So, you’ve made the call. Your current IT gig isn’t a good fit anymore, and it’s time for a new challenge, new experience, or promotion. But before you take a victory lap in an all-company email, we have a few suggestions about leaving your bridges intact.
According to a recent survey by Stack Overflow, the most likely technologists who are looking for new positions are data scientists and data/business analysts, along with designers, game developers, and mobile developers. And while the majority of tech workers are satisfied with their current job, there comes a time when it’s time to depart in a thoughtful way.
We asked C-level executives and tech recruiters about dos and don’ts for moving on from a company. Their experiences provide a blueprint to make the transition beneficial to you and the organization.
Keep your feedback positive if you decide to take a new position elsewhere, says Kathleen Spillane, talent acquisition lead at Duck Creek Technologies.
“Don’t badmouth the company, your boss, or your department on your way out the door,” Spillane says. “Boomerangs are a huge source of hiring for many tech companies for a reason — you are a known quantity, and you want to ensure that you’re remembered as the mature, professional individual that left gracefully, and who can potentially return to add value to an organization.”
Colleen Berube, CIO at Zendesk, suggests having a frank discussion, if possible, with your direct manager about your plans and your reasons for leaving, as well as how you’ll help in the transition.
“In the most ideal situation, you have open communications with your leadership about the next phase in your career and that you are considering a move,” Berube says. “You should also have a succession plan in place, paving a smooth path to replacement or, at minimum, coverage during an eventual transition.”
Ideally, by the time you’re ready to move, you’ve helped develop internal talent who can take over. And if you haven’t, now is a good time to give it thought.
“The best leaders develop successors,” says Somer Hackley, CEO of recruiting firm Distinguished Search, “whether or not they're planning on leaving the company. If you look around and no one is ready to fill your shoes, it's time to focus on developing the next level of talent within your organization.”
When you accept a new position, it’s likely your colleagues will be handling your duties until a replacement is selected. Be fair to them by specifically laying out what your responsibilities are. These moves will help your co-workers in the short term — and may benefit you down the road.
“It’s easy to just walk out the door and let the next employee figure it out on their own,” Spillane says. “However, one of your current colleagues will likely be covering your workload in the interim. Be sure to outline your day-to-day responsibilities, key contacts, deadlines, etc., in writing for them. They are the ones that will remember you, and if done well, will appreciate how much you contributed to the team. They are your future advocates and employee referrals for a position years down the road.”
Zendesk’s Berube advises planning a detailed transition, if you have the opportunity, to ensure a smooth and professional exit.
“This might include things like delegating extra responsibilities you’ve hung on to, organizing key documents, and even beginning to prepare a proposed transition plan,” she says. “If possible, you should ask what notice your employer would like you to provide. Ultimately, it’s about offering as much information as you can to ensure continuity as you transition out to remain professional throughout the process.”
Alex Strathdee, product manager and co-founder of recruiting firm InPerson, agrees that you need to prioritize the transfer or information related to your work so that your team can adjust.
“What you don't want is to leave and have your [former] co-workers sitting around complaining about how you didn't tell anyone how files are saved or how certain code works,” Strathdee says. “Make sure to set up meetings with team members who will be responsible for your work once you've left so that you can be sure they won't be complaining about your lack of caring once you're gone.”
Once you’ve made the decision to move on, the first person who should hear the news is your boss. Avoid talking to your co-workers about it until after you’ve given notice to your manager.
“Keep tight lips until you've told the person whose bottom line is most impacted by your decision,” Strathdee says. “If your boss finds out from someone else, the trust of having each other's best interests at heart immediately disappears. The reason for why you're leaving may also become obscured by the telephone game that gets played throughout your office after you let it slip that you're leaving.”
Your character will be judged by the work you do after you’re no longer being evaluated, says Strathdee.
“Make sure you put in your usual effort if not more those last two weeks even if you've got other things on your mind like moving or even just have a lack of motivation,” he says. “The work you produce in that last leg might very well be how you're remembered. It's such an easy win for you to give it your all for two weeks and everyone will respect you for doing so. It shows that although you're making the best decision for yourself, you still care about the success of others.”
