How to Write a Resignation Letter That Works

Are you ready to quit your job but aren’t sure how to write a resignation letter? It’s smart that you are thinking twice before dashing something off and sending it to your manager. The reality is the tone and message of your resignation letter can lead to serious consequences.

In high school, you may remember teachers stressing how bad behavior would end up on your “permanent record.” Now that you’re an adult, it turns out that your resignation letter can end up on your permanent record too—but in an even more permanent way.

Resigning from a job can be a highly emotional situation, and a misstep in your resignation can lead to unforeseen difficulties down the road—including missed benefits and negative references for future employers. On the other hand, a resignation handled with grace can set you up for success.

This article will teach you the nuances of the resignation letter and arm you with the knowledge that you need to resign in a positive and productive way. Learn how to write a resignation letter that works as a building block for your future success.

What Is the Purpose of a Resignation Letter?

Despite what you might think (or hope!), your resignation letter isn’t intended to give you the satisfaction of saying “I quit!” The letter serves some very formal purposes, including the following:

1. It puts your notice in writing.

With your letter in hand, your employer can’t argue that you didn’t give notice before leaving. This prevents you from being accused of just “walking out on the job.” It serves as proof that you gave adequate notice and tied up your responsibilities in a professional manner.

2. It protects you from being fired.

After all, your employer can’t fire you after you have resigned, and the resignation letter is proof that it was your decision to leave the company.

3. It helps ensure that you will receive agreed upon severance benefits.

Basically, the resignation letter signals HR to process the closing details of your employment agreement, including paying off unused vacation, cutting a check for severance pay, and dealing with other agreed upon benefits.

4.  It can help you get a better reference letter. 

Let’s say that one day you call upon your former employer for a reference. The employer will open up your personnel file and see your resignation letter. If your letter is positive and professional, it will help you to be remembered in a positive and professional way. If your letter is negative and ridiculous, you’ll be remembered as such. These words can and do stick with you long past this job.

So now that you know what the resignation letter is for, let’s talk about what you should include in your letter.

How to Write a Resignation Letter: Five Main Elements to Include

These are the five basic elements you should include in your resignation letter:

1. The fact that you are leaving.

This is the ultimate purpose of the letter, so express this fact in a polite, yet direct way.

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “I quit!” (This is impolite.)

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “I’m thinking about leaving.” (This is indirect.)

Good exampleDo write, “I hereby submit my resignation.” (This is both polite and direct.)

2. Your end date.

It’s important to give your employer a specific end date and adequate notice. Standard notice is two weeks.

If you are in a higher-level position in the company, however, you might need to offer your employer even more notice. One rule of thumb is to offer an employer the same amount of notice as you annually receive in vacation time. (So if you spent four weeks paid vacation in Belize last summer, give your employer four week’s notice in your letter.)

No matter how much notice you plan to give, include an end date.

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “Today is my last day.” (This is not an adequate amount of notice.)

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “My last day should be in a couple of weeks.” (This is not specific.)

Good exampleDo write, “My last day will be two weeks from today on April 21.”  (This is both specific and gives adequate notice.)

3. An expression of gratitude.

Even if you are overall unhappy with your work experience, make every effort to leave on a positive note.

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “I hate this job, and you don’t pay me nearly enough. This is why I’m leaving.”

Good exampleDo write, “I appreciate the opportunity I had to work with an amazing group of people on some very interesting and exciting projects.”

4. A record of something you accomplished.

Since your past employer may dig your resignation letter out of your personnel file to share with a prospective employer, it can be helpful to leave a record of one of your sterling accomplishments.

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “I wish I could have finished the ZZ project.”

Good exampleDo write, “Working on the XYZ project with the A-Team was a satisfying and rewarding accomplishment. I appreciate the experience.”

5. Any unfinished business (but not the negative kind).

Here is your chance to address how you plan to handle any unfinished projects or when and to whom you plan to turn in your borrowed supplies and materials.

Bad ExampleDon’t write, “Since I’m leaving, I just wanted to say that my boss was a micromanaging jerk.” (That’s the negative kind of unfinished business.)

Good exampleDo write, “I’ll be happy to train my replacement and get her up to speed on the XYZ project should you need me to.” (This is especially important if you are working on an ongoing project that will need to be finished after your departure date.)

Good exampleDo write, “I will drop off my work materials to the manager on my last day.” (This is important if you have any work materials on loan that need to be returned.)

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How to Write a Resignation Letter for Leaving a Job You Don’t Like

Leaving a job that you don’t like can make you feel like you are sprouting wings and flying off over the rainbow. This giddy feeling of freedom from a dictatorial boss or an exhausting schedule may make you want to deliver your resignation letter in a manic and less than tasteful way.

How to Write a Resignation Letter

However, this is absolutely not the right time or place to address any negative issues you might have with your place of employment. For example, this network administrator’s resignation letter is full of blackmail and sarcasm and is a good example of what not to do. Among other things, he writes to his former boss, “Your shiny new iMac has more personality than you ever will.”

