Leaving a job is a process filled with questions of professional courtesy: Should you give two weeks' notice? Do you have to tell your boss in person? Should you notify your co-workers? A slighted employee may decide to sacrifice the stellar reputation he or she has built in exchange for a grudging departure that violates professional etiquette.
But tossing aside proper protocol could cost you the respect of colleagues and remove your boss from your reference list. Follow the steps below to ensure your exit is a smooth one.
1. Notify your boss in person. The type of organization you work for and position you hold may dictate a different approach to how you break the news, says Sue Fox, author of "Business Etiquette for Dummies." But generally, it's best to schedule a meeting and let your boss know in person. "It just makes a better impression," Fox says, adding that it "shows respect, self-confidence and that you have strong interpersonal skills."
2. Give plenty of notice. Giving a two-week notice is the recognized norm. It's also a positive way to jumpstart the transition process, says Ian Ide, president of search divisions at Winter Wyman, a Massachusetts-based recruiting firm.
For employees with a position that requires a specialized skill set, it's recommended to give more advanced warning. "In some cases, they may be the only ones with the knowledge of the area they're handling, and if they give a little more notice, they might be able to transition that knowledge before departing," Ide says.
3. Don't feel obligated to explain your reason for leaving. Barring a non-compete clause in your contract or a counteroffer situation, you don't have to give the company detailed reasons for your departure, Ide says.
But if you have a chummy relationship with your boss, you may want to offer constructive criticism on what the organization can do to improve or retain employees. However, if the comments could cause backlash, it's best to avoid specifics, Ide says.
4. Avoid emotional outbursts. Launching into a tirade against your boss may provide some momentary bliss, but it can haunt you later. His or her endorsement may be critical in helping you land future jobs. Also, it's possible you could work for him or her again in the future, Fox says.
5. Don't leave your employer in a bind. You may be eager to start your new job in two weeks, but with a company project in the final stages and your boss in need of your expertise, you may need to stay longer.
Early in the courting process, let prospective employers know you may need more time before starting. "It's always much better to be upfront in the beginning ... of the interview process," Ide says, especially when many companies have the expectation that new hires only need two weeks before jumping ship.
6. You want everyone to be a positive reference. Satisfied that your listed reference from the company holds you in high regard, you may become unconcerned with the opinions of other colleagues, disregarding office protocol on matters such as arriving on time or preparing for meetings.
But it's important to leave a good impression behind with everyone you interact with. Employers can use avenues like social media to find non-listed references "because they expect that a supplied reference is always going to give them a positive [endorsement]," Ide says. And based on your lackluster performance during the final weeks, he or she may paint an unflattering portrait.
7. Keep colleagues in the loop. Co-workers you've known for years merit a heads up about your decision rather than the sight of an empty desk and days of speculating about what happened to their colleague. In an announcement email, write about your positive experiences working for the company and avoid trashing it. "Always take the high road, and be as positive as a possible" when constructing the email, Fox says.
8. Show gratitude toward the most influential. While you may have worked well with everyone, one or two individuals may have been instrumental in helping you achieve success. Verbally thank them or write a personal note describing how the working relationship positively benefited you, Fox says.
If the relationship between you and your boss was strained, pen a note that finds the silver lining. "Even if it wasn't the most ideal situation or a fabulous boss, just be positive in the letter," Fox says. "You don't need to lie or go overboard, but show your appreciation."
More From US News & World Report