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Resignation Letters: Don’t Let Yours Backfire

Copyright © Shaun R. Fawcett

It turns out that “tips and templates on how to write resignation letters” is among the most sought-after information at my Writing Help Central Web site.

So, when I looked into the subject more closely, I was surprised to find that there is not a lot of guidance available in guide book form on how to write a proper and appropriate resignation letter. In fact, a recent visit to the world’s largest bookstore revealed that there are no “how to” books available there that deal with the art of writing resignation letters.

Surprising, but true.

This is interesting, because when you really look into it, you realize that whether you leave a job gracefully and appropriately will almost certainly have career and personal implications, and can be almost as important as writing a resume/cv or a cover letter.

A resignation letter will be one of the most emotionally- charged business letters that you will ever write. The sentiments behind it are invariably volatile because of what it represents. In fact, studies have found that leaving a job can be almost as stressful as the breakup of a marriage.

Nevertheless, it is highly advisable that not too many of those emotions, especially any negative feelings, get transferred to the written page. As much as possible, a resignation letter should be treated as a business letter, just like any other business letter.

There are a number of reasons why resignation letters have more emotional implications than most other personal or business letters. Here are the obvious ones:

• They are highly personal because they normally mark the severance of both professional and personal relationships, sometimes of a long-term nature.

• They typically signify the end of a period in a person’s professional and/or personal life.

• They represent the beginning of a new period or phase in someone’s personal and professional life, conjuring up the fears that often arise with an uncertain future.

Following are a number of primary characteristics that are unique to resignation letters.

Not Just Job-Related
Mention “resignation letter” and 99 of 100 people will think exclusively about job-related situations. In reality, there are a number of areas and circumstances for which resignation letters can be required. For example, in addition to leaving jobs, resignation letters can be required for such situations as: stepping down from a committee, opting out of a course at school, leaving a club or fellowship, and others.

Sensitive and Delicate
When you submit your resignation letter it will have implications for you, the organization you are leaving, and the colleagues and friends you are leaving behind. You must realize that regardless of the real reasons behind your departure, the message received by many will be that you’re leaving because the organization and/or people just don’t measure up any more. This is a natural human reaction for many people and can’t be entirely avoided. Just be sensitive to it and don’t say, do, or write, anything that unnecessarily aggravates such feelings of abandonment.

Simple Formality or Big Surprise
A resignation letter can simply be the formalization of a conversation that already took place with your boss, or an announcement you made in a meeting. On the other hand, a resignation letter can be tendered completely unannounced, as a total surprise. In fact, this is often the case in the real world. If this latter case applies in your situation, you will have to be prepared to deal with any one of a number of possible reactions from the organization and your colleagues, ranging from total acceptance, to anger, bargaining, and resentment.

Positive Beats Negative
The way in which you resign from an organization can have significant implications, both career-wise, and personally. Regardless of the circumstances and/or atmosphere surrounding your departure, you will be well-advised to take whatever measures you can to neutralize any negative factors that may be in play. The approach and wording used in the resignation letter can go a long way towards achieving this aim.

Always A Balancing Act
Writing a letter of resignation can be a bit of a balancing act. You want to be honest, clear, and firm regarding your intentions to leave, while at the same time you don’t want to alienate the employer you are leaving. It would be nice for that door to remain open, or at least ajar, just in case you want to enter it in the future. After all, you never know what may happen down the road. For all you know, your current employer could end up buying the company you are moving to. So be careful about limiting your future options.

Backlash Can Be Swift
Negative impacts from a poorly written or inappropriately worded resignation letter can be almost immediate. For example, if you are hoping to get a good recommendation or reference from the employer you’re leaving, a negative resignation letter can only hurt your letter of recommendation/reference. Also, even if you don’t request a recommendation letter there is nothing to stop potential future employers from checking back with organizations you have previously worked for.

So here's a word for the wise. Before you blindly jump into writing a resignation letter, you might want to spend some time thinking about it and finding out how to write one that is proper and appropriate -- so that it won't come back to haunt you.

About the Author: Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help Web sites on the Net. He is the author of numerous “how-to” books on everyday practical writing help. He also writes about how to create and publish books and ebooks. His main “writing tools” site is:

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