Whether you’re leaving a company or seeking a new internal IT role, TechRepublic members are quick to point out the importance of communication, openness, and honesty when breaking the news to your boss.

The ultimate goal is to leave your job under the best of circumstances, without burning any bridges, and with the consent of your boss. By leaving in such a manner, you are not only boosting your future career advancement (the glowing job references alone can be crucial), but you are also leaving a lifeline to employment intact. (You never know when you might want to go back to your old company.)

Here are a number of suggestions from TechRepublic members who know how to leave on a good note.

What you give is what you get
Ari Poutanen decided to leave his IT job two years ago and left on such good terms that his former employer called and asked him to come back. The TechRepublic member had left his job because he was eager to try new projects and said his honesty, and the fact that he stressed that he loved the company and his colleagues, made his resignation experience an amicable one.

“I was totally honest that I wanted to do different kinds of projects, which I had told my boss many times before. I told them I had found a job that suited my needs and education better and how painful and sorrowful it was to leave the working environment I was in,” he said.

Poutanen offered three “musts” for when you are informing a boss that you’re leaving:

  • Provide enough time for the company to make necessary transitions or adjust responsibilities so no one is left in the lurch. Poutanen gave one month’s notice, which helped his boss deal with staff and workload issues.
  • Try to be as honest as possible without blaming anyone. Poutanen stressed to his boss that it was not the company atmosphere or salary that prompted his decision.
  • Never say a bad word about your former workmates and bosses after you leave. Poutanen was very cautious not to say anything bad to anyone after leaving, as “backside comments tend to drift eventually into the ears of the target person.”

Stress the good when leaving
For Dan Hunt, an IT assets manager at Bowne Technology Enterprises LLC in Piscataway, N.J., the key in making a smooth exit is in the delivery.

“I’ve always found that if you are excited about the opportunity and convey that excitement to your boss, you usually won’t have any problems. You don’t want it to sound like staying is a negative thing or that you’re escaping, but rather that the other opportunity is a way to progress in your career,” he said.

Openness and honesty were key requirements, according to IT managers asked how best to handle the job exit experience. An integral part of the “moving on” conversation is to make sure your boss knows how much you’ve appreciated the opportunity, according to Don McCoy, the director of customer support and services at Spinnaker Networks in Pittsburgh, PA.

“Don’t use this time for bashing the company, organization, or your colleagues. In fact, express gratitude for having the current opportunity and praise the company. This helps set the framework for a healthy dialogue between you and your boss,” said McCoy.

Internal moves require extra communication effort
Several TechRepublic members pointed out that moving within a company requires a more intense conversation with the boss than when you’re exiting the company completely.

The talk should focus on how the new opportunity will not only meet your career goals but support the company’s goals as well, advised William Lang, a disaster recovery and change control administrator. He recommends sitting down with the boss and explaining your career goals and how those goals are compatible with the other position in specific ways.

“You need to explain why you want to explore the position, how you feel you qualify, and what special skills you can bring to the table,” said Lang.

If you’re considering the other position because you’re unhappy with your current one, don’t bring that across in a negative manner, he warned.

Since you want to leave the door open in case there’s a position within your old division that you’re interested in down the road, “You need to be prepared to explain why [you’re interested in the new position] in a constructive, non-complaining manner,” he advised.

Several TechRepublic members noted that a “good” exit conversation sometimes doesn’t happen, no matter how hard you try. Success—keeping bridges intact—only occurs when a boss is supportive.

“Your boss should be interested in your career goals. If your boss is not interested in your career goals, you have some serious issues to overcome,” said Lang. Good bosses will work with employees who are seeking to transfer, but bad bosses will make excuses for why they won’t support it or will work against it.

In that scenario, you will likely need to go around the boss after the initial conversation and talk with the hiring manager. Again, this is a critical conversation that needs preparation, added Lang.

“Don’t bring up bad boss issues; simply explain why you’re a good candidate for the position and how you can hit the ground running,” said Lang. “The hiring manager will ask you if you have discussed this with your current boss, so be prepared to explain why you haven’t. For example, you can say that you wanted to make sure there were no other excluding qualifications, or you wanted more information before rocking the boat. Once you know whether the hiring manager is interested in you and can support you with Human Resources, you should bring your boss into the picture before anyone else does. Tell your bad boss that you’ve already talked with the hiring manager to get more details on the position to make sure you qualify.”

Get prepared before talking
Whether you’re looking to leave or to make a lateral move, the discussion with your boss is always a delicate situation, said TechRepublic member Eric. And both your relationship with the boss and his or her level of professionalism will factor in to the outcome.

Long before broaching the subject, you should set down a series of questions you would like answered if you were in your boss’s position and one of your staff wished to transfer, Eric recommended.

For example, if the move will inconvenience your boss, you should try to find a solution to any potential problem that might arise. It may not be precisely what your boss would do, but it reveals that you have thought about solutions. After the meeting, another helpful action is to summarize the discussion in writing and request that your boss acknowledge that your understanding of the discussion is correct. Then, make sure you follow through with the timetable and any decisions reached.

Success stories
When Debbie Wisch, a call center process analyst, wanted to make an internal move, she was well prepared for her meeting with her boss. She kept the meeting tone serious, but sincere and relaxed—with no small talk or “buttering up,” she said.

She didn’t lead into the discussion with talk about how she loved her current job or was bored, but instead moved right to the point.

“I said ‘There is an opportunity that I have become aware of that I am interested in. I think it’s a good fit, and I wanted to talk about it with you and see if you support me in pursuing it,'” she recalled. Her goal was not to compare the two jobs but to stay focused on relevant facts about the new one.

“If there has been a fairly good relationship between you and your current manager, or a consistent level of performance on your part, I’ve found that it’s hard for a credible professional manager (or anyone for that manner) to say ‘No, I don’t support you,'” she said.

“Let your current manager feel that he or she has some control and input still. Ultimately, astute managers will let you follow your career aspirations—otherwise they know they will lose you eventually,” said Wisch.

In Kathy Zandbergen’s case, she focused on explaining her long-term career goals so that her boss could see that the new job was on the right career path.

“I gave my current manager the opportunity to provide me with the same enhancements, which he was willing to try to do but couldn’t guarantee,” said Zandbergen, a CIO FMO program office process manager in British Columbia. “I discussed the pros and cons with him, from my career perspective, and explained that although I wanted to continue working with him, I felt this move was the best step in my career. Although he was sorry to see me move on, he could clearly see the path I was taking and how this new role fit.”

Thanks to the talk with her boss going so smoothly, Zandbergen said, “I’m leaving on good terms with everyone on my current team and looking forward to being able to maintain good relations.”