How to write a resignation letter
You have decided to leave your job and want to leave on a positive note. It starts with announcing and informing people in a professional manner. So you have to send in your resignation letter? If so, who are you sending it to? And what do you say?
To answer these questions, I asked two experts who focus on career transitions: Dorie Clark, author of The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, and Priscilla Claman, career coach and contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job.
Do you really need to write a resignation letter?
It’s best to tell your boss you’re moving on to the next step in your career “face-to-face or via video call” at least two weeks in advance, Clark says. This means that in most cases, termination of employment does not require a formal letter of resignation. However, there are situations in which you want to write one, especially since, as Claman points out, writing a resignation letter usually doesn’t hurt and is pretty simple.
Why you should write a resignation letter
Reason #1: It creates a paper trail.
Some managers or human resources representatives will ask you to submit a letter as part of your records. Even if no one asks for it, you can turn it in so that there is documentation of your notice and departure date, which can help with paperwork around your last paycheck and transition of your duties.
Reason #2: It’s the norm in your industry or company.
Depending on where you work, you may be expected to submit your resignation. Since it depends a lot on your region, industry and even organization, you’ll need to ask around. You can contact someone who has left your company to see if they sent a letter, or you can discreetly ask someone in HR (whom you trust) how these things are usually handled.
Reason #3: You feel it will help you master the conversation.
Telling your boss you’re leaving can be awkward, Clark says, and sometimes it’s hard to break the news face-to-face. To help start the conversation, you can email your resignation letter right before meeting with them. That way, they’ll know what you want to talk about and have a few minutes to process the messages before you get down to it.
Reason #4: You want to be in control of your departure report.
Writing a letter allows you to be clear about when you are leaving and why. For example, if you’re worried that your boss will try to spin your departure in a way that suits him (but that’s not the whole story), you can send him a letter and copy HR or your boss’s boss. That way, you can help “control how they feel about you and whether they’ll write a future reference,” Claman says.
How to write a resignation letter:
What to say
First of all, it’s short. As Claman says, “This is mostly a transactional letter, and you don’t want to go on and on.”
Address the letter to your boss or HR, whichever you share the information with the most.
Briefly and clearly state when you are leaving and what you will be doing next. If you don’t have another opportunity lined up, it’s okay to blurt it out; “I’m leaving to explore the next chapter of my career” or something similar will do.
It’s good to also express gratitude if there is something you are truly grateful for. “It has to be nice and true,” advises Claman.
Consider including some details about projects you’ve enjoyed working on or other accomplishments you’re proud of.
Conclude by focusing on next steps, including the timing of your departure and your commitment to smoothly handing over your tasks and responsibilities. “This is an offering of what you can do to help with the transition,” Claman says.
What to avoid
Clark and Claman agree that you should avoid giving feedback or criticism in your letter. “Don’t get into blanket criticism of the company’s shortcomings,” says Clark.
This doesn’t mean you have to keep quiet about any complaints you have, just save them for the exit interview, which is usually a better place to air complaints. And if you’re leaving because of mistreatment or another major issue, “you’ll probably file a report or complaint with HR,” Clark says. “It’s certainly worth addressing, but a resignation letter is not the right place.” [A rare exception to this rule is noted below.]
Resignation letter sample
Use this template when you’re sending a letter to your manager after telling them you’re leaving. You may also want to cc HR.
As we discussed earlier, I am relinquishing my position as [title]. My last day will be [date] which is [X] weeks from today.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but as you know, I’ve wanted to move into [new field/industry] for a long time, so I’m leaving for a role that will allow me to steer my career in that direction.
I really enjoyed working at [company] and this team. I learned a lot that I will take to my next position. Thank you for your support and the opportunities you have given me over the past [X] years.
[You can add some specifics here about projects you’ve enjoyed working on or other accomplishments you’re proud of. For example, “During my time here, I particularly enjoyed working with the analytics team, sales and marketing to launch the latest iteration of our flagship product.” or “The past 6 years have been a phenomenal experience for me. It has been a pleasure to manage the company’s most profitable portfolio, which exceeds our targets every year.”]
I am committed to making the transition as smooth as possible and would like to meet with you to discuss some initial ideas for handing over your projects and responsibilities.
I wish you and the team continued success and hope you stay in touch.
Thank you for everything,