Let’s begin with how not to write an effective resignation letter:
I quit. I've had enough.
You owe me $2,400 for unused vacation and sick days.
Nice. And we didn’t make it up: That’s a real resignation letter from the files of Bruce A. Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd. A candidate insisted on giving him letters of reference, and this particular letter — handwritten, even — was stapled to the packet.
It was, Hurwitz said, “the worst resignation letter I ever saw.”
What is a good resignation letter? One that sets you up to leverage your former position and colleagues in your future path, whether it's for networking or solid references. Here’s what the experts had to say about writing an effective resignation letter.
The graceful exit letter
- Keep it formal but friendly. It should be in the form of a business letter but with a first name, as in "Dear First Name," instead of "Dear Ms. X," Hurwitz said.
- Don’t equivocate. Make it clear that you’re not open to counteroffers by using a clear-cut line, such as, "I hereby submit my resignation as [your title] effective on [date].” Senior executives should give more than two weeks’ notice. Hurwitz recommends your allotted vacation as a good measure of the amount of time required for a resignation, as your vacation time is typically a measure of your seniority: If you have four weeks’ vacation, the minimum is four weeks’ notice.
- Be complimentary. Hurwitz provided this example: "I cannot thank you enough for all that I have learned and all the opportunities you have generously bestowed upon me during the past five years."
- Set the record straight. The letter is going to be filed in your personnel file, to which you will never have access, Hurwitz said. That file may contain negative comments regarding your performance, but this is your chance to set the record straight. For example: "I will always look back with affection, satisfaction and pride at our accomplishments," and then note what those accomplishments were. It might be important should another job search or a corporate merger put you in the path of the same HR department and personnel file.
- Keep it positive. If a future employer calls to verify your employment, they might well talk to somebody who knows nothing about you except what’s in your dusty personnel file. You want them to see that the last thing you said was “positive and uplifting and thankful,” said Jacob Young, a small-business consultant and Web developer. “Even if there are marks on your file, the human spirit will take over and pause on the side of caution, if you look nice and non-threatening on paper.”
- Be supportive. Let your employer know that you are available to help in the transition, if needed, after your last date of employment. Provide your phone number and make it clear that you’ll be happy to answer questions.
When Victoria J. Ashford left her position as director of the Helena Public Library, in Helena, Ala., to launch Fearless Coaching, she said in a very gracious letter of resignation that she was confident her employer would have ample time to select a replacement, and she even offered to provide him/her with introductory training regarding federal, state, county and city methods and policies. She also pointed out two pending major projects: New Computer-Print Management & the State Annual Report, both of which she said she felt “duty-bound to oversee and complete. It would be unfair of me to leave those undone.”
- Close on a warm note. Hurwitz provided this example: "Lisa, I want you to know that I would not have secured this new position without my experiences at [your company]. I will always be grateful to you and can only hope that my new colleagues will be as supportive as you and... [name colleagues]." “It's a nice touch to recognize other people,” Hurwitz said.
End the letter on an equally warm note, such as, "Warmest personal regards and best wishes for continued success," signed with your first name.
And walk away with your dignity, your personnel record and your bridges intact.