Writing Your Way to Success: Resignation Letters

Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Resignation letters have been dubbed some of the easiest letters to write. When riding on high emotions, you might be able to write a letter of resignation in less than a minute. Resignation letters, however, are also among the most important correspondence you may ever write. For one thing, when you leave a company, this letter remains a permanent part of your employee portfolio. More importantly, it is often the last formal correspondence you will have with your former employer, which makes it the document that they will most likely remember after you leave and the first thing they'll likely see if they check your personnel file in the future. So, before deciding what goes into this all-important letter, consider the following two suggestions.

Short and Simple Resignation Letters

It is often difficult to convey the proper tone when writing a letter of resignation, particularly if you are leaving because of unfavorable circumstances. But, tempted as you may be to write a nasty letter full of recriminations, it is not a wise idea. Sometimes the business world may seem vast, but actually it is fairly small, particularly within a community or a specific profession. Consequently, although you may feel the desire to vent your frustrations after controlling your emotions and comments for so long, it is best that you do not voice your anger, despite the fact that your employment may quickly be ending. This is true, even if your feelings of being wronged are perfectly justifiable.

For one thing, you may again work with your current manager or supervisor at some time in the future. For another, venting is very unprofessional, and you could permanently damage your reputation. Furthermore, even if you have lined up what you think is your dream job, you may want to use your current boss as a reference—if not now, sometime in the future. Finally, your future employers may contact your current place of work as part of a background check or another step in the hiring procedure, and they will not be impressed if they find out that you have acted unprofessionally. Keep in mind, prospective employers will be more interested in what your last employer has to say about you than they will about what an employer you had several years ago may have to say.

Despite these possible consequences, if you are leaving your company on bad terms (because of a clash in personalities, a disagreement, an ethical incongruity, or the like), it is understandable that you may find it very difficult to keep a professional and positive tone. In such cases, therefore, your resignation letter should be short and simple, particularly if you plan on seeking legal redress. Remember, anything you write can be used against you in court. In this situation, keep your letter of resignation to a minimum: just include your address information, the date, a sentence indicating that you are resigning from your position on a particular date (approximately two weeks from the day you give your boss the letter), and your signature. Be sure to include at the end of your letter the address where the company can forward any correspondence (including your last check) and a phone number where they can reach you, especially if you are relocating.

Longer and More Personal Resignation Letters

If you leave your current workplace on good terms to follow another career path, take a break from employment for a family matter, pursue opportunities with another company, go back to school, or for some other reason, you may want to write a longer, more personal resignation letter. Doing so is often a good idea, especially if there is a possibility that you may return to work for your current employer some day.

In this second, more detailed letter, you might mention your purpose for leaving, if appropriate; if not, this part can be vague, or it can be left out entirely. You could also mention your regret in resigning, positive aspects of working for the company, and the meaningful relationships you were able to develop working with your boss, co-workers, and colleagues (it is both unnecessary and unlikely that your co-workers will ever see this letter). You could also include some of the positive experiences or accomplishments that you've gained with the company, your gratitude for the opportunities you've had, the things that you've learned, and the ways in which you've grown, or the skills that you have gained. It is a good idea, when writing this letter, to try to keep the focus on the company, rather than just on yourself—reiterate the benefits that you have gained from working for this company, and not the other way around. End your letter by wishing the company well. Again, as a sign of goodwill, include your contact information and encourage your employer to get in touch you in the future if necessary. It should be your wish to do whatever you can to facilitate a smooth transition as the company looks for and hires your replacement or reassigns your workload.

Writing Resignation Letters

No matter which of the two types of resignation letters you decide to write—short and to the point or longer and more affable (or perhaps one in between)—when writing your letter of resignation, choose your words carefully; as they can easily be misinterpreted. For example, if you say that you are moving on to pursue a more challenging career opportunity, you've just implied that your job was boring or that you were unmotivated. On the other hand, if you give as your reason the fact that you are suffering from poor health or that you need to take a break from the demands and stresses of the workplace, others could infer that you might be a risky person to hire. In either case, including such information in your letter could affect your boss's opinion of you which, in turn, may influence his or her ability to give a positive recommendation of you in the future.

