14.2  How to Leave a Job Gracefully: handling job termination and setting a course for your future

There are ups and downs in every career.  My mom had a way of making even the worst crisis manageable:   "Into every life a little rain must fall..."  and  "This too shall pass..." she would say.  It had a way of putting things in perspective - life goes on.

People leave jobs for a variety of reasons, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. Regardless of how you leave, you need to consider your exit strategy carefully.

If you get laid off, there are good ways of reacting and there are bad ways of reacting. Giving up and getting angry is not an option. Staying positive is the best approach. Often while some people are being laid off, other are hired. Even in the worst economy companies hire, so do not despair and do not burn any bridges to your future.

As millions lost their jobs during the last recession, there was no end of discussion about how to leave and how to survive. Here we are again with a global pandemic.

If you are ever faced with the unpleasant reality, you want to handle it in the most eloquent way possible. Your behavior is going to be judged and reviewed by your colleagues for years to come. Whether you know it or not, you are interviewing for your next job. People who move to other companies will decide if you warrant an invitation to join them at their new firm based not only on the work you did but on your tact and grace under "fire".

Being upset after a layoff is natural. It is one of the biggest rejections in life. It is like being served with divorce papers when you didn’t even know there was a problem. You show up on time, do great work that is well recognized, and then bam!, out of nowhere, you get served with the pink slip.

To add insult to injury, while you are in the "layoff meeting" your are being locked out of your computer access and a company security officer is waiting outside your boss’s door to escort you out of the building... oh yea, and your ID badge will be confiscated... It leaves you feeling like a criminal.

If you are the person who’s on the way out the door with pink slip in hand and a box of your personal belongings, you really should think twice about telling everybody what you really think, especially in writing... Especially if you are angry, or hurt or resentful. Do not do anything rash. As you leave, do it like an Oscar award speech, thank everybody and their dog.

Consider this as a practical matter. The people who remain behind are your professional contacts and may very well be the ones who help you find your next job. They may hear of a new job, or they may be planning their next move with you in mind. You do indeed want them to know how to contact you, but you don’t want to leave any impressions that might cause them to hesitate before contacting you.

If you leave angry, you could be the one who reminds them that they hate their job just as much as you did. That increases the burden they carry as they continue. No reason you should remind them. And if they like their job, they are going to think there was something wrong with you.

You also want to make certain that you do not do anything that might cause anyone to question your judgment. Some of those you work with now might soon be in new jobs themselves. They might be starting their own business and looking to hire, or they might end up in a position where they can recruit or hire others in your field. The way you leave this job may be instrumental in whether you land the next one.

Keep in mind that losing a job is one of the worst experiences you will ever have in life. You are losing that daily contact with friends and venturing out into the unknown. You are bound to feel a sense of loss and disappointment. Indeed, it is not at all unexpected that you will experience a sense of depression. Writing on the topic: "Recession, Depression and Depression," my husband, psychologist Paul G. Mattiuzzi noted: "there is an extensive literature on the connection between unemployment and psychological well-being... work is often essential for psychological health."

Networking your way to your next job starts the minute you decide what you want to do in life and continues until you retire.

Always focus on the future. Start thinking about what next from the time you start a new job and definitely before all heck breaks loose.  If the worst thing happens, my advice is that you leave graciously and effectively, with a seriousness of purpose. Positive is good, but it involves more than "just be positive."

First and foremost, make it a practice to have all of your contacts in an accessible database and that you always have phone numbers and an email address you can use for professional purposes. Your iPhone or smart phone is the obvious go to place.  Get linked on LinkedIn. Don’t wait until you leave your job to start your professional network. Start this process from the moment you arrive in college and keep it going all through your professional life and into retirement. You are a professional! Act like one!

After a layoff, don’t send anyone any email until you have collected yourself. That is always a good practice. Never do or say anything in anger. It will come back to haunt you!

Take time to exercise and reduce the shock and the stress of the "event". Fresh air will help you think about life and your larger purpose. Things happen for a reason. I rarely have someone tell me, after things sort out, that it was really the worst thing that ever happened. More often than not, positive things come from the challenge you face after a departure or layoff. Change is good! Keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that you do not qualify to be permanently unemployed.

Once you have adjusted to the new reality, think about what you are going to say in your email to colleagues and friends. Let people know that you view this as an opportunity to explore your options, consider new directions, or to gain some education, training or experience that you have long considered. You are the master of your future! Keep that in mind.

If you know what your next career objective is, tell all of your professional contacts. Send positive email updating everyone.  Let them know exactly what you are looking for. Give them your freshly updated professional resume. Let them know that you would appreciate hearing from them, especially if they have any ideas or suggestions (names of people or companies they know are a good fit regardless of there are current openings), or if they hear of any opportunities. Ask them to keep you informed if their contact information should change. Above all else, make certain that they know how to contact you by email, and through LinkedIn where they can easily access your constantly updated resume and information.

If you have some enterprise or activity already lined up, let people know how you will be actively engaged and involved. Let them know if you have a side business or project that you will be focusing on (this is also an advertising opportunity!).

The departure email is not where you want to share your feelings or look back on the past. It is OK to tell your colleagues and co-workers that it was a pleasure working with them, that you appreciate their support and/or friendship, and to express "best wishes".  By way of your attitude, you want to let them know that you are not depressed and that you have passed The Serious Job Seeker IQ Test.