After much thought and careful consideration, you’ve decided to hand in your resignation and leave your job.
Maybe you’ve accepted another position with better pay and benefits, or you’re relocating to a different state, or you’re simply no longer fulfilled by your career. Whatever the reason, you’re ready to move on to new opportunities.
The first step, however, is always a bit stressful: You have to inform your bosses that you’re resigning. While it would be nice if you could just text your manager your notice, there are more steps involved when it comes to severing a professional relationship.
To determine exactly how to tender your resignation and how to write the perfect resignation letter, we spoke with two professors from the online Master of Human Resource Management program at USC Bovard College: Robin Elledge and Tom Hayashi.
How Should You Resign From Your Job, and What Format Should You Use?
When it comes to resigning, it’s important to always make that announcement in person first, Elledge said. It’s a matter of respect and professionalism.
If it’s not possible to do it in person, a video conference is the next best alternative — “then phone call, and then finally email. That would be a last resort, though,” Elledge explained.
During the conversation, you can let your boss know you’re quitting, give the date of your last day and briefly explain your reasoning for the resignation. Although it can feel a bit awkward and daunting, remember that job changes are a natural part of any career, and employers expect your goals and circumstances to shift over time. Just be polite and make sure to prepare exactly what you want to say beforehand.
While the initial conversation should be in person, you also need to write a formal resignation letter, Hayashi noted.
“If you are going to resign from your position, it needs to be in writing. No doubt about it. You should never quit based on a verbal notice … If you resign, the company is obligated to make sure that they do certain things in your separation from them,” he said.
For example, in most states, companies are required to compensate you for any unused vacation hours that you’ve earned. If you do not have your last day of employment in writing, that can leave your last accrual date open for debate.
“You always want to be in control of that end date instead of the company or your employer,” Hayashi said.
This letter will usually come in the form of an email or a printed letter that you hand deliver, and it should include all relevant parties, including managers and human resources.
Tips for Writing a Resignation Letter
When it comes to actually writing a letter of resignation, it’s common to feel stumped by the process. What do you say when you’re ending your relationship with a company?
“One of the things that you don’t want to do is burn your bridges. You want to always leave on a high note [and] take the higher ground, even if things were not exactly that pleasant,” Hayashi advised.
It’s important to exit on good terms, he said, because you never know when you’ll run into someone you’ve worked with at another job, or if you’ll ever want the opportunity to return to the company.
So, it’s crucial to keep the tone of the letter cordial and professional, and you should not include any grievances or issues with your employer or co-workers.
“Make it short and sweet, and try to keep it positive, or simply neutral, in the letter,” Elledge said.
Both Elledge and Hayashi pointed out that you don’t have to put in a reason for your resignation, but if you want to, you absolutely can. Still, don’t dive too deep into the reasons and make it overly detailed. You should only highlight one or two aspects.
“Be very clear about the fact that you are quitting and when you are quitting,” Hayashi said. “You don’t have to over-explain yourself, even though it’s tempting.”
If you do want to explain why you’re quitting, Hayashi offered the following example: “While I’ve been able to learn and contribute in my current role at this company, I have come across a different opportunity with another company that is aligned with my career objective.”
“You don’t have to say any more than that when it comes to why you’re leaving,” he said.
You should also use the letter as a chance to thank your boss for the opportunity, wish the workspace well and explain that you’re willing to help your team to prepare for your last day. It’s also key to include your contact details.
Once you’re done, make sure you’ve proofread your resignation letter to avoid any spelling or grammatical errors, and double-check that you’ve nailed the tone.
What if You Want to Revoke Your Resignation?
After informing your boss you’re leaving, handing in your formal resignation letter, and setting your last day, a worst-case scenario happens: You decide you don’t want to quit.
Maybe you’ve learned unsettling information about your new potential workplace, or a bad manager at your current company is also out the door. Maybe you were leaving to follow your partner to another state and you broke up, or you were going to become a full-time caretaker for a family member and arrangements have changed.
There are many reasons someone may end up retracting a resignation — but how do you address this change of heart?
Of course, you can always ask to revoke a resignation, especially if you didn’t create any ill will with your exit. But you should manage your expectations: It’s definitely not a given that you can resume your job, and it is awkward to backtrack with an employer.
“It all depends on the company. They are going to probably want a pretty honest, compelling reason why you would want to withdraw your resignation,” Hayashi said.
As Elledge pointed out, however, hiring is difficult, and the process can take more time than expected. If they haven’t found a replacement, it may be beneficial for them to keep you on.
Elledge advised that you should immediately set a meeting with your boss and explain why you’ve changed your mind. Keep the conversation respectful and provide a reason why staying with the company would be a positive outcome for both you and them.
An example could be: “I’ve learned a lot in this job and I’m excited by the opportunity for continued growth. This will also be good for the organization in that you won’t have to train someone new.”
You should also notify HR about rescinding your resignation and then write a follow-up email to thank both parties for their consideration, which will also put your request down in writing. The sooner you do it, the better, according to Hayashi, as there is a chance your resignation may not have been formally filed yet.
Once you’ve requested to revoke your resignation, it’s a waiting game to see if upper management accepts. If they do choose to end your employment, remember there are plenty of other companies out there waiting for you to submit your application. Plus, the next position may just be more fulfilling and rewarding than your last.
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