When 29-year-old copywriter Valerie Lee resigned, her boss asked her if everything was all right. “She wanted to know if I’d been unhappy,” says Valerie. “I smiled and said that I had some personal issues to deal with and that I felt it was time to do something different. My real reason for quitting, of course, was her. I wanted to tell her that she’d turned my life into a living hell. But I had to be diplomatic because I didn’t know when our paths would cross again.”
Valerie was right, because when her boss left a year later to start her own creative agency, she asked Valerie to join her. “If I’d opened up then and told her I couldn’t stand working under her, she would never have considered me for the job,” says Valerie. “Now, we work together but things are different and I’m happier. The company is small and I don’t have to deal with her directly.”
Career experts say Valerie did the right thing in not telling her boss the truth – it’s always a good idea to leave the company on good terms. Even if your boss is a push factor for leaving, keep in mind that bosses come and go, but companies remain.
Paul Heng, executive coach at Next Corporate Coaching Services, says: “Focus on keeping your record blemish-free, so if you decide to return to the same company later on, at least there’s no file to say that you left on a bad note.”
Cheng Chee Seng, principal therapist at Life Transitions, agrees: “Your objective is to leave while keeping the peace. It doesn’t matter how high your position is or how much you detest your boss. Don’t open a can of worms during your exit interview with HR.” Here’s how to quit graciously.
Don’t bring up your real reason for leaving
At your exit interview, focus on the pull factors of your new job rather than the push factors from within the organisation – that is, your boss, says Paul. Even if HR asks you what it was like to work with your boss, keep the conversation positive and professional.
“Personal reasons” is a good thing to say
“If you don’t have a new job lined up, just say that you are leaving for personal reasons, for example, you’re planning a break or will be looking after your aged parents,” advises Paul.
“It’s time for me to move on”
is also a great excuse This is one of the most diplomatic reasons to state, says Chee Seng. The company might well have been planning to promote or transfer you, and if they know you’re up for a new challenge, they might ask you to stay.
Don’t act like a sore loser
Chee Seng says that your exit interview is not the time to ask HR why your boss overlooked you for that promotion. “Management has their reasons, but this is not the time to make them tell you what they are,” he says. “They’ll just think you’re bitter.”
Don’t be a back-stabber
Control your desire to sabotage your boss during the exit interview, because no one likes a tattletale. Just act with dignity and integrity, so that you leave on good terms. “Besides, you’re probably going to need a character reference from your employer,” Chee Seng adds. That said, you shouldn’t act like a victim either.
Don’t bitch about your boss
Colleagues will want to know why you’re leaving, but don’t tell them that your boss is the reason. If you’ve been bad- mouthing your boss all along, now is the time to desist and resist, says Chee Seng.
Show your appreciation
On your last day, remember to say goodbye to everyone you’ve worked with, including your boss. Thank her for her support and encouragement, and wish her well. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, remind yourself that it’ll only take a minute. “You never know when your boss might invite you back, so it’s important to come across as professional, right up till your last day,” says Paul.
Make your boss feel good
In addition to thanking her for being a good boss, Paul suggests asking your boss for a reference letter. She will never know if you end up using it or not.
And then, make her feel really, really good
After you’ve left, send a hamper to your boss with a simple Thank You note, says Chee Seng. Everyone in the office will see it. Hypocrisy? No, diplomacy. “You’ve just turned the tables on her and it shows you have class.”
This article was originally published in Simply Her July 2012.