How You Leave a Job Matters

How you leave a job makes a lasting impression with those you worked for and with at the company.  Since you will likely need a reference from that job at some point in the future,  you want to leave on as positive a note as possible.  It is also an amazingly small world these days and you could easily cross paths with those former colleagues in the future.  Best policy is to NEVER burn any bridges.

How do you tell your manager and colleagues you are leaving?

  • Be sure to tell your manager before telling anyone else.  Give your manager the courtesy of letting him/her know first.
  • Be honest without being overly negative or critical.  Tell them a bit about the exciting new opportunity and what you will be doing.  Give them highlights of what caused you to consider other alternatives.
  • Once you have notified your manager, submit an official resignation letter for HR.  State that you are leaving and share the date, not the reasons.
  • If required, schedule a formal exit interview with HR.
  • Thank you manager for the opportunity you have had there and what you have learned.  Ask if he/she would be a reference in the future.
  • Ask how you can best spend your last two weeks – suggest documenting processes and procedures, documenting outstanding projects, training others on the team.
  • Always give at least two weeks notice. If you are higher in the organization and have been there many years, you should give a one month notice.
  • Ask your manager if it is ok to tell your colleagues.
  • When telling your colleagues, stay as positive as possible.  There is little be gained by bashing the manager or the company and it could seriously hurt you in the future.

How should you spend your last weeks on the job?

  • If your current responsibilities are not already well documented, prepare as much documentation as possible.
  • Compile a list of any outstanding projects or issues.
  • Provide a list of where to find critical files on the computer.
  • Organize and label for your files so others can find what they need easily.
  • Work with your manager to identify any training you need to do with colleagues to provide coverage.
  • Coordinate with your manager how you should notify customers or vendors you work with to ensure that they know who to contact once you leave.
  • Don’t leave any personal items in your desk or your office.  Leave your work space clean and well organized.
  • Participate in an HR exit interview if requested.
  • Clarify how you want to be contacted if there are questions once you leave – home email?  Phone?

What do you do your last day?

  • Ensure that everything above has been completed.
  • Turn in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc.
  • Update your voicemail and email with appropriate contact information for whoever will be covering.
  • Address any outstanding questions with your manager and colleagues.
  • Graciously say goodbye and thank you for the experience.

Unprofessional exits are remembered long after the person leaves the company.  It is a small world, and you will likely need references someday.  Resist the urge to let them know what you really think and exit in a professional manner.  You will be glad you did down the road.


Managing Your Career Lifecycle

For most employees your career has a life cycle of its own that needs to be proactively managed to ensure that you are growing and developing throughout your career to meet your changing priorities.

Honeymoon Stage

Whether it is your first job right out of college or a new job later in your career, there is typically a honeymoon stage.  You are excited about the job and they are excited to have you but then reality sets in.  You need to learn new skills and responsibilities.  You must also build relationships with team members and other key stakeholders.  Even if you have accepted a new senior level position, you need to learn how things are done at the new company and build your relationships.  In this stage you are typically doing a lot more listening than speaking as you seek to learn and understand.

Blissful Stability Stage

In most instances, the new employee or person in the new job settles in.  They learn how things work and they begin making contributions to the organization.  They receive feedback, participate in training, take on new projects, etc. as they continue to learn and grow in the job.  It is important to keep track of key accomplishments along the way for future reference.  Relationships grow stronger during this period and responsibilities and knowledge tend to grow.  Often in this stage employees are offered opportunities to take on additional projects internally which may lead to other internal opportunities.

Complacency Stage

Some employees hit a complacency stage.  The job is no longer challenging, they are not learning new things however looking for a new job either within the company or externally is a lot of work.  Rather than stepping up the networking and updating the resume to begin a job search, they hunker in to “tough it out.”  Unfortunately they tend to become jaded about the job and the company but are not doing anything to change the situation.

