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How To Write a Resignation Letter (Without Burning Every Bridge in Town)

Plus, the five essential elements

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

Woman writing a letter of resignation

More than just a courtesy, a letter of resignation is an official notice of your intent to leave your job and—if crafted properly—allows you to exit on professional footing, leaving no scorched bridges in your wake. You may not ever return to work at that company, but your connections there could prove valuable in the future.

So, how best to start? 

Former Wall Street Journal editor Shani Raja, now a writing instructor on Udemy, tells us that getting the right tone is “really a balance between professional courtesy, appreciation for opportunities given, general decency, sincerity, and goodwill—ideally something that leaves both parties feeling positive.”

The reasons for leaving your job will obviously alter both the letter’s content and tone. For instance, if you’re leaving because you’re unhappy at your current position, your resignation letter will be vastly different than that written by someone leaving because of a new job opportunity. Still, it should follow the standard format.

The essential components of a resignation letter

Executive coach Terina Allen tells us there are five components to any good resignation letter: 

  1. Clarity

  2. Proper notice

  3. Brevity

  4. Offer of transitional support

  5. Gratitude

The first two points, clarity and proper notice, simply mean that the employee makes it clear that they are resigning from their position in the company, and spells out their last date of employment. While two-weeks' notice is standard, Allen notes that some senior and executive employees often provide 30 days’ notice or more. 

She also says to keep your resignation letter to a page or less, but make room to include a few sentences within your letter to offer transitional support. “The individual should make sure the employer knows that the resignation does not mean they are leaving the employer high and dry and should express whether they will be accessible for transitional assistance. If the person will not be available after the actual resignation date arrives, they should share a willingness to prepare a written transitional plan for the organization,” explains Allen.

Expressing gratitude for opportunities given and mentoring received is easy when it’s true. But what about if you’re leaving a job you were unhappy in? Do it anyway, says Allen. For example, you can express appreciation for your colleagues, learning new skills or having had the opportunity to make an impact on the firm’s clients or customers.

When we asked executive career coach Victoria Ipri, CEO of Revamped Resumes, for her advice, she wrote: “The resignation letter has three parts—the resignation statement, the thank you statement, and the transition statement. The keys with a resignation letter are to keep it simple and state the facts. No need to get emotional or sugarcoat the goal, which is to leave your position on a positive note.”

And then she gave us the following sample resignation letter:

Dear [Manager's Name],

Please accept this formal notification of my resignation from my position as [position title]. My last day will be [day].

Thank you for the many opportunities I’ve enjoyed during my time with [company name]. I’ve learned new skills that will be valuable to me throughout my career.

During my last [2 weeks, or other length of time], I’ll wrap up any outstanding duties and issues, and am happy to ensure a smooth transition for whomever may take my place. Please let me know if I can aid in any other final tasks.

Thank you for your [guidance, friendship, or other]. I wish [the company] continued success.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

How do you address a resignation letter?

When it comes to the salutation (Dear "Boss"), career coach Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture, says stick with the status quo. Address the person as you normally do. If you’re sending your resignation letter by email, use the same format as you would in any other email. If you usually address them by their first name, use that.

How to deliver a letter of resignation: Meet first, then follow up with your letter

When it comes to how to physically deliver the news, email is fine unless otherwise noted in your employment contract. Belcak recommends starting the process by having an in-person meeting with your manager. Then you can send your formal letter of resignation by email.

“After you’ve sent it, make sure to forward a copy to one of your personal emails so you can keep it for your records. While you hope that things go smoothly, you never know how companies and managers will react so you want to be prepared for anything. Email create a nice paper trail that can’t be edited or doctored if push comes to shove,” writes Belcak.

If you can’t give two-week’s notice

If you’re in a situation where you can’t provide notice, let your employer know immediately in person. If you wish to tell your manager why you’re leaving, you can; however, you don’t have to do so in your letter of resignation. The letter should be brief and to the point:

Please accept this as notice of my resignation as [job title] with [company name], effective as at today’s date. I sincerely apologize for being unable to provide notice. Circumstances beyond my control require that I resign immediately.

I understand that my final pay and benefits will be paid on the next pay day by direct deposit.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter. I greatly appreciate the skills I’ve acquired and support I’ve experienced over the years with [company name].

If you’re resigning for medical reasons

If a health issue is forcing you to resign, you can provide as much (or as little) information as you wish in your cover letter. One sample resignation letter from the team at WriteExpress reads:

With much reluctance I wish to inform you of my resignation as Personnel Director, effective as soon as arrangements can be made to hire a new director. 

Last week, while inquiring about changes in my productivity, we discussed the fact that despite adequate sleep and nutrition I had been feeling unusually tired. We concluded that a visit to the doctor was in order. Since then, my doctor has informed me that I have Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS). Unfortunately, the erratic hours and the fast pace of our work environment worsen the effects of my illness. For these reasons, my doctor has advised a cessation of all work activity and full bed rest for an indefinite amount of time.

I am distressed that poor health dictates that I must quit my job. I searched a long time to find the kind of job that not only encourages the use of my creativity and is intellectually stimulating, but also affords an opportunity to meet with a variety of people on a daily basis. I appreciate the opportunity I have had to work here and sincerely hope that I may return when I regain my health.

Because my current major projects have been completed, now is the best time for my departure. Except for a few minor tasks, there is nothing that demands my immediate attention. However, if problems should arise, please contact me at home and I will gladly assist you in any way I can.

The best resignation letter ever received

Gary Burnison, CEO of global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, says the most impressive resignation letter he’s ever received in two decades of working in corporate leadership and HR, reads as follows:

Dear Gary,

As we discussed in our meeting today, I’m resigning from my position as [XXX] at [XXX]. My last day will be [XXX].

Thank you for teaching me how to thrive in situations with tight deadlines and fast-moving parameters. I really enjoyed my time here and am so grateful for your support.

During this time of transition, I will continue to screen candidates for my replacement and send you a memo reiterating everything we discussed about who will be taking over my existing projects.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to make the transition as smooth as possible. I wish you and the team continued success!

Sincerely,

[XXX]

And on her last day, she said goodbye to him in person.

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