How Graceful Job Resignations Boost Your Career

I used to think resignations were easy. Just like everyone else, I handled it with a letter, maybe a cake, and then climbing on a table, stripping to my underwear, and furiously hip-pumping while comparing ex-colleagues to various farm animals. Which, come to think of it, might be the only reason no one here has fired me yet. As it turns out, my ungraceful departures cost me a lot of advantages. In this article, I look at how a good resignation can provide an edge, and how to get the most out of one:


Tattooed and bangled hands writing a resignation letter

“Quitting this gang is harder than I thought. How do you spell…”


Why the Resignation Matters

Considering we’re on an island you can spit across, reputation counts. Industries overlap, and sometimes, we end up having to go back to the same job. If your resignation involves more hysteria than PETA in a meat packing plant, you’re burning bridges. And that’s something you do as a last resort. Aim for a graceful job resignation, which:

  • Provides strong references
  • Prevents loss of contacts
  • Allows for back-pedalling
  • Improves business opportunities
  • Covers past mistakes


Guy in sunnies drinking wine

This is your mortgage broker. He’s retiring tomorrow. You’re in good hands.


1. Provides Strong References

References don’t just verify your work experience. Employers gauge your overall worth based on how enthusiastic your last boss sounds. If you get a “Meh, he’s okay” reference, you can forget about negotiating a high salary.

Never assume your prospective employers won’t check. In industries like advertising or F&B, references are prized higher than the next door neighbour’s life. Employers in these industries tend to know each other; ask any chef or creative director, and you’ll realize most know their counterparts by name.


Guy behind bars

Protip: Do not list your former cell-mate as a reference.


To get a strong reference, make sure you speak directly to the boss when resigning. Never pass your resignation to a secretary, then dodge contact for the rest of your time. You want to make specific requests regarding your reference, like:

“Remember the Fischer account, when I worked until my eyeballs bled? It would be nice if you mention that”.

Ask your former employer to highlight the same points that you bring up in your resume (e.g. key achievements, awards, and major projects).


2. Prevents Loss of Contacts


Two old men sitting on the steps

“Eh, Cheng, you remember that report from 1967? I just finished it today. Wanted to get back to you.”


Your colleagues are key contacts. Assuming you’ll work in the same field, you don’t want to lose them.

At some point, you might need important data or supporting research. And if you’ve kept in touch with Alice the Research Manager from your last job, it might save you snorting illegal substances to stay awake this month. In the finance industry, this goes without question: Bankers and brokers usually stay in touch, even as they hop between companies like a frog on fire.

To keep on good terms with your former colleagues, don’t restrict your parting gifts or words to the boss. Buy everyone a small treat before going, and give away that desk lamp your ex-colleague’s always admired. At the very least, walk around and thank everyone before leaving.


3. Allows for Back Pedalling


Man facing a loudspeaker

Please step into the interview room for re-hires.


Maybe you couldn’t find another job. Maybe the new boss spits acid and feasts on souls. Or maybe you should’ve reconsidered joining that Internet start-up as soon as the founder asked “Does this PC come with Google”?

Well, hope you have a line back to the old job.

If your performance was at least average, it’s easier to get back an old job than to find a new one. That’s because the staff already know you, the skills you have are obviously relevant, and you need nothing beyond a 15 minute refresher. It’s easy to keep this door open: Just be polite when tending your resignation, and refrain from comparing your ex-boss to genitalia on Facebook.


4. Improves Business Opportunities


fire exxtinguisher

“You make fire extinguishers, I used to be a professional arsonist. It’s perfect!”


Companies work with each other. Sometimes, their goals align, even amongst rivals. And if your new employer requires something your old one can provide, you’re in a great position.

Say you work with a paint company, and your new job is in interior design. With some initiative, you can set up a deal that gives your new employer a supply discount. What better way to get yourself in the running for a raise?

As with point 3, it’s easy to obtain this edge. Just be polite when resigning. However much you detest your former employer, there’s no benefit to advertising it. Yelling may make you feel better for 15 minutes, but burning bridges won’t reverse the water under them.


5. Covers Past Mistakes



“Before I was a skydiving instructor, I used to be a pilot. Let’s just say one thing led to another.”


You might be resigning because you’ve made a disastrous error, and don’t want to write “fired” on your resume. Don’t be embarrassed; it’s happens to more people than you think. They just cover it up in their resignation.

If your boss gives you the old “resign or get fired” speech, don’t flip out. Take the opportunity, and with luck, your career record won’t suffer too much. Hey, if you’re forced to take the blame, you may as well minimize the damage. Remain professional and calm, and most former employers will be kind enough to cover for you.

Offer your apologies, and emphasize how you tried to make up for the mistake. It won’t get you re-hired, but your former employer may remember it when they get a reference call. And if you see the opportunity, ask for a letter regarding your damage control measures. This will come in handy when prospective employers grill you.

Image Credits:
Dplanet, Vox Efx , Mr. Thomas, watchsmart, stephan modry, jutta@flickr, waaghais,

Have you ever tendered a resignation? Comment and tell us how it went!

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