11/11/2008 10:14 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gracious Good-Byes - Careers in Transition

The headlines loom large. Circuit City, Starbucks, General Motors...many of the country's employers, large and small, are steadying themselves by laying off workers. And truth be told, it is rare nowadays to hear about anyone retiring after working a whole career for just one company. Whether you are leaving because you found a better job, are stepping back from the workforce, opening your own company or were laid off from your current position, being able to say good-bye graciously is part of essential professional etiquette.

I Quit! ~ While it is tempting to include a manifesto of the company's ills in your resignation letter, you are better served by keeping it simple. A resignation letter needs only three pieces of information. 1. Your last day. 2. Contact address and phone number. 3. Your signature with a date.

Time Your Timing ~ Once you have decided to leave a company you often become a lame duck. Plan your announcement and your time remaining carefully. When quitting, be sure to factor in time for a replacement to be found and some training to take place. Do not linger.

Let's Celebrate ~ As employees leave a company, it is common to arrange a good-bye party. The company should cover the costs of such an affair. The celebration can range from an after-hours cocktail party to cake in the break room. (Be aware, sometimes it is best not to have a public good-bye.)

Exit Interviews ~ Many companies interview outgoing employees to gather information. Answer all questions judiciously. Some exit interviews are confidential, while others are not. In addition, you want to be sure not to burn any bridges. Boomerang employees are more and more common. (Employees who leave a company only to be hired back a few years later.)

Six Degrees Of Separation ~ Just like the song says, it is a small world after all. If you have specialized in a specific field it is highly probable that you will cross paths in the future with the people you are leaving behind today. Keep relationships positive and the communication open. You never know when you might see these people again.

Take The High Road ~ Leaving a company can be a stressful and unnerving time. But it is at times like these that it is especially important to keep your wits about you. Do not yell at anyone, do not destroy company property, and do not disparage the organization to the media or to the clients. What you do reflects on you.

Keep In Touch ~ Be sure to build and maintain your professional networks: join professional organizations, attend alumni events, and subscribe to journals relating to your field. These networks help to ease the transition process.

Always Update ~ Even after you have found the job of your dreams, you should always keep your résumé updated. Because, as you have learned, you never know!

Etiquette Inquiries
Q: Dear Ms. Smith ~ I was recently laid off from my job. I reacted very badly and really yelled at the human resources representative. Now that I have had a day to calm down, I am very embarrassed at the way I acted. What can I do?

A: A simple apology is best. If you are still in the office, you can set up a time to apologize in person. Otherwise, pick up the phone and call the person. Keep the conversation brief. Do not hash over feelings or details or excuses why you acted as you did. Call, apologize, thank them for their time and then close the conversation.

Q: Dear Ms. Smith ~ My company was mortgage related and closed up shop. I feel that since the company failed, I must be a failure too. Do I tell this to an interviewer?

A: No, you share with the interviewer only facts about the company. That it was mortgage related, and like many mortgage related organizations now, it failed and you were laid off. Then move on to what experience you would bring to the new position.

Q: Dear Ms. Smith ~ I am job hunting and I know networking is the key to finding my next job. But how do I bring this up as a topic of conversation without being too pushy?

A: When people ask how you are, let them know that you are job hunting and if they know anyone in the field of (fill in your specialty) to let you know. If they follow up by asking you questions about the type of job you are looking for, continue the conversation. If they seem hesitant, change the topic.

Jodi R. R. Smith is a nationally known etiquette expert and author. To email your etiquette emergency, click to Copyright © 1996-2008 Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce, copy or distribute this newsletter as long as this copyright and full information about contacting the author is attached.