By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners
Originally published by Harvard Business Review Ascend.
Whether you love or hate your job, breaking up with it can be hard. No matter your reason for leaving — a toxic environment, lack of growth opportunities, a better offer, or something else — there are likely a few positives you’ll be leaving behind as well.
If you’re one of the many people planning to jump jobs this year, how can you gracefully say goodbye?
A farewell email is not the only way to acknowledge and thank your team before you go. (You may also do this in person.) But it is a best practice that most people do around their last day of work. As such, this note is often the final impression your former colleagues will have of you. If done well, it can help you maintain important relationships, leave on a high note, and keep the door open should you ever choose to return.
Writing a thoughtful goodbye email is a craft. Expressing gratitude for your time at the company and your feelings towards your colleagues may seem straightforward, but surprisingly, it’s not. You need to hit the right tone — balancing sentimentality with humility and good regard. Here are a few key elements you should try and address in a farewell email.
First, remember to keep it to a few short paragraphs. The goal of this email is to say goodbye to your larger department, team, or organization at once. Given the wide scope of recipients, it’s best to be mindful of their time and be short. (If you want to send a personal note to an especially valuable coworker, you should do so separately —this isn’t the purpose of your broader goodbye email.)
In your message, start by showing a combination of appreciation and humility — two positive leadership qualities — to instill goodwill and make a positive impression on the hearts and minds of the recipients. Begin by addressing your team, announcing that it is your last day, and stating what you valued most about your time working at the company, and more specifically, within your department:
As some of you may know, today is my last day at [organization]. I just wanted to send a quick goodbye note to express my immense gratitude for my time here.
Being a part of a top-notch product development team known for creating innovative solutions in health care has provided me with some amazing learning opportunities. I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to help improve the quality of life for millions of people…”
This both positions you as being part of a winning team and makes your colleagues feel good about the work you have collaborated on.
Resist any temptation to vent or be critical of your experience, even if there were negative aspects of your job. Save that feedback for a private conversation with your manager or an HR professional during your exit interview. In your goodbye note, take the high road and focus on the positive. Remember: the colleagues you’re leaving behind are still going to work there.
This note is an opportunity to recap some highlights of your achievements during your tenure — both for those who know you well and contributed to your development and for those who don’t. After your opening paragraphs, mention a specific project or goal that was meaningful to you:
“Specifically, working on the launch of our top-selling blood-glucose monitor was one of the highlights of my time at [corporation], and of my career so far.”
If appropriate, acknowledge others who’ve made your experience at the organization great. Maybe you had an exceptional boss who gave you opportunities to stand out. Maybe you worked with a couple of peers on a game-changing project. Maybe there is a mentor who taught you lessons you’ll take with you in your new role. Give them a short shout-out if you’re comfortable. (I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive boss; I feel lucky to have had such intelligent and kind team members; I learned so much through my mentors). Of course, this is optional, as some people much prefer private recognition to public recognition.
Next, summarize the description of your new role and the responsibilities you are most excited to take on.
“I’ve decided to accept a new role at YXZ Corp in Singapore as an assistant manager on their product development team. I’m looking forward to continuing my career growth in an international context and being part of a multi-cultural team.”
If you’re not leaving your current position for another job, but for school, describe your next steps:
“I’ll be leaving ABC Corp to attend London School of Economics, where I’ll be pursuing an MSc in social innovation and entrepreneurship over the next year. I’m excited to learn how social entrepreneurs are tackling some of the world’s toughest problems, and apply what I’ve learned here to my studies.”
You can also use the opportunity to share what you plan to do after graduation, even if it’s only a hypothesis.
“Following this program, I hope to leverage my experience in health care to work in the global health program area of a major foundation.”
Others may read this and respond to your note with helpful resources and contacts, such as a relevant conference you should check out or an offer to introduce you to someone in your desired field.
Sometimes, your plans may be fluid or uncertain. For example, you may be leaving to take time off and explore what’s next, or perhaps you are leaving unexpectedly as part of a restructuring or economic downsizing. If this is the case, it’s ok if you don’t know what the future holds. Nevertheless, you should frame your immediate post-departure plans in a positive light.
“I plan on taking some time off to decompress, travel, and reflect on my next career move.”
To end, inform others when your last day will be. I recommend sending this note one to two weeks before you will go to give people (and you) an opportunity to say goodbye in person. If you feel open to your colleagues reaching out after your departure, include you contact information — your personal email address, LinkedIn account, or mobile phone number so they can reach you, even if/when you’ve moved on from your next opportunity.
“My last day will be next Friday, June 14. Going forward, you can reach me at email@example.com or 415-555-xxxx, as well as through LinkedIn (and add a link to your profile). I hope that you will contact me if you will be in Singapore or if I can ever be of help to you. I look forward to staying in touch.”
The goodbye email is more than a courteous farewell, but a career tool that can help you maintain professional relationships to facilitate career success, both now and in the future. This small but important piece of communication will help you build a positive personal brand and remind others of your contributions to their work. More practically, it lets people know what you’re doing next and invites them to be a part of your network.