with all departing employees. If done well, an exit interview can help the organization understand why you’re leaving and identify areas for improvement, while giving you an opportunity to leave a positive impression on your employer.

If your organization doesn’t require exit interviews, ask for one! If there’s no human resources department, you can do an exit interview with your boss, but that may make it harder to speak candidly about any management issues that contributed to your decision to leave.

When preparing for an exit interview, one of the first questions to ask is how confidential the conversation will be—the answer will affect how honest (and specific) you want to be about any negative issues you encountered.

It’s also good to organize your thoughts ahead of time and plan the points you want to make. Then, focus on delivering feedback in a non-emotional way, and make sure to highlight the positive aspects about working at the organization, as well.

Like any interview, you’ll want to anticipate the questions they may ask. Common questions that come up during exit interviews are:

  • What did you like and dislike most about working at the organization?
  • Why did you decide to leave the organization?
  • How do the benefits and salary at your new job compare to your current compensation?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your manager?
  • Would you consider returning to the organization in the future?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

What to do if things don't go as planned

Even if you follow all of these tips, you won’t be able to control every aspect of the transition. For example, you can’t control how your manager or co-workers will react, or if a last-minute development upends your plans.

However, you can control your response to these situations, so don’t let them discourage you from completing your notice period with grace.

And if the reason things didn’t go smoothly is because of something internal at the organization, resist the urge—now or in the future—to bad-mouth your employer. As long as you keep your comments professional and respectful, you will have done your part to leave the job on good terms.


If you’re gearing up for a job interview, check out our Interview Q&A series to prepare for all the questions.

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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