While this is kind of funny, it’s definitely not a smart thing to write. You never know when you’ll need to get a good reference from a former boss…less-than-an-iMac-personality or not.

Even if you don’t plan to get a reference from this person, you never know who your former boss knows and what he might say about you once you leave.

Whatever you do, don’t submit your resignation by performing a tabletop dance for your entire workplace with the words I Quit! emblazoned on your chest. Um yeah, someone did just that:

I think it’s safe to say that bridge has been officially burned! I don’t know about you, but watching that manic display of resignation made me feel a little bit sorry for the guy.

When you are leaving a job that you don’t like, it’s still important to leave on a positive and professional note. In these instances, writing a brief and to-the-point resignation letter is probably your best bet (it leaves you little room for error).

Here are a few additional tips for writing a resignation letter for leaving a job you dislike.

  1. Keep your message positive. Start with a positive statement, and end with a positive statement. Positive statements include words like “appreciate,” “opportunity,” and “thank you.”
  2. Don’t burn your bridges. Give adequate notice, and don’t share your laundry list of complaints. There is definitely such a thing as giving too much information.
  3. Be polite. Don’t use the letter as a place to badmouth the company, your coworkers, or your boss.
  4. Keep it short. By writing less, you’ll avoid saying something you might regret later.
  5. Sleep on it. Make sure to look at your resignation letter with fresh eyes before you turn it in, or have a friend or editor read your letter to ensure it is professional and concise.

For your convenience, I’ve created a template that you can use as the basis of your resignation letter for a job you don’t like.

Click Here to Download Resignation Letter Template 1 (.docx file).

Remember, your goal is to make it a clean break. You don’t want your resignation to go on and on like a dramatic breakup with a lover. There should be no name-calling, no tussling, and no public displays of animosity.

After your letter has been submitted and your last day is over, feel free to jump in your car and blast some great job breakup music (“Take This Job and Shove It” by the Dead Kennedys or maybe “Bang on the Drum all Day” by Todd Rundgren will help you get those excitable feelings out.)

And even as you keep your resignation letter short and sweet, carry that attitude with you beyond your resignation. You don’t need to have a post-resignation meltdown on social media.

As you move forward into your new job, your online activity will inevitably become an extension of your resume.  So keep it classy!

But leaving a job isn’t always the result of conflict with your manager or ill will. Let’s talk about how to handle the flip side of this and discuss how to write a resignation letter for a job you actually like.

How to Write a Resignation Letter for Leaving a Job You Enjoy

Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you have to leave a job you enjoy. Perhaps your significant other got a promotion and you are relocating, maybe it’s time for you to leave work to raise your children, or maybe you are retiring (congratulations!).

In these instances, your resignation letter doesn’t need to be quite as terse as the one you would write for a job you don’t like.

That doesn’t mean you should add too much information, but it does mean there are a few additional details you might want to include.

  1. Ask for a reference. When you are leaving a job where good feelings abound, it’s a good idea to ask for a reference as one of those bits of “unfinished business” in your resignation letter. You might also consider asking your boss to post a reference to your LinkedIn profile.
  2. State why you are leaving.  While there is no need to go into detail about how your significant other was promoted or how much you’re going to enjoy having time to raise your children, it’s okay to include a short sentence about why you are choosing to leave a job you otherwise enjoy.
  3. Let your gratitude shine. When you are leaving a job you like, use your resignation letter to express your authentic gratitude for the work experience the job gave you. Give some specific details about what you enjoyed, and make your employer feel warm and fuzzy.

For your convenience, I’ve created a template you can use to help you resign from a job you enjoy.

Click Here to Download Resignation Letter Template 2 (.docx file).

A great example of a classy resignation letter is this one submitted at a shipyard in cake form (and on paper). Among other nice things, it says, “I am proud to have been part of such an outstanding team, and I wish this organization only the finest in its future endeavors.”

While you probably won’t submit a resignation cake, if you leave your employers with a good taste in their mouth about your departure, then you’ll have successfully expanded your network and laid the groundwork for the future of your career.

Final Thoughts on How to Write a Resignation Letter

There are a couple more issues to consider as you resign. You should deliver your resignation letter in person if possible. If that’s not feasible, deliver your letter to your manager’s interoffice mailbox (on your own stationery, not on company letterhead), or send it as an email.

How you deliver your letter depends on the dynamics of your specific company (e.g., is it big or small? Do you see your boss every day? Do you have a large HR department?).

For more great tips, check out this post on how to write a resignation letter that is classy and professional. And of course, Kibin editors can help you edit your resignation letter once you’re ready to say goodbye.

No matter whether you are leaving a job you despise or a job you love, it’s important to leave your position with positivity and grace.

Your resignation letter helps your employer close the book on your personnel file, and it sets you up for success as you move on to the next step in your career.

Good luck!

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