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How to Exit Gracefully

Whether you’re fired, downsized or just plain “let go,” Senior Editor Tanisha A. Sykes says do it with class.

Leaving a job is never an easy thing.

In the very near future, some of you will come in, do your job all day and then the boss will ask to see you before you leave for the day. You’re like, “Sure, let me just finish up this project, so I can give you a report.” You’re probably thinking the boss just wants to shoot the breeze about industry buzz, but then you hear the words, “It’s not going to work out.” Whoa, whoa, whoa… What’s not going to work out, my coming in early to get all of this stuff you dump on me down, being the last set of eyes on a project, going the extra mile to make you look good? No, he says, “We’re not happy with your performance and it’s not going to work out.”

People, this is not a tale in fiction. It actually happened to me while I was pregnant with my now 15-year-old son. Sure, I could’ve sued, especially since I was with child, but there was a bigger blessing here. Take care of my son, get married and so on. And so I did. But, it was also a lesson in how to leave a position gracefully, especially when you think the exit is undeserving. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few pointers:

Stay calm. When you hear the news, you’re ready to clock somebody out, but stay cool and ask:

·      What more could I have done?

·      Why wasn’t this brought up during my review?

·      Will you give me a recommendation?

·      What are the next steps?

As pissed off as you are, ask these questions in a respectful, dignified tone, then go see the Human Resources department to receive your paperwork.

Gather your contacts.  This is crucial because some companies will actually act funky and lock you out of your computer while you are getting the ax. Transfer your contacts and emails ASAP before you start to clean up, clean out or go running your mouth about being fired. And keep a Rolodex at home and your contacts on a jump drive, so you can pull it out of the computer and go if Security is waiting for you when you return to your desk. Sounds crazy, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse.  

Alert your A-team. Don’t know who this is? These are the colleagues, mentors, advocates and sponsors who’ve got your back no matter what. This is not your whole database. Let them know what happened, that you’re fine (or at least you will be once the shock wears off) and that you’ll be in touch soon. End the note with your personal email address (make sure it’s professional and appropriate) and your cell number. Then tell your confidantes at work, such as your team members, cubicle mates and friends. The word will spread from there.

Use this as your jump-off. Instead of running around wallowing in self-pity, set up coffees, lunches and drinks with people who can help you find your next position. Think about the contacts who always wanted to work with you, management who always wants you on their projects and associates who are connected. Before you connect with them, update your bio, resume, website and LinkedIn account. And for goodness sake, clean up your social networking accounts and get active on them. If you have an office, do this while you are still there, especially if you’ve been given a couple of weeks to fly the coop. 

Get the hell out. Ok, you weren’t ready for that one. If you’ve followed my advice and you’re focused, you can accomplish a lot. In my opinion, you should not be working for the company, but for yourself at this point. When you are done, leave.

Good luck!