Quitting time in IT

When Ted Smith worked at Andersen Consulting Inc. years ago, the company documented the tone and terms of each employee’s departure. If the resignation went poorly, a “Do Not Rehire” box was checked off in the employee’s file.

Now vice-president of career markets and services at TechRepublic.com in Louisville, Ky., Smith’s job is to guide the site’s 750,000 IT members through smart career decisions. That means making sure those damning little boxes don’t get checked, bridges don’t get burned and doors aren’t forever closed because of a poorly executed resignation.

“If the box gets checked, you don’t get another chance,” Smith said.

As the hot economy encourages IT professionals to hop from job to job – and sometimes back again – with promises of meaty paycheques, flexible work schedules or box seats to the World Series, it’s critical to remember that how you leave your current job will affect future opportunities.

“There are important politics and essentials about moving on and moving up in the IT world,” said Beverly Kaye, co-author of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘ Em: Getting Good People to Stay, and president of Career Systems International, a retention consulting firm in Scranton, Pa. “It harkens back to some age-old wisdom our mothers taught us: Don’t leave a trail of dust and bones behind you.”

In other words, always leave on a positive note, she said. Make sure your resignation doesn’t shock anyone and doesn’t send co-workers scurrying to tell their friends what a jerk you are. While rules are broken all the time when a dream job suddenly opens up, the basic protocols to resigning should be followed.

Smith said to raise your hand early on and tell your boss if your job isn’t everything you desire. Even if you’ve decided that you can’t stand to do what you’re doing for another day, be professional: Don’t announce on Friday that you’re starting a new job on Monday.

“There’s a breed of recalcitrant employees who are indifferent to proper resignation procedures,” said Mark Oldman, co-founder of New York’s Vault.com, a resource site for job seekers, human resources professionals and employers. “Especially in the IT world’s somewhat small circle of people, it can come back to haunt you.”

If you’re mad as hell at your boss, resist the urge to criticize your supervisor or your company, especially in writing, said Oldman, who’s heard stories about venom-filled letters being passed around the office before landing permanently in a personnel file.

Smith advises junior members of the IT workforce to consider their boss’s perspective. “Someday they may be in this man’s or woman’s shoes staring at a resignation letter,” he said. “They need to think if this is how they want to be treated.”

Dave Gerstenlauer has accepted his share of resignations, including two in the past few months. As director of network development for Ikon, the office printing and copier giant, he faces a 20 per cent employee shortage among IT workers in the Atlanta area where he’s based. “There’s only four people to fill every five jobs,” he said. “People think they’re going to greener pastures.”

Before they hand in a resignation, Gerstenlauer advises employees to consider the big picture of their careers, and to assess the intangible aspects of any new job. How much travel is involved? Is there potential to work from home? Are hours flexible enough to make it to your child’s baseball game?

“These are the things that are really difficult to put a value on,” Gerstenlauer said. “But if you figure them into the equation, maybe a couple of dollars less in salary is worth more.”

resignation do’s and don’ts

Approach your immediate supervisor first, and be prepared with a list of bullet points you want to address, Vault.com’s Oldman said. Rehearse what you say in front of friends, adds Career Systems International’s Kaye. Both techniques will keep you in control of the discussion.

Don’t leave on bad terms. Provide at least two to four weeks’ notice, and present a transition plan.

Write a short letter of resignation that includes the date you’ve decided to leave. Don’t feel compelled to say where you’re going, but do highlight what you’ve learned.

Don’t get personal. “Your parting words will follow you wherever you go,” Oldman said. “You want to leave your job sending the impression that you’re a positive, constructive person on the move.”

Stay composed, Oldman said. “Expect that your boss may be surprised and may even feel betrayed,” he said.

Don’t resign via e-mail. It’s the coward’s way out, the experts agree.

Tell your boss why you’re leaving. Employers are desperate to retain talented IT workers and want to know what went wrong.

Finally, don’t poach former colleagues once you’ve left. “E-mailing employees who’ve remained…that is the ultimate betrayal,” Oldman said.