Drafting a Resignation Letter: Wording Dos and Don’ts

Drafting a Resignation Letter: Wording Dos and Don’ts
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Why Bother?

Even though Johnny Paycheck memorialized an unprofessional parting of the ways in his 1977 hit “Take This Job and Shove It,” today’s gainfully employed professional should tread lightly when quitting a job. Resigning a position on bad terms has the potential to hurt a career and have a reputation precede the worker.

This is true even though most companies will only verify employment dates when asked for a reference. Where the damage occurs is in the overall loosely-knit communities that are part and parcel of all professional fields, whether the employee chooses a profession in academia, business or advertising.

When, Why and How to Write a Resignation Letter

The letter becomes part of the employee’s personnel file. It will remain in place for years or decades. Should the worker ever come and reapply for the business – or should the company merge with another business where the former employee might apply – this letter will be a hiring manager’s first introduction.

Therefore, it stands to reason that the worker should not write this missive while emotionally upset, depressed or even giddy over a new job offer. Consider the wording very carefully and even go so far as to have another person read over the letter. An independent pair of eyes, preferably of someone who is not emotionally involved with the company, can pick up on tone issues that could destroy your professional reputation.

Sample Letter

  • Return Address
  • Date (on which the resignation becomes official)
  • Contact name with title and business address (i.e. “Mr. XY,” “Mrs. YZ,” “Dr. AB” or “CD, Esq.")
  • Personal salutation followed by a colon (i.e. “Dear Dr. AB:” or “Dear Mr. XY:")
  • First paragraph: “Please allow me to express my appreciation for ABC Company and its staff. Working here for the last ___ years has provided me with a wealth of personal and professional development. I am grateful for the training, sincere interest in my success and professional relationships that I experienced here.”
  • Second paragraph: “I regret that at this time I have to tender my resignation. To make the transition as smooth as possible, I propose working for the next 14 days with a focus on training my replacement. My last day will be on ____.”
  • Third paragraph: “Once again, please allow me to express my gratitude to ABC Company for its investment in me.”
  • Closing (i.e. “Sincerely,” and your name and professional title)

Why This Resignation Letter Format Works

This sample of a resignation letter successfully combines the parts of a business letter with guardedly cordial but nevertheless professional undertones. Note that the letter formally addresses the direct supervisor to whom the resignation is addressed; this is a must when parting ways in business.

The first paragraph affirms the professional connection. There is no talk yet of resigning but instead only of sincere appreciation for the time that the employee worked at the business. Even if your relationship with the boss or business has soured, think back to the good times and write the first paragraph from this perspective. It sets the tone for the rest of the document.

Handing in a resignation does not require you to disclose why you are parting with the company. Do not feel the need to disclose a better job offer, personal reasons or even your unhappiness with recent department or company changes. State the fact that you are leaving: give a concise last day. Speak of the steps you will take to make it easy for your replacement to take over, which the University at Buffalo School of Management defines as a major component of this type of communication. This highlights your professionalism while it protects your privacy.

5 Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Generic address. Do not begin the body of your letter with a “To Whom it May Concern.”
  2. Lack of decorum. Just like there is a special paper to choose when hand-delivering a resume or curriculum vitae, a letter of resignation is a piece of business correspondence. Even if you have come to loathe the company, do not tender a handwritten resignation on a piece of scratch paper or the back of a bar napkin.
  3. Airing dirty laundry. You are tempted to call the boss a number of names and the corporate office a group of stooges, but doing so hurts you more than anyone.
  4. Gloating. Do not boast over the new position that pays you twice as much. Remember: the same people you meet on the way up, you also tend to encounter on the way down.
  5. Open resignation date. It sometimes happens that the professional on the way out feels guilty about leaving behind the company, department or coworkers. To appease a guilty conscience – and in an effort to fulfill the proper etiquette for quitting a job – she might leave the departure date open. Avoid this mistake at all costs! A firm quitting date puts you in a position of power if the employer wants to extend your stay; consider negotiating a fee for consulting past the appointed date.

Follow this resignation letter wording – avoid the missteps – and there is no chance that your leaving burns any bridges. In fact, a well-crafted letter of resignation tends to keep the door open, should you decide at some point to reapply for the position or even try for one higher up on the corporate ladder.