Time for a Change

If it is time for a change either internally or externally, the employee must prepare for that journey.  First honestly assess why it is time for a change and what is important to you in the new role.  Is it more responsibility or maybe less?  Is it the opportunity to learn new skills or a new industry?  Honestly assess your skills and interests to build a plan.  Conduct information interviews with people doing the types of jobs you think you want to hear their perspective.  Identify the skills required.  If you decide to move forward, update your resume and have someone review it for you.  Build a target list of companies and use that to strategically guide your networking to support your search.  Of course, if you are successful you start back at the honeymoon stage.

 Does Longevity Still Matter?

I visit many companies in the course of my work and I am often surprised to find people who have been with their employers twenty years or more.  While that is no longer the norm it has certainly not disappeared.  Many people grow and change within their current organizations for extended periods of time.  On the other hand, particularly younger employees tend to move frequently.  Often the lure of more money, better benefits, an exciting new role are all reasons to motivate a quick change.

While a series of jobs on the resume is not the automatic red flag it used to be in the job search, hiring managers are still nervous if they see a candidate who can’t stay more than 18 months in the same company.  Taking on new positions within the company is seen as a positive but jumping too often and too soon can raise concerns.  For candidates with multiple jobs be sure you can tell a story of why you made each change and what you gained in experience from each successive job.

To have a successful career you need to be continually managing your career looking at what you are learning, what skills you are developing and what brings you satisfaction at work.  Your career can be successfully managed through the stages.

Barriers to Success on the Job

Employees are often so focused on how to advance within their organization that they fail to realize they are doing things daily that undermine their chances of success.  Honestly consider which of these things may be getting in the way of your success and implement a plan to eliminate them from your routine.

Tardiness is Noticed – You should always strive to be timely whether it is for a face-to-face meeting or a conference call.  For meetings outside the office, always allow time for traffic and parking.  Plan to arrive ten minutes early.  Don’t build a reputation for always being the last to arrive for meetings or the last to join a conference call.  People do notice tardiness particularly when it becomes a trend.  Get control of your time and ensure that you arrive on time and also well-prepared.

Meeting Preparation Matters – Prior to the meeting do your homework.  Research the people you will be meeting with and their company for external meetings.  For internal meetings, review your notes from the last meeting.  If you were assigned any to-do’s at the last meeting, come prepared with updates on your progress.  Meetings are more productive when people come prepared.

Email Etiquette – You are often judged by your email behavior.  Do you respond in a timely manner?  Do you reply all inappropriately?  Do you abuse the cc feature?  Do you send emails with spelling and grammatical errors?  Do you forget to include the attachment?  Your email communications reflect your personal brand and communication style.  Review your emails carefully before you hit send.

Manage Expectations – How you manage and meet expectations builds or destroys your professional reputation.  Once people realize that you overpromise and underdeliver, they no longer send opportunities your way.  Be realistic in what you commit to and ensure that you meet or beat deadlines with quality work.  Build a reputation as someone who gets things done and does them well.

Be In the Moment – People notice if you are daydreaming or doodling during a meeting.  Pay attention to the conversation and take appropriate notes.  Do not respond to emails or play on your phone when you are supposed to be engaged in a meeting.  Show other participants respect by staying engaged in the conversation.

Repeated Errors – We are all human – we make mistakes.  Managers expect that you will learn from your mistakes.  Managers are frustrated when an employee continues to make the same mistake.  This implies lack of attention to detail, lack of interest and certainly lack of effort.  Take notes to ensure that you don’t repeat a mistake.

Sometimes, how you do your job is as important as what you do.  Be sure you are putting your best foot forward to advance in your job.  Eliminate bad habits to increase your likelihood of success.

Preparation for Your Performance Review

Prior to your next performance review, do a self-assessment of your performance to ensure that you are not undermining your own performance.  While you may think you are doing a great job, you may be doing little things that do not set well with your manager or your co-workers.  Better to identify those issues yourself and address them prior to review time.

