I often use the analogy of dating when discussing the steps of a career search to college age audiences as the analogy resonates with the demographic since dating is an ever-present topic in their lives. So how are dating and applying for jobs similar?
Breaking Up is Hard To Do:
Neil Sedaka sang some very wise words when he wrote and performed, Breaking Up is Hard to Do. It is never easy when ending a personal or professional relationship. Often, feelings get hurt (even in professional break-ups), retaliation is not uncommon, and even though you think you were clear – the other party may not have heard what you meant to say.
When leaving someone or a job, think about how you would like to be informed of this news; I suggest setting up a meeting and talking face-to-face. Texting, email, or writing it on a whiteboard are not professional or respectful to the other individual.
Both parties have invested time and energy into this relationship, trying to have a mature conversation when ending the relationship is best. Your career path may intersect with a former boss later on in one’s career and leaving the relationship on a positive note could help you in the future. Ending things maturely with others can help the healing and “moving on” process start much faster.
When ending a personal relationship, it is understandable that there will be hurt feelings as one has invested time, energy, and emotion into the relationship. Looking through this lens, it is understandable why professional relationships can end with hurt feelings as well as your boss may feel he/she has invested time, energy, and some personal stake in this work relationship. This fact can cause others to act hastily or to seek some retribution.
A good friend of mine let his bosses know he was planning on resigning in a couple of months in order move with his family (wife had gotten a new job in a new city). He was committed to ensuring a smooth transition and thought that by alerting his boss with some notice, it would allow the firm to backfill his role, decide who would take which clients, and allow him to tie up any loose ends he was working on at the time. The next day his bosses told him if he was planning on leaving in two months, why not just make today his last day. Management had ‘hurt feelings’ and even though it caused this persons’ clients to go underserved and more work on others because of understaffing, management decided to make an immediate break.
I have seen this happen often. Another contact told her boss that she was planning on leaving at the end of the month (4 weeks) – her boss begged her to stay because she was so valuable to the operation, they needed her for some upcoming critical assignments; and in the end when she reiterated she is leaving – being told she should leave that day (so much for being so valued and important to the operation).
When the other side decides to seek revenge, do not stoop to that level. Do not see this as an opportunity to air out all the dirty laundry you have kept to yourself. Remember this is a reaction that comes from hurt feelings, give the other side some time cool off and see that their actions would end up hurting more than helping the situation.
The young woman went back to her boss later that day and let him know that she wanted to the best for the firm and was committed to make the transition as smooth as possible. She showed him the projects that she was working on and the progress of each one, and reiterated her interest in staying the four weeks to wrap up and transition. In the end, he agreed. While it may not have been the smoothest of months for her at work, she was able to leave with a clear conscience and her boss did not have any dirt to use against her in the future.
Say It In-Person, but Get It In Writing
Any difficult news is best delivered in person, while tough to stand and look someone in the eye who may be upset with you – it is the right thing to do. So instead of emailing, texting, or leaving a message, take the high road and meet with the individual (boss or significant other). In the long run, the way you handle the break-up will go a long way to how you are perceived by the other person in the future.
I do recommend to those who are leaving a professional relationship to fire off a quick note after a face-to-face meeting to reiterate the main points of the conversation. This ensures you are both on the same page and expectations are aligned – and gives you a paper trail in case there are any last-minute issues:
Thank you for meeting with me today, I value the work I have done here and the people with whom I have worked while at ACME, Inc. and I am committed to continue my best to the projects I am managing. To assist with a smooth transition, I wanted to recap our discussion to ensure I have everything covered:
- List off all the tasks you need to take care of prior to leaving
- Who is taking what
- When you will accomplish tasks
- When your last day will be
- Any other items you/boss discussed
This extra communication can let the boss know that you are not “checking-out” during your last couple of weeks and prevent a last-minute “I thought you were handling X” accusation.
Is that Steve/Susie over there? We used to date…
Have you ever been in a bar, restaurant, at a party, etc. and ran into someone you used to date? The experience can range from an opportunity to say pleasant hello and catch up to having to leave the establishment due to a restraining order. My point is that you may run into an “ex”, so the better you handle the break up, the easier a future run-in will be.
This lesson is even more important in the work world – it is scary how often individuals will run into former bosses/co-workers/clients during the course of one’s career. Remember the adage of “Don’t burn any bridges” as there is a good chance of interacting with individuals from your previous career. This is especially true in smaller cities or in industries where there is a fair amount of movement/interaction/collaboration (PR, Advertising, Law, Film, etc.).
Breaking up is hard. Breaking up will cause pain. Breaking up rarely goes smoothly or according to one’s plans. Doing your best to handle this situation well by communicating, being professional, and allowing for some time to heal wounds will help you survive this difficult time.