Ask anyone who has ever been involved in a play, and they'll tell you the importance of knowing which side of the stage to exit. Heading off in the wrong direction could have you coming face-to-face with actors trying to enter the stage or heading to a fictional location that—during the course of the play—was clearly noted as being in a different direction.
The same attention should also be applied when preparing to exit your current employer. A bad exit can have long-range consequences and should always be avoided if possible. There are as many reasons to leave a job as there are jobs to leave. If you've found yourself in the throes of this transition, consider the following tips before you start packing your boxes:
1. Know your reasons. Be clear with yourself about the reasons why you're leaving. Are you bored? Do you feel you've attained the highest level of success available to you? Is there a better offer on the table from another employer?
Before turning in your notice, have a clear understanding of whatever it is that is prompting you to look in another direction. This will help you state your case concisely when you're asked the inevitable question: "Why?"
2. Provide appropriate notice. While two-weeks notice seems to be the norm, consider your position before settling on an appropriate timeline. For example, if your position is difficult to fill, choose an amount of time that will allow your soon-to-be former employer an ample opportunity to replace you. If they rush to fill that position with a less-than-vetted person, the fall-out could very well have your name coming up negatively a little too often in meetings after you leave.
3. Offer to train your replacement. If there is time, consider staying on long enough to make sure your replacement is trained properly to do your job. It's hard to criticize someone later who has been that generous.
4. Don't just walk out. No matter how bad things may seem, walking out unannounced is rarely a good idea. The last thing you want is having that kind of reputation following you around. The bitterness created by this act will definitely come through when a prospective employer calls to verify your employment.
5. Refresh your resume. In the event that you don't have an opportunity waiting, make certain to have your career portfolio current. This is much easier to accomplish while you're still earning a paycheck, versus scrambling to throw something together once you're down to your last box of mac 'n' cheese.
6. Secure solid references. Approach two or three people for references while your business relationships are fresh. Ask them to put their testimonials in writing. Be strategic while also cognizant of whose positive energy will best resonate through written or oral reference communications. If the timing isn't right to vet a reference from your current boss, consider reaching out to clients, colleagues, project leaders, vendors, and other managers in matrix roles who have either led or been led by you.
7. Guide your reference. When requesting a testimonial, prepare to guide your reference to the type of comment that would be most useful to you. Not only will this help you achieve your career goals, but it will also simplify and provide focus for the reference writer. For example, if you are seeking a reference from a customer and that customer not only benefited from your consultative problem solving but also grew their own business as a result, you could ask them to write about your solution-building abilities in the context of your collaboration, as well as your long-range, measurable impact on their business. Think specificity in both metrics and soft skills.
8. Check your finances. If you have 401(k) or other financial takeaways to consider, then check with your financial adviser or accountant for best methods to roll over the money or handle your account to best benefit your future.
9. Check your health benefits. If your health care benefits are tied to the company you're leaving, initiate a conversation with your human resources professional to discuss options during the transition to your next company. There is often a 90-day or more waiting period before new benefits at your new company kick in; don't leave your current job uncovered.
10. Plan your next reputation move. While taking the proper steps to leave a job is essential, also consider the next steps of your career and how you will aspire to propel your reputation forward. Keep in mind that you are starting with a blank slate in your new company and new role. Take advantage of the opportunity. Consider what image you want to present from day one and make a plan to present yourself through your behaviors in ways you prefer to be viewed. In other words, if you felt you were a shrinking violet in your last role, then plan to be more assertive and communicative, articulating your ideas and value. Or if you earned a reputation for being whiny and inflexible at your last company, make a plan to be less of a drone and more of a cooperative team player.
Changing jobs doesn't have to be stressful. Take your time, keep your emotions out of the decision, and enjoy your next career adventure.
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at http://careertrend.net/blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers. Visit http://pv.webbyawards.com/ballot/41 to vote for Glassdoor in the Webby Awards.