The conversations you’ll need to have when you’re leaving can be uncomfortable for everyone involved, so they'll require some forethought, Hackley says.
“If your current company is unaware of your search, the conversation about leaving will be challenging,” Hackley says. “Be prepared regarding how much information you're willing to share. Some executives share where they're joining, and some don't. Ultimately, it's a personal decision and comes down to your relationship with your manager. Be honest and keep it positive. There's a big difference between being drawn to something new, versus running away from a current situation. Be prepared for how you will react to a counteroffer. Most executives I speak with proactively bring up the fact that they have accepted another offer and are not looking for a counteroffer, preventing that conversation from even starting.”
Hackley argues you should take a little time after you’ve told your boss you’re moving on and skip social media for a bit to cool the sting of your departure.
“No doubt you're very excited about your next chapter,” she says. “Keep that excitement to yourself for a little while. Avoid updating LinkedIn too soon. Avoid talking about your new job with your co-workers. Your role during your notice period is to create a seamless transition. Be respectful of the people who will be doing your job after you have moved on.”
As tempting as it may be to list your grievances as you pack up your desk, you don’t want to leave on a bad note, and that may mean making some concessions, says Tom Winter, lead tech recruitment advisor and co-founder of DevSkiller.com.
“Not every job will end perfectly so make sure to end your tenure in grace and walk out shaking everyone's hand and wishing them luck in their future endeavors,” Winter says. “It pays off to be diplomatic about it and avoid making a scene since, in tech circles, reputation can go a long way and can come back to haunt you. You never know what opportunities your former company and your former colleagues may offer in the future. It's not uncommon to leave a company for a few years only to rejoin them in the future. HR managers like to hoard long lists of past-employee profiles to dig from when it's hiring season.”
Leroy Ware, co-founder and CEO of Knack for Engineers, a tech recruiting firm, says you should create a support plan to allay the worries of your leadership, and ease the transition for a new hire.
“One of my top tips for candidates looking for new work is to always have a short-hand list of project deliverables and to-do’s before you leave the company,” Ware says. “Creating a list is a small gesture at exactly what the remaining team needs to do to stay on track while looking for a replacement. While new opportunities may arise within days, your personal character and professionalism matters to company founders and executives as they scramble to replace you.”
New opportunities may arise at any moment and may occur with a push to start immediately, but you should make sure to offer two weeks’ notice and possibly more before moving on, says Carolyn Regan, senior vice president of people at Racepoint Global.
She recalled a recent colleague who took a position with another firm, who offered more than two weeks’ notice along with other thoughtful moves, including some of the tips mentioned here — like going directly to their manager and aiding their teams in the transition, smart moves that would allow the employee to return in the future.
“In the formal exit interview this employee was effusive on the positive sides of our company and also gave some thoughtful, real feedback on ways we can improve,” Regan says. This employee departed in the best of ways — so much so we would welcome them back.”
Employees know when it’s time to move on, Regan says. And the signs are often hard to miss.
“They’re coming to work physically or virtually with low energy,” she says. “They’re easily disgruntled with their managers, their inspiration to do good work is dwindling, and their desire to learn new things is gone. If an employee stays too long with those symptoms, they become toxic to themselves and the company. They typically get either a victim mindset or become angry and it shows in their actions, performance, and communication.”
It’s better for the employee and the firm if the time has come for a thoughtful departure, Regan says.
“Employees follow a lifecycle at a company,” she says. “They enter, ramp up, learn and develop, add value, engage, get recognized, and then separate. This cycle could be short or really long. What it took me a while to get comfortable with, separation is part of a healthy organization. Although we learn something from each employee's departure, the open space always inspires us to rethink work, position, level and what skills we really need.”
Author: Paul Heltzel
Paul Heltzel is a writer and editor, formerly of Discovery News, National Geographic, NPR, and PC World magazine. He lives on the Rappahannock River in Virginia with his wife Deborah and their three kids.