While there may be a number of reasons you might be leaving a job, there's really only one way to handle the situation when you're walking out the door: professionally. Even if things end badly with your employer, there is rarely any upside in going out in a blaze of glory.
Not sure about that last statement? Just ask Michelle Strauch, who quit a job as a part-time salesperson at a clothing store in a Chicago-area mall back in 1995 in a less than professional manner.
"I was working at this place for a few months and I couldn't get there on time because I had to take a bus to work. I was always late," Strauch says. "My manager was actually pretty cool about it but kept asking me to get there at the start of my shift. Finally, she started docking me a quarter-hour pay for each 15 minutes I was late."
Strauch says now she realizes that the punishment fit the crime. But back then?
"When I got my first check, I was furious, or at least furious in a 18-year-old kind of way," she says. "I went into the backroom and started yelling at an assistant manager, and then at the manager. I knocked over her coffee on this little table she was sitting at and quit. I was just an idiot."
Fast-forward 11 years: Strauch is interviewing for a job at a Chicago marketing firm. She made it past an interview with someone from the human resources department and is scheduled to interview with her potential new boss. The day before the interview, she gets a message on her answering machine telling her the interview is off.
"It was your typical, 'we have someone in-house that we have to hire' sort of thing, but it didn't sound right," Strauch says. "I called and asked to speak with the manager of the group for the job I was applying for. I got her voicemail and it was her - she had a very distinctive name and tone of voice - my old manager from the mall. I'm sure she saw my name and sent it back."
Strauch says she didn't even bother to leave a message.
"What could I say? 'I'm sorry about freaking out on you 10 years ago? It was over. Why bother? If someone did that to me, I wouldn't consider them for a job either," says Strauch.
Do it right
Of course, there are more productive ways to bid farewell to your employer. Leaving on a good note means observing proper etiquette in a few areas. Caroline Lee, an employment advocate with Legal Authority, an attorney placement firm in Pasadena, Calif., says to start by putting in a full day's work on your last day.
"You never know when you may encounter your employer again in your future professional experiences," says Lee. "Abstain from any negative interactions with your co-workers or boss. Even if there are hurt feelings there, conduct yourself with grace and consideration."
Be sure to do some "housekeeping" with your workstation, Lee adds.
"Make sure you clear your computer of any personal files or e-mails," she says. "Remember to take all your personal belongings. Having to go back some place after you said your awkward last goodbyes is never fun. But keep your actual goodbyes short and to-the-point."
Let people know how they've helped you and try to help them as well before you leave.
"Try to provide any last minute guidance or instructions regarding your work," says Lee. "You will be helping the next person to fill your shoes at the company."
Not everyone leaves their job for positive reasons, says Larina Kase, president of Performance & Success Coaching in Philadelphia. And leaving because of work conflicts or layoffs can be a little harder to deal with.
"If you're leaving for a negative reason, consider what role you had in that outcome and be realistic about what to do next if you don't already know," she says. "If, for example, you weren't effective as a leader, then consider leadership training to help you succeed in your next role."
Keep in touch
Kase says making sure your co-workers have the ability to reach you is important - a step that may prove vital down the road.
"Hand out cards with your new contact information," Kase says. "And collect that of all your colleagues because you never know how you can help each other out in the future."
Kase adds that you should spend some time reflecting on your time at the job.
"Get closure by spending a few minutes reflecting about the progress you made, skills you developed, and lessons you learned," she says. "Then think about your goals for your next position or business move."
If you are asked to do an exit interview, try to keep it positive or neutral, says Kristin Shannon, director of marketing from Drum Associates in New York.
"Never use an exit interview to bash your co-workers or boss," says Shannon. "You want to leave a positive note and convey a message that you enjoyed working there, regardless of the amazing career opportunity that came along."
And remember, whatever you do on your last day at work may be what people remember you by the most.
"If you do anything negative in the last 10 minutes that you are, unfortunately they will remember you only for that," says Shannon.
And of course, for knocking over their coffee.