How to Resign Successfully (and with less stress)

How to Resign Successfully (and with less stress)

Have you ever considered what can go wrong if you don’t handle your resignation process properly? Most people don’t consider the importance of a well-handled resignation process when conducting a job search or changing jobs.

Job seekers are usually strategic in most aspects of their job searches. They:

  • Decide if and when to change jobs.
  • Target companies to apply to.
  • Schedule and prepare for interviews.
  • Negotiate their new salaries.
  • Receive and accept an offer at the new company.

BUT, when the time comes to resign, they . . .

  • Procrastinate because they feel guilty or are afraid of having an uncomfortable conversation.
  • Are not sure whom they should talk to first.
  • Don’t consider that they’ll likely have to have a second (and even a third) uncomfortable conversation.
  • Don’t realize there’s a strategic (and effective) structure to the resignation conversation.


More often than not, people wing it without considering the harm caused if the resignation process goes poorly. Most important, they can damage relationships that will be necessary for future references. In this article, I’ll show you how to resign so that your relationships remain intact over the long term. Plus, you’ll feel less guilty and less anxious during the process.

Sometimes resigning is a no-brainer, but those times are rare.

When is it easy to resign? When you’re changing careers, relocating, leaving for graduate school, choosing to be a stay-at-home parent, or retiring. For the rest of us, it’s usually a bit more complicated and difficult. Most of the time, it’s not so easy to make a clean break without upsetting people.

Why might you upset people?

Think of it this way: You’ve been dating someone for a few years and they think everything’s fine. One day, you walk up to them and out of the blue say, “This has been fun, but I’m breaking up with you and I’m going to date someone else.” That’s effectively what you’re doing to your employer when you resign unexpectedly, and you’ve already lined up a job at another company. It’s human nature for the other person to feel upset or hurt.

As a professional, odds are good you don’t want to:

  • Offend or disappoint people.
  • Burn bridges or end relationships.

If you’re like everyone else, you’ll feel some guilt and:

  • Separation anxiety. (I’ve been here for X years, it’s familiar to me, and now I’m going to leave it all behind.)
  • Self-doubt. (Taking this new job seemed like a good idea, but am I making the right decision? What if I fail?)


Feeling this way is normal. It happens to almost everyone, and it doesn’t mean you’re making a bad move.  It just means you have a heart and you’re not looking forward to delivering bad news to a colleague or boss. Since there’s no way around it, the most advantageous thing to do is to focus on the best way to resign. Keep it simple, clean, and professional. Here’s how to do it.

3 steps to resigning with less stress (and without burning your bridges)

Step 1. The When

Wait until you have an offer in writing, contingencies have been lifted (background and credit checks, etc.), and you have informed the new company that you’ve accepted the offer. In most cases, resign on a Friday or Monday; it’s cleaner because you’ll likely give two or three weeks’ notice and it’s easier to figure out your final date with your current employer. Try to do it first thing in the morning or as early as possible. If you procrastinate, the person you need to speak with might be unavailable in the afternoon and you’ll need to wait another day.

Step 2. The Who

Your first conversation should be with your direct supervisor, the person to whom you report. Why? Your resignation will impact your supervisor the most, so it would be inconsiderate to tell someone else first. You’re likely not done with the process, and you may be having conversations you did not anticipate. Odds are that your boss’ boss and some executives are going to want to speak with you as well.

Step 3. The How

Don’t beat around the bush. Get to the heart of the matter and start the conversation like this: “John, this is not easy for me to say, but I’m turning in my resignation today.” Then you pause. Let the gravity of the situation settle in with the other person. You want to see what their response is or what their questions are before you keep talking. Initially, you may hear an uncomfortable (or defensive) response, like, “Are you kidding? I can’t believe you’re leaving! How can you do this to me?”

Don’t let this kind of response trip you up.

Remember: Their job just got a lot harder by your resigning. Why? Because they must worry about finding a way to replace you. They are probably going to be emotional at this point, but you want to stay calm and professional. Here’s why:

  1.  A business (and objective) approach to the situation will lessen the emotional stress or even guilt felt by you.
  2.  Staying calm is how you are going to keep your relationships intact—without burning bridges.

The b
est way to respond to common questions (or reactions)

After you announce your resignation, your boss is likely to be:

  • Angry.
  • Stressed.
  • Sad.
  • Eerily calm.


And will probably say one or more of the following:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy?
  • Where are you going?
  • How much are they paying you?
  • What can I do to keep you?
  • I can’t believe you’re leaving.
  • I can’t believe you didn’t speak with me before accepting another offer.


Thinking about how to respond to every potential reaction can be overwhelming. However, there’s a simple, two-step approach that will work in any of these scenarios.

Step 1. Remain positive

Acknowledge that you listened to them by saying something like:

  • “I hear what you’re saying.”
  • “I appreciate everything you’re saying.”
  • “Thank you for the kind words.”
  • “I understand that this may be a surprise.”

Step 2. Stand your ground politely

Use one of more of these phrases when responding your boss:

  • “This is a business decision; it’s not personal.”
  • “I’ve given this a great deal of thought.”
  • “I’m confident I’m making the right move.”
  • “This is the right opportunity for me at this point in my career.”
  • “I thought about coming to you first, but I couldn’t. If the other opportunity didn’t pan out, I would have put myself in an awkward position with you.”
  • “I want to leave on the best possible terms, so I want to discuss what I can do to make my transition out as smooth as possible for you. Should we discuss this now or schedule a time to do it later?”


  • Give less than two weeks’ notice or more than three. (You owe your company a transition period, but you also don’t want to prolong it.)
  • Apologize for leaving. (This is a business decision—you don’t need to feel guilty.)
  • Second-guess your decision. (You would not have accepted another offer if you wanted to stay where you are.)
  • Say negative things about the company or your co-workers. (It will make you look bad on your way out.)
  • Accept a counteroffer. (Google “the dangers of accepting a counteroffer.”)
  • Tell anyone your new compensation. (It’s none of their business.)
  • Think you’re required to tell your boss where you’re going during this conversation if you’re uncomfortable sharing that information. (You can say that you’ll be sending out an announcement soon and prefer to tell all your colleagues at once.)

Keep this in mind for your final couple of weeks with the company (so that you leave on a positive note):

  • Work hard and put your best foot forward every day that you remain there.
  • Do everything you can to transfer your knowledge to others so they can succeed after you leave.
  • Stay humble and don’t gloat about your new job or your new salary.

Are you thinking about leaving your current job?

Does the idea of resigning from your job stress you out? Are there other elements of a job search that you’re not sure how to tackle? Are all the headaches involved in a job search holding you back from starting the process?

Here’s what you’ll get when you work with Conexus:

  • A standout, updated resume.
  • Trustworthy career advice focused on short-term and long-term success.
  • Exposure to the hidden job market (nearly 50 percent of the searches that we perform are for extraordinary positions that were never advertised by our clients).
  • Best-in-class interview preparation (our candidates receive offers from 2 out of 3 companies they interview with).
  • Candid feedback on your interviews.
  • A virtually stress-free salary negotiation process.
  • Custom, one-on-one guidance on resigning without burning your bridges (or feeling guilty).
  • Follow-up at 30, 60, and 90 days post-start date (to ensure you and your employer are progressing successfully).


If you are thinking about changing jobs soon or in the middle of an unsuccessful job search, contact me, Sean Gill, Managing Partner of Conexus, at to schedule a free phone consultation. I am a former CPA (I originally worked for Deloitte and Disney) with nearly 20 years of recruiting experience, assisting clients in hiring more than 1,000 financial professionals for positions ranging from Senior Accountant to CFO.

For more information about me, please visit