What you should (and shouldn’t!) say in your resignation letter

Most of the career advice available online focuses on making a good impression when looking for a new job or working towards better pay or a more senior position in your existing role. But what about the impression you make when leaving a job? It’s easy to assume that there’s no need to make a good impression at this point – but in fact, it’s crucial. Even after you leave, you will need to rely on former colleagues, managers and HR departments for references and you never know when you may come across them again in your new role.
Here are some Dos and Don’ts for a successful resignation letter:

What to do
• Do address it to your manager – You don’t need to address your resignation letter to the owner or CEO – addressing it to your line manager is fine as this is the person who will receive the letter and initiate your leaving process. Keep it formal by addressing it to “Dear”, even if you’re on close terms.

• Do cover off all the legal and practical angles – It may sound basic, but in the excitement of moving on to a new role, it’s often the most basic things that are forgotten. Make sure you date your letter and state clearly that you are resigning from your position and include your job title. You should also include details of your contracted notice period and the date you expect your notice period, and therefore your employment, to end. Your employer should then send you a note of acceptance confirming the details laid out in your letter as well as additional points such as any holiday pay owed to you.

• Do ask for a reference – Make sure to mention that you would like to be able to use your employer as a reference in future. This gives them the opportunity to provide you with their preferred contact details, or to prepare a written reference for you to take away with you.

• Do use a template – Often, different countries have slightly different conventions for resignation letters. There are plenty of standard templates available free of charge online to help ensure you follow the correct etiquette.

• Do strike the right tone – Regardless of how informal your work environment is, you do need to submit your resignation in writing. Your resignation is primarily a legal document, so avoid using a chatty tone and stick to Business English, signing off with “Yours sincerely”.

• Do be polite and gracious – Even if you’re leaving your old job because you hate it and can’t wait to stride out of the door, it’s important to leave on amicable terms. When writing your letter, make sure you thank your employer for the opportunities they’ve given you while you’ve been working for them and try to list any skills or highlights of the job that you feel have benefited you. Sign off by wishing them the best for the future.

• Do keep it brief – Your resignation letter should be short and sweet. Keep it to a maximum of 2-3 paragraphs, making sure you cover off all the important practical information. Any other information – such as handovers – can be dealt with over email or in conversation with your manager.

• Do deliver it in person – This piece of advice isn’t just about saving you the cost of a stamp – handing your notice in personally is the polite way to do things. Ideally, you should call a short meeting with your manager and inform them that you are resigning before handing over your letter.

What not to do
• Don’t mention why you are leaving the job – It’s perfectly acceptable to say something generic about your decision to leave, such as a desire to try something new or to seek new opportunities. If you’re particularly disgruntled it may be tempting to mention in your resignation letter that you are moving on to better pay, more favourable benefits, or a more senior role what you didn’t get in your current job. Bear in mind that your resignation letter isn’t the best place for this – but that you may be able to discuss your concerns informally with your manager before you leave.

• Don’t use it as an opportunity to air grievances – Your resignation letter isn’t the appropriate place to share any negative options you may have about your workplace. Most employers will have a formal process in place for allowing leavers to discuss why they are leaving and share any negative experiences, so save any complaints you have about the company, your manager or your colleagues for your exit interview.

• Don’t do it by email – Your resignation should be delivered to your manager in person where possible, so do print it out on paper and deliver it by hand. This helps you look professional and also helps avoid any doubt about when the letter was received.

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