How to Write a Resignation Letter

You’ve made the decision to quit your job and you want to leave on a positive note. This starts with giving notice and letting people know in a professional way. So, do you need to send a resignation letter? If so, who do you send it to? And what do you say?

To answer these questions, I asked two experts who focus on career transitions for their take: Dorie Clark, author of The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World and Priscilla Claman, a career coach and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job.

Do You Really Need to write a Resignation Letter?

It’s best to tell your boss that you’re moving on to the next step in your career “face-to-face or over video call,” with at least two weeks’ notice, says Clark. That means that in most cases, quitting a job doesn’t require a formal resignation letter. However, there are some situations in which you want to write one, especially because, as Claman points out, writing a resignation letter typically doesn’t do any harm and is pretty straightforward to do.

Why You Should Write a Resignation Letter

Reason #1: It creates a paper trail.

Some managers or HR representatives will ask you to submit a letter as a matter of record-keeping. Even if no one requests one, you can hand one in so that there is documentation of you giving notice and your departure date, which might help with the paperwork around your final paycheck and transition of your responsibilities.

Reason #2: It’s customary in your industry or company.

Depending on where you work, it may be expected that you’ll submit a resignation letter. Since this is largely dependent on your region, industry, and even organization, you’ll need to ask around. You might contact someone who has left your company to see whether they submitted a letter, or discreetly ask someone in HR (whom you trust) how these things are typically handled.

Reason #3: You feel like it will help you manage the conversation.

Telling your boss that you’re leaving can feel awkward, says Clark, and sometimes it’s hard to break the news face to face. To help start the conversation, you can email your resignation letter right before your meeting with them. That way, they know what you want to talk about and will have a few minutes to process the news before you dive in.

Reason #4: You want to control the message about your departure.

Writing a letter allows you to be clear about when you’re leaving and why. If you’re worried, for example, that your boss will try to spin your in a way that suits them leaving (but isn’t the full story), you can send the letter to them and copy HR or your boss’s boss. That way, you can help “control how they think about you and whether they’ll write a future reference,” says Claman.

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How to Write a Resignation Letter

What to say

First and foremost, keep it short. As Claman says, “This is mostly a transactional letter, and you don’t want to go on and on.”

Address the letter to your boss, or to HR, depending on who you feel most strongly about conveying the information to.

State briefly and clearly when you’re leaving and what you’ll be doing next. If you don’t have a next opportunity lined up, it’s fine to keep that vague; “I’m leaving to explore the next chapter of my career” or something similar will suffice.

It’s a good idea to express gratitude as well, as long as there is something you are genuinely grateful for. “It has to be nice and true,” advises Claman.

Consider including some specifics about projects that you were excited to work on or other accomplishments you’re proud of.

End by addressing next steps, including the timing of your departure and your commitment to smoothly handing off your assignments and responsibilities. “This is an offer for what you can do to help with the transition,” says Claman.

What to avoid

Clark and Claman agree that you should avoid providing feedback or criticism in your letter. “Don’t get into a blow-by-blow critique of the company’s shortcomings,” says Clark.

That doesn’t mean you need to be silent about any complaints you have, just save them for the exit interview, which is typically a better place for air grievances. And if you’re leaving because of mistreatment or another big problem, “you’ll presumably be filing a report or complaint to HR,” Clark says. “That certainly bears addressing but the resignation letter is not the right place.” [See below for a rare exception to this rule.]

Sample Resignation Letter

Use this template when you’re sending the letter to your manager after telling them you’re leaving. You might also want to cc HR.

Dear [Name],

As we discussed earlier, I’m resigning my position as How to Write a Resignation Letter. My last day will be [date]which is [X] weeks from now.

This was not an easy decision, but as you know I’ve long wanted to make my transition into [new field/industry] so I’m leaving for a role that will allow me to take my career in that direction.

I’ve really enjoyed my time working at [company] and on this team. I’ve learned a lot that I will take into my next position. Thank you for your support and for the opportunities you’ve given me over the last [X] years.

[You might add some specifics here about projects that you were excited to work on or other accomplishments you’re proud of. For example, “During my time here, I especially enjoyed collaborating with the analytics team, sales, and marketing to launch the latest iteration of our flagship product.” or “The past 6 years have been a phenomenal experience for me. It’s been a pleasure to manage the company’s most profitable portfolio, exceeding our targets every year.”]

I’m committed to making the transition as smooth as possible and would like to meet with you to discuss some initial ideas for how to hand off my projects and responsibilities.

I wish you and the team continued success and hope to keep in touch.

Thanks for everything,

[Your name]

But What If I Want to Make a Point?

Quitting your job can feel fraught and we all want to do it as smoothly as possible. After all, you want to have a positive reference from your employer in the future. “The safest and cleanest move is to simply step back from your role and convey, I’m moving on, thanks for the opportunitysays Clark.

However, in some cases, you can use a extreme letter to make a point about why you’re leaving — whether you’re calling out a toxic culture or highlighting how the company’s leadership has misled the firm. This is risky though. “It’s your right to do it, of course,” Clark says, “but know that it will create ripples and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.” That might mean not only losing out on a reference from this employer, but reputational damage as well if word gets out in the industry that you left in a ball of flames. Clark suggests carefully weighing the pros and cons and asking yourself, “Is this the hill I want to die on?”

. . .

It can be both exciting and nerve-wracking to quit your job and move on to finding your next one. The resignation letter is your opportunity to leave a lasting impression, and generally you don’t want to burn any bridges on your way out. You don’t know if someday you’ll cross paths with your boss or colleagues again, or if you’ll even want to return to the company at some point in the future. Having a thoughtful resignation letter on file helps you to leave gracefully and keep your opportunities open.

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