On the Clock

The World’s Best Resignation Letter

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains why a ‘less is more’ approach makes a big difference.

Ready to quit your job?

It’s a small world, and every little detail — from how you break the news to what you put in your resignation letter — will either help or hurt your professional reputation.

The purpose of a resignation letter is to provide an official document telling your employer that you’re either terminating your employment immediately or on a specific day. Once it’s sent to your supervisor, he or she will forward it to HR to keep in your file.

There was no raiding of the supply closet; she left the tape dispenser, stapler and Post-Its.

Here’s my basic philosophy on resignation letters: Less is more.

Unfortunately, the majority of letters I’ve seen can be summed up in one word: Eyesores. That’s because many of them usually fall into one of three categories:

The “bridge-burning” letter:

Even if the circumstances of your departure were unpleasant, don’t treat the resignation letter as an opportunity to vent about your negative experiences. Let’s face it, you will need reference letters in the future, so why go out of your way to burn bridges?

The “here’s exactly why I’m leaving” letter:

Whether you’ve “accepted a new opportunity” or “need to leave for personal reasons,” a resignation letter is not the place to emphasize your reasons for leaving. That’s a discussion you should have with your supervisor before even sending the letter.

The “barely there” letter:

Yes, less is more, but give me something. If you send a one-sentence letter that reads, “I’m resigning and my last day is next Friday,” you’re basically saying, “I’m lazy and unprofessional.”


To give you a clear example of where to begin, here’s the most impressive resignation letter I ever received based on my 20 years of working in corporate leadership and HR:

Dear Gary,

As we discussed in our meeting today, I'm resigning from my position as [XXX] at [XXX]. My last day will be [XXX]. 

Thank you for teaching me how to thrive in situations with tight deadlines and fast-moving parameters. I really enjoyed my time here and am so grateful for your support. 

During this time of transition, I will continue to screen candidates for my replacement and send you a memo reiterating everything we discussed about who will be taking over my existing projects. 

Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to make the transition as smooth as possible. I wish you and the team continued success! 

Sincerely,

[XXX]

The letter was clear, concise and included everything on my checklist:

  • Essential details: Intention to resign, title, last day

  • Positive tone: Polite, helpful, appreciative

  • Final responsibilities: Summary of what will be done during the transition period

I should also note that the way in which the employee resigned was flawless. Prior to sending the letter, she told me the news in private; we discuss the specific details of her departure, like who would be taking over her accounts and how she planned to help with the search for a replacement.

On her last day, she said goodbye to me in person. There was no raiding of the supply closet; she left the tape dispenser, stapler and Post-Its. No 1,000-word 2 p.m. email blast to hundreds of employees saying, “Goodbye friends and colleagues...”

Believe it or not, all these things matter a great deal.

A version of this article appears on CNBC.com.

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