Given that being laid off is a potential reality for not just me, but for most of your readers, what are your thoughts about how to leave a job appropriately? Where my current employer is concerned, is there anything I should be prepared to do, or not do, should my personal pink slip arrive?


Your question is a good one. Many people are busy beefing up their resumes and reaching out to old contacts these days, but how you manage your departure from your current company, should the need arise, does warrant some consideration. Every step you take, whether walking in the office door for the first time or storming out for the last, has a direct impact on your career.

One of the keys to work-life balance is stepping outside of simply moving from one job to the next, and instead creating a career strategy. This thinking goes beyond the job you have or the one you wish you did, but rather creates a game plan for overall career growth. A core aspect of this is what’s called your “exit strategy.”

Whether you love your job or hate your job, a professional exit strategy is an important key to career management. Upon receipt of your pink slip, you may wish to indulge in this perfect opportunity to tell your manager exactly what you think of him, or the crummy, vision-challenged company he should have the good sense to abandon. And if part of your career strategy is to burn potential bridges to future opportunities, go for it.

The temporary satisfaction of telling someone off or maligning your employer is a natural and very human response to the feelings of rejection that job termination creates, but it is also a highly destructive approach. While I’m not suggesting you bake a bundt cake for the guy that fired you, there are ways to handle your exit in a manner that creates, rather than eliminates, prospects for the future.

Do remember that your employer likely doesn’t have a choice. Businesses are folding right and left in a tough economy like this one, and as much as your employer may value your graphic design skills, it’s the widget-maker he has to keep on staff in order to produce the product you were promoting visually. No product = no revenue = no business, so try to remember that many employers are simply trying to figure out how to keep the lights on.

Understanding how the economy impacts business helps you to recognize your termination for the unavoidable business decision it is, rather than a personal rejection of you. Who you are is not what you do, and this is an important time to remember that core truth of sane living.

Don’t forget that tough economic situations and crowded job markets are temporary. While that may be of little comfort as you try to hang in there, it won’t last forever. Even if you have to take a job you don’t adore for a year or two, you will survive this temporary turn of events.

And when it’s time for your employer to replenish her staff, who do you think she’s going to hire back first…the guy who told her off? Or the guy who thanked her for the opportunity to have worked with her and wished her success during what he knew to be tough economic times for employers these days?

Do remember the end result you seek. If your job is terminated, your exit strategy has everything to do with the end result you hope to achieve. Do you relish the opportunity to give your manager a good tongue lashing, or do you wish to be rehired when the economy improves? Is your ego more important than a good employer reference? It’s important to replace short-term satisfaction with long-term strategy, because individual plays on the field are what create a solid end game.

Once upon a time, my brother was furious over receiving a B+ rather than the A- he deserved in a college course. He was very proud to show me the email draft he planned to send to his professor, lecturing said professor about what a horrible teacher she was, how unfair he found the ultimate grading to be, and several paragraphs about how she needed more practice as a teachers’ assistant because she was clearly too wet behind the ears to be a professional educator.

I asked him what end result he sought…to tell her off or to get the grade changed? While his email ensured the former, it eliminated the possibility of the latter. I encouraged him to utilize the Dale Carnegie school of thought: that it is possible to change other people’s behavior by changing one’s reaction to them.

Once he focused on the result he sought to achieve, his approach shifted. I asked to make a list of what was good and decent about this professor. His email then became a thank you note for an inspiring semester of new ideas and thoughtful debate. He congratulated her on her first time teaching a class, as he was sure that was a scary place to stand. And he politely inquired as to whether she would be so kind as to take another look through his test and quiz scores, as he had calculated an A- based on the syllabus grading breakdown and would be grateful for any help she could offer in clarifying how she came to the ultimate grade.

He called me a few weeks later to tell me that the professor thanked him for his email and in revisiting his scores realized she had made a calculation error. She promptly changed the grade, and my brother began to see that standing in the shoes of the person you think has wronged or rejected you can create a different response and thus a different result.

Don’t forget that the manager who terminates you today may be terminated himself come Monday. And when he goes on to a new position, he may just recommend his previous employee who was a solid performer that exhibited professionalism at every turn. Or, his brother or networking buddy may need someone with your exact skill set.

When your exit strategy is a professional one, you may just convert a pink slip into a golden opportunity.

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