Answer: In both circumstances you need to be prepared, to have rehearsed the message you’ll quickly deliver and, within a matter of moments, to walk away.
In all seriousness, the time allotted to each person on the speed-dating circuit is longer than it takes to resign properly. The physical act of resigning should take no more than three minutes. Look at your watch right now and consider how long it takes for three minutes to elapse. Why make the uncomfortable situation unnecessarily last any longer.
The clock starts with a knock on the manager’s door. Your boss looks up from her desk and waives you over to a seat in front of her desk. Unless the office is huge, 10 seconds or less will have passed.
You fidget a bit settling into the chair, look at the supervisor and utter the magic words, “I am resigning,” while simultaneously handing over your letter of resignation. If you’re really fidgety, about another 10 seconds at most has elapsed.
Your soon-to-be-former manager then begins to pepper you with all sorts of questions: “Why are you leaving”? “Who have you talked to”? “You know you have a contract, right”? All of her statements have one thing in common: company damage control.
In response, I recommend that people say something general like, “I’ve made my decision and need to go.” It’s polite, it’s clear and it usually has the effect of stopping the interrogation in about two minutes. When reality sinks in, you’ll be asked to leave. Three minutes.
Another aspect that resigning has in common with speed dating is neither (should) allow for an exit interview. You are there to do one thing and one thing only: resign. When that act is done, so are you.
To be clear, some companies require, by way of a written agreement, that before employees leave the premises they submit to an exit interview. In other instances, a departed employee may receive what’s in essence a questionnaire, or survey, in the days or weeks after leaving.
Before deciding whether and to what extent you will give an exit interview, or to respond to any post-departure written outreach, it’s imperative that you consult an attorney. Why? Because in my experience, people should do an exit interview only if it’s absolutely required. Why? Because, having directly and indirectly handled thousands of employee transitions, I’ve never once seen an exit interview, or debriefing, go well for the departing employee. Either there’s too much negativity or there’s too much feigned gratitude, neither of which will serve you well while transitioning to the next company.
So, again, when the three-minute bell rings, be quiet and politely get up and leave.
Something else that speed dating and resigning have in common is that both are contrived and awkward and layered with all sorts of emotions — both good and bad. Stay focused. Part of you is nervous. Part of you is excited about the prospects that lie ahead in the next place of employment. Part of you is racing to get started with your new company. There’s also another person in the room who, at that moment, might not be seeing things quite in the way that you view what’s happening. Right?
You want to convince the person sitting across from you that you’re a good guy doing a good thing in the right way. At the same time, the listener is likely thinking on at least two tracks: he is a decent guy, and he is behaving perfectly appropriately, but am I about to get hurt?
The answer to all three of those thoughts is, unfortunately, “yes.” Yes you have the right to leave, and yes you are acting professionally, and yes the odds are good that what you’re about to do will cause harm to the person sitting across from you. As a result, you must always remember that there are two sides, literally, to the resignation exercise and, therefore, there’s a need to stay extremely focused on the optics and emotions of the moment. Keep your emotions, all your emotions, in check.
We all want the people in front of us to like us and to appreciate and agree with what we’re doing. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s very unlikely for that to happen in the context of resigning and going to work for a competing firm.
A resigning employee must fully appreciate certain unalterable truths before knocking on the manager’s door: you are leaving; you are leaving to go to a competing firm; at the competing firm you will try to succeed; and if you succeed at the competing firm, it will by definition have a negative impact on the place you’re about to quit. It’s a zero sum game.
For these reasons, go into the room prepared to give the one message you are there to deliver, and then leave (politely of course). And, just like speed dating, when you walk away from the first desk, you know that there is another manager sitting behind another desk, who is waiting for you to come take a seat. The bell has rung.
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Steven L. Manchel, Esq. possesses the highest possible attorney rating and has extensive national experience in recruiting matters, broker-dealer litigation, securities litigation, and complex civil litigation. In the employee departure arena, he has handled matters ranging from single employee transitions to the types of retention and attraction issues arising from large corporate mergers and acquisitions. The case study in his new book, I Hereby Resign (New Academia, Aug. 27, 2019), is used in a class in which he continues to lecture at the Harvard Business School. Learn more at manchelbrennan.com.