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How to Prepare If You're Quitting or Expecting to Be Laid Off

Richard Glunt
How to Prepare If You're Quitting or Expecting to Be Laid Off

Just a few decades ago, people aimed to get into careers that could take them from graduation straight through to retirement. But that concept of "employment for life" is long gone.

In the modern working world, knowing how to switch successfully from one job to another is a skill that's essential for everyone -- even if you're not planning to quit anytime soon.

The reality is that workers now move from one job to another an average of 12 times over the course of a lifetime, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many people spend less than five years at each job, putting more effort into changing from one position to another through job searching, networking, and keeping up with business and market trends.

At the same time, employers are more likely to redue their labor force in response to changing economic conditions than to reduce the salaries of their highly paid executives.

When companies are less loyal to their employees, employees become less loyal, too. It doesn’t hurt that changing employers regularly usually results in better pay, career advancement, better work-life balance and more interesting work.

But it's essential to know when and how to make the switch to a new job. Getting your exit right is even more important when you consider the potentially crippling consequences a shoddy departure could bring you through your professional network. Here are 12 tips so you can "peace out" like a boss.

Before you've given notice

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Don't tell anyone you are thinking about leaving until you have your next step lined up

1. Keep it a secret. Don't start telling co-workers that you're thinking of leaving until you have a signed employment offer from your new employer or have otherwise committed to your decision to leave.

Most people are very quick to note subtle changes in your behavior and may spread rumors that can filter to management before you're ready and create an awkward situation. Plus, it would be embarrassing if your plan to leave fails to materialize — or you could even lose your current job.

2. Have you heard rumors of restructuring? If you're at risk of being laid off, start preparing as soon as you receive confirmation from a credible source (not just the rumor mill). You may want to start your search for a new job before receiving official word that you’ve been laid off, just in case.

3. Review your employment contract. Some employment contracts contain clauses that survive after termination and may restrict what you can do after you leave your current job. Confidentiality, protection of intellectual property, noncompete and nonsolicitation of personnel or client clauses are increasingly common.

If you have any questions about what you can and can't do, have a lawyer or someone with relevant experience review your contract. Going to an attorney may be expensive, but it's advice that could save you a great deal of money and headaches in the future.

If you're choosing to leave, then the usual method is to give two weeks' notice to your employer. However, your company may have its own policy that should be outlined in your employment contract.

4. Prepare for a professional exit. If you're thinking of leaving soon, then organize and complete your current projects so you don't leave unnecessary work for your colleagues or successor. Do your best to finish all your major assignments and prepare a detailed progress report for whoever will be filling your shoes.

Leaving on a good note with co-workers will serve you well. The job market is so connected now that it’s likely you’ll bump into each other again in the future. Always aim to leave a good impression.

5. Be ready for a stretch with no income. Make sure you have a good plan in place that will take you through the period between leaving your current job and starting your new job. There are always bills to pay.

Preparing for this may involve sorting out your insurance, cutting back on expenses and putting some money aside, or seeking temporary financial support from family or friends.

When you give notice

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Schedule a meeting with human resources to inform them about your decision.

6. Resign like a pro. Schedule a meeting with human resources to inform them about your decision. You may choose to present a written resignation. If you choose to write a letter, keep it strictly professional. You don't have to offer up reasons for leaving.

Be truthful and polite, and maintain a professional attitude throughout the conversation. Discuss a short transition plan and offer to help during the transition period.

You also may choose to request a reference letter. If you tie up loose ends politely and professionally, it’s much more likely that your employer will write you a glowing review. Even simply confirming your job title and duration of employment with the company is helpful information for a future job hunt.

Be prepared for a harsh reaction from your employer, as some bosses so overreact to resignations. For your part, do everything you can to avoid drama. This is an emotional moment, but try to stay calm and professional throughout.

After you've given notice

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For your part, do everything you can to avoid drama

7. Prepare for a counteroffer. Your employer might make a counteroffer if they want to keep you around. Consider a counteroffer only if it's better than your new offer of employment elsewhere.

If you choose to accept your current employer's counteroffer, then make sure you have it in writing; however, it's worth noting that studies show 50% of workers who accept counteroffers leave within a year.

8. Take stuff (that you're allowed to take). Make copies of personal documents such as your current contract, professional certifications and performance reviews.

Addresses, contacts, work samples, emails and employee handbooks can also be of great help going forward.

It's best to review your contract before downloading these items and it may be advisable to get written approval from management before taking certain things that may fall under the clauses mentioned in step No. 3.

9. Do your digital housekeeping. Delete anything personal from electronic equipment including mobile phones, laptops, and tablets that were loaned to you during your employment.

If possible, performing a complete wipe-and-restore is much easier than cherry-picking individual files for deletion.

10. Review your benefits. Note when your health insurance expires and make plans for any lapse in coverage. Schedule your doctor appointments accordingly. Be sure to claim any expenses that haven't been reimbursed yet.

If you have other benefits, such as a gym membership or parking pass that you want to keep, make arrangements to change your registration information.

11. Prepare for your exit interview. Get ready for your exit interview. Take a day to review any legal documents that you're asked to sign. Seek independent advice if you have any questions.

12. Notify your clients and co-workers. Get permission from your employer before you inform your co-workers or your clients that you're leaving. Some bosses might not want you to talk to their clients to avoid having their business poached.

Where necessary, make introductions between co-workers, clients, and suppliers so they can continue to work on your projects once you're gone.

Leaving your job isn't easy — but it doesn't have to be stressful. Stay positive, be a professional and prepare your exit well. The experiences you've gained and connections you’ve made at your job will serve you for a lifetime.

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