My contract is ending, and I need a new job. I was going to write an article about how to gracefully exit a position, particularly for those of us who are exiting into the “unknown” of the job market. Since I know that scheduled departures like mine are fairly common in both academic and industry roles, I wanted to record my thoughts on the process.
The last time I “lost my job” was when I graduated. This was another scheduled departure, although I probably didn’t handle it as well at that time. I’d like to blame the delirium of defending and the identity crisis that is looking for your first job for my myopic and self-centered attitude about the whole thing. My coworkers were all terribly supportive, and I still think that these are legitimate feelings. But the stress of job hunting aside, when you leave a job, you need to make sure you are prepared to find the next one.
I was going to write about how I wanted to leave my coworkers with a positive memory of my professionalism, and not spend my remaining time at work venting my anxiety, because that just makes others worry that their jobs aren’t safe. Also, half of my team got layoff notices. Suddenly exiting with grace and professionalism has a whole new meaning, and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to take the resources I needed when I moved on. Namely, I wanted to be sure that I would be able to demonstrate what I have learned in my time at this job to my future employer.
First of all, I’ve connected with everyone I work with on LinkedIn. Whether or not you have a polished profile that is ready to use for job hunting, LinkedIn does a nice job of helping to keep track of professional contacts, especially after your teammates move on to new positions and will be decentralized. When your teammates move on, you really do want to keep track of them-they might move to a company where you’d like to be referred. If LinkedIn doesn’t work for you, then certainly, collect contact information that will connect you with those coworkers after their work email addresses stop working.
On a related note, I’ve already established who will be my references on this next round of job applications. That’s a much easier conversation to have in person, particularly if it might be paired with, “How should I contact you in the future?”
I tried to save any documents I might need for the future. For me, this fell into three major categories, writing samples, HR documents and positive references. I wanted to get all these while I was still on the job since in the future, I won’t have access to them and there won’t be someone handy who can send me them.
As a writer and instructional designer, job applications often ask for a writing sample, and I have done some of my best work in this role. Obviously, I checked with my supervisor and HR about what is appropriate for me to have copies of. I made sure to keep some examples of the types of documents I was writing, and the format of our course structure generally.
Next, I kept copies of emails and documents from HR that explain my benefits (COBRA, what happens to my 401K, when my computer accounts will officially be stopped), and also the materials I need for switching to health coverage with my spouse. In another situation, I’d want to be sure I had documents required for unemployment benefits.
Finally, I kept old reviews, and other emails sent from coworkers that speak positively of my work. I have some vague idea that I might needs these for reference in the future, but the truth is, these will remind me that I am good at what I do, even when no one is paying me to do it.
Finally, I tried to leave gracious goodbyes. Because not everyone on my team works in my office, I made a point to email the people I don’t see every day to say goodbye, and thank them for all their help. Regardless of whether it is a planned departure or a surprise layoff, when the make-up of a team changes, everyone feels unsettled. In particular since I’m leaving, and the long-term management strategies of our department or the company don’t really affect me beyond the more distant I-liked-working-here and I’d-like-to-see-my-coworkers-succeed way, I’m in a nice position to remind my coworkers that we did good work together.
When a team shrinks during a big layoff or major restructuring, everyone wants to be reminded of the positive. Particularly when a team is dissolving, and lots of people will be recommending others based on their shared work history, now is not the time to be remembered as slagging responsibilities or trying to score pity. There is already lots of anxiety to go around. Now is a much better time to work quietly, act positively, and prepare for what’s next.
To be honest, this seems like a good time for me to move on. I’ve really enjoyed my work on this project, but now that we’ve wrapped up something substantial, this is an ideal time to exit and work on developing a different set of skills. I’m at a great point in my career to have a little experience to prove myself, but not so much that I’m super specialized.
There are different aspects of this job that I would like to focus on, such as curriculum planning and assessment management, that would be hard to get the opportunity to do at this company (since I happen to know the people doing these things currently are very good at it).
Frankly, my employer doesn’t owe me a longer commitment than this contract. Your employer owes you a paycheck for your work, and in this economy, that’s usually all the loyalty that either side can afford. While I will be sad to leave my first real job, it’s been a great experience that I need to be able to take advantage of by leaving with the information I need to make my next transition.
Sandlin Seguin, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in molecular biology in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently looking for work in instructional design or curriculum writing. She is the Executive Director of Education at HiveBio, Seattle’s new biohackerspace and DIYBio Lab.