Lack of Punctuality

You may think it is only a few minutes here or there but your manager notices if you can’t get to work on time most days or if you are consistently late for meetings or calls.  Everyone has an occasional commuting challenge but if you are habitually late it is noted by all around you.  Being late gives the impression that you are not taking the work seriously.  Are those few minutes worth the hit to your professional reputation?  Strive to be a few minutes early in the year ahead.

Missing Appointments

If you book a meeting and then don’t show up, your professionalism is in question.  After the first incident, there will likely be little tolerance for repeat offenses.  It is insulting to not respect the time of others.  Use your online calendar for all your appointments and check it regularly.

Failure to Ask Questions

Do not waste valuable time solving the wrong problem or doing the wrong work because you were afraid to ask a question.  Be sure you completely understand what is being requested.  If you don’t know how to do something ask.  But, be sure to take notes so you don’t have to ask the same questions again.  Asking questions is a good thing as long as you learn from each one.

Careless Errors

We are all human and can make mistakes but if your work consistently contains careless errors your manager will have little trust in the work you do.  Always double check your work before submitting it.  Take notes when the project is given to you so you do not forget critical details.  Pay attention to what is requested and submit timely and accurate work.  Doing it quickly has little value if it is not correct.

Texting or Checking Email

While we all must text and check email during the work day, it is considered rude to do it when you are having a face-to-face meeting with someone.  This behavior signals that you do not find the person valuable.  Be very mindful of the messages your behavior sends to others, particularly your superiors.

Overpromising and Underdelivering

You do not earn points with your manager for promising something you are not able to deliver.  Set realistic expectations and deliver results that are on time if not early and of course accurate.  Be sure you fully understand what is being requested and what the deliverable needs to look like.

If you find yourself guilty of any of these offenses on a regular basis, make it a priority to address them prior to your performance review.



Anticipate Unusual Interview Questions

Job candidates tend to focus their interview preparation on researching the company and the interviewers while also preparing their responses to “tried and true” interview questions and behavioral questions.  This preparation is all critical to success on the interview.  However candidates must also be prepared for the unexpected if they hope to shine in the interview.

Why do employers ask unusual questions or ask candidates to respond to mini-case situations?  All other interviews are focused on your past performance and the hiring managers are trying to use that data to anticipate how you will perform in their new role.  Case and unusual questions offer the employers and opportunity to see how you think and how you perform under pressure.  It is less about finding the right answer and more about how you think and logically process the information.

Advice for Success in Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions

  • Be well prepared for your “tried and true” questions and have several stories prepared that you can use to address a variety of behavioral questions.  The better prepared you are for these questions the less disruptive the unique questions will be.
  • Have key facts in your head in round numbers.  US population and world population for example.  Know key facts about the company and the industry.
  • Practice answering unique questions in advance.  Use online lists of questions to test yourself.  Practice case questions in advance.  The more you practice the better you will perform in the interview.

Examples of Unusual Questions or Mini-Case Situations


  • “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?”  This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions.  What information do you need to put your hands on?  How would you use that information?  What kinds of questions do you need to ask?  You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
  • “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process.  The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month.  He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning.”  What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer?  Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
  • “What would you do if the major project you were working on had a deadline of next week to the senior VP and the team can’t agree on next steps?”
  • “What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers?”  I actually had an employer ask this of our students and students enjoyed thinking of creative solutions.  It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem.  Students who could not provide any response did not advance in the process.
  • If you could be an animal, what type would you be and why?  Clearly no right or wrong answer but they want to see how you think on your feet.
  • “How many cars would be in the parking lot in our ABC store on a Thursday morning between10 and 12?”  Think about what you need to know about their business and that location.  Think about the categories of cars that would be there.  Make assumptions and explain your thought process.
  • “How many replacement tires are sold in the US in a given year?”  Use round numbers to talk through your assumptions and make an informed guess.
  • “What was your favorite thing to play as a child?”

At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the candidate will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.

Remember, employers are assessing not only your skills to perform the job but also you fit with their team and the company.





