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How to Leave a Job Gracefully

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If you’re a working military spouse, you know that we get a lot of experience at leaving jobs when Uncle Sam sends us elsewhere.  Even though we don’t get a real choice in the matter, we can choose to be responsible, considerate, and helpful when we break the news and fly the coop.  Here are some tips.


The first career advice I ever received, back in elementary school (my parents believed in teaching early) was “Show up on time every day.”  The second, a few years later, was “Never burn bridges.

Life’s paths sometimes double back on themselves and intersect at unexpected places.  This is even more true of military life, because we live and work in a surprisingly small- if widely distributed- community.  You never know when you might find yourself back at this post, or elsewhere, working with some of the same people or people who know them.  If your reputation is going to precede you, make sure it is a good one!

At the very least, you will need these people’s references to get another job.  A bad reference- or even a lukewarm one, in this economic downturn- can wreak havoc on your job search.  Although you should be making a positive impression consistently from your initial application through every day on the job, your employer’s and coworkers’ last impression of you may be their strongest.  When your prospective next employer calls, that last impression will definitely be the freshest.

Remember that your employer hired you in the first because they needed a competent, qualified person to do your job.  When you leave that job, your employer has to find and train a replacement.  This can be very disruptive.  Some studies indicate that this may be why some employers seem reluctant to hire military spouses for positions of responsibility: they assume we will just leave soon anyway.

Knowing that, your employer took a chance on you.  Don’t let them down.  You may have to leave, but you owe it to them to minimize disruption and make the transition as easy as possible.  That here-today-gone-tomorrow perception will only change if we change it.  We can’t change our dwell time or our spouses’ new orders.  We can change how we respond to those things, and how we impress our employers with our attitudes, our responsibility, and our focus on teamwork even as we leave.  Do military spouses everywhere a favor- make us all look like great employees.


Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net

Treat your employer, and your coworkers, with consideration.  Act as though you feel that you still have a stake in the future of the company or the office.  In a way, you do.

1.  Give as much advance notice of your departure as possible.  This gives your employer time to find and hopefully at least begin training, a replacement so that they are not left in the lurch with an empty desk and a shorthanded staff.  Two weeks’ notice is an absolute minimum, except in a dire emergency.

Most PCS moves give you quite a bit more than than two weeks of warning, except in unusual circumstances (of course, we all know that “unusual circumstances” are standard operating procedure in the military).  Let your employer know about the imminent disruption as soon as possible; time to plan can make the transition much less disruptive.  The more time you can give your employer to find a replacement, train that replacement alongside someone experienced (you), and tie up other loose ends, the more you can make your departure a transition instead of a crisis.

2.  Offer to help find your replacement.  Don’t demand a seat at the interview table as your God-given right, but let your employer know that you’re willing to be there and contribute.  Offer to help draft a job description and/or an employment ad for your replacement.  Be proactive and show initiative about training your replacement or showing your other coworkers aspects of your job that they may need to be familiar with during the transition.

Even if your employer declines your offer, it will show that you care what happens after you leave.  This will help emphasize that you are a proactive professional who takes responsibility seriously.  Your next prospective employer will probably hear about that when they check your references.

Believe it or not, these things are also great additions to your resume, which can demonstrate initiative, leadership, and an increase in the responsibility of your position.  New employers look for these things; take the opportunity to gain some experience.

3.  Be available to troubleshoot and answer questions after you leave.  Even if you have ample time to train your replacement and brief your coworkers on where you hid all the paper clips, after you leave there will probably still be things they can’t find or obscure procedures they don’t remember- but you can, and you do.  Let them know that they can still reach out to you as part of the team.

This can be a great networking tool; the old cliche that “the best way to have a friend is to be one” is a cliche because it’s true, after all.  Staying in touch also makes it easier to ask for recommendations when you need them.


Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net