Selling Yourself in an Interview

Congratulations, you got the interview!  Clearly the hiring manager saw something in your resume and cover letter than earned you a coveted interview slot.  Now the challenge is to sell yourself.

It is important to do your research on the company so you have insightful questions prepared.  You can also practice answering commonly asked interview questions to help you be prepared.  But, it is often the questions they don’t ask directly that make or break the decision.  Being aware of those questions and how they impact your responses can be critical to your success.

Interviewers will ask a lot of questions about your past work.  They may also ask behavioral questions to see how you handle certain situations.  Bottom line, what they really want to know is:

  • Why they should hire you?
  • What you can do for them that others can’t?
  • How well do you fit their organization and team?

Ensure that in your responses to questions about your work, education, skills etc. that you are really answering these underlying questions.  Articulate clearly the skills, expertise and experience you bring that would enable you to succeed in this position.  Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the job and the company.  While they are assessing your fit with their team you need to form your own opinion of how well you fit the culture of the company and the specific work team.

Focus on your transferable skills.  Highlight the results you delivered in your previous work.  Results are much more important and impactful than responsibilities.  Clearly articulate your skills that differentiate you from other candidates.  Use your passion and enthusiasm as a differentiator.  Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your strong interest by having questions prepared, having held networking meetings with employees of the company, identifying alumni within the organization, and your knowledge of what’s going on in the company and the industry.

To assess fit think about what environment enables you to do your best work.  Are you a team collaborator or an individual contributor?  What do you need from manager?  How would your current manager and colleagues describe you?  Do you research in advance about the culture using online resources and your networking contacts and seek to confirm that information in your interview by observing how people work together.  It can be very revealing to arrive a few minutes early and watch the interaction or lack there off among the employees.

When considering your answers to interview questions, be sure to frame your responses in light of what employers really want to know.  A great way to end your interview is to ask, “what concerns do you have about me as a candidate for this position.”  While it can be scary to hear what they consider obstacles, asking the question demonstrates your strong interest and gives you an opportunity to address those issues or concerns.  You can leave the interviewers with a very positive impression on your way out the door.

Overcoming Objections in an Interview

Job descriptions are often a wish list of all the skills and experience they hope to find in the perfect candidate.  You may not have everything on their wish list but clearly they saw something of value on your resume if you are invited to interview.  As you research the company and prepare your questions for the interviewer as well as practice your responses to anticipated interview questions, don’t forget to prepare for the objections.

There are few absolutely perfect candidates out there so it is likely the interviewer will have some objections or concerns.  If you have multiple interviewers, they may even have different concerns.  You will address those objections more positively if you are prepared for them.  To anticipate objections, review the job description in detail and highlight any qualifications that you do not meet or any experience you do not have.  Think about how you would address each item if your asked.  Some general advice includes:

Do Not Apologize – Never apologize for skills or experience you do not have.  They had your resume and chose to speak with you.  Focus instead on what you do have, how the skills are transferrable or even your track record of learning new systems, industries, whatever.

Embrace the Opportunity – Giving you an opportunity to address the objections is truly a gift.  Instead of leaving them worried about some aspect of your background, they are offering you the opportunity to address it proactively.  If you ae prepared to do so this can strengthen your candidacy.  Never get defensive, just address what you do bring to the table and how you would add value to the company in this role based on the skills and experience you do offer.

Confront the Elephant in the Room – Sometimes you will be doing fine in the interview, the conversation is flowing and things start to wrap up when you realize no have voiced any objections or concerns.  Instead of thinking that means you got the job, you need to confront the issue so you have an opportunity to address it.  Maybe they are not asking because they assume there is something critical missing and you will not advance.  Don’t leave things to chance.  Ask the interviewer if they have any concerns about your ability to make an impact in this role.  That way, if they do have concerns, it puts on them on the table so you have an opportunity to address them.  Better to address any concerns they have than to leave them hidden.

If you can anticipate possible objections and enter the interview prepared to address them, you are more likely to be successful.  It also helps to keep your confidence intact throughout the interview if you are prepared to address the concerns.