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, don't use your letter as a means of criticizing your boss, because your words may very well come back to haunt you if you have to work with this person again sometime down the road or, as impossible as it may now seem, you actually apply to work for the same company again that you will soon be leaving. Also, keep in mind that if you decide to seek legal restitution for any wrongs you may have experienced in connection with your work, anything you include in your letter may be used against you. For instance, if you say in your letter that you have enjoyed working with your manager and are grateful for the opportunities you've had, and then sue your boss for mistreating you for a poor work environment, for harassment, or for some other grievance, then your letter may be used as evidence to discredit your case.

Given the far-reaching ramifications of your resignation letter, it is important that the task of writing this document not be taken lightly. Take time to think about what you want to say in your letter, and ponder the best way to say it. Consider making an outline of the points that you want to include in your letter before beginning to write it, and don't hesitate to write various drafts as you strive to convey the proper tone and message. The results of a well-written, thoughtful letter of resignation will definitely be worth your time and effort.

Before You Resign

As you write (or prepare to write) your letter of resignation, keep in mind these other key points:

Cleaning out your desk.

As part of preparing to resign, make sure that you take all of your personal items home before you give notice. Remove your personal files (both electronic and hard copy) from your workstation. This is particularly important because once you hand in your resignation letter, you may be locked out of the building and all access to your computer or the company network may be denied. Take care of these details first so that you don't risk losing anything valuable and so that there is no question of your motives or actions after you leave.

Be careful, during this process, that you don't inadvertently take anything that is not yours. Just because you created something does not mean that you own it. On the contrary, the company you work for often has the legal right to claim it. If you are not sure of your company's policy regarding this, it is important to find out either by asking your Human Resource (HR) representative or by reviewing the contract that you signed when you joined the company (look for non-disclosure or non-competition agreements, ownership of work created on the job, etc.).

Researching your benefits.

Before handing over your resignation letter, it is also important to find out about any benefits you might have, such as COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), or any unused vacation time or sick leave, and so forth. Review the status of your 401K plan, company stock, and other related items. Also, realize that by resigning, you might forfeit such benefits as severance pay or unemployment benefits.

Giving notice.

After writing your letter of resignation, schedule a meeting with your boss to announce or confirm your resignation. This meeting is generally brief—simply explain your intentions, and hand over your letter at the conclusion of the meeting. Be prepared, however, for an emotional response from your supervisor or manager—remember, you've had time to prepare for this moment; she or he hasn't, and she or he may even take your leaving personally. No matter what happens, remain courteous and professional, and work to make your leaving as stress-free for everyone as possible.

When resigning from a company, it is common practice, as a matter of courtesy, to give two weeks' notice. This gives you time to finish up the projects that you were working on or gives you time to tie up your loose ends by shuffling projects to co-workers. Additionally, it gives your employer time to begin to look for and train someone to replace you. Although you may be tempted to leave as soon as possible, particularly if you already have another job lined up that you could begin immediately, it is generally best to at least offer to stay the conventional two weeks as an act of good faith. Doing so will be a great help to your current employers as they begin to adjust to the idea of your leaving at what might be a difficult time, and as they work to ensure that your projects and tasks are reassigned and that a replacement for you is found.

On the other hand, many states have an at-will contract between employers and employees. In other words, no notice of termination is required on either end. To you as the departing party, this means that as soon as you hand over your resignation letter, your time may be up. In many large companies, particularly, you may be escorted to the door shortly thereafter, without the opportunity even to pack up your personal belongings. It is important that you be prepared for this possibility by cleaning out your workstation beforehand.

Handling a counteroffer.

In most cases, it is best to refuse any counteroffer that the company might make, such as asking you to stay for and increase in benefits. This is, typically, a higher wage, though other perks such as more vacation time, improved health benefits, and so forth might also be offered. Of course, you may truly want to stay, and the counteroffer might include the very incentives that you need to make it worth your while. However, despite how tempting the new offer might be, there are several potential pitfalls to staying. For one thing, your boss might simply be making the offer in order to keep you while they search for someone cheaper or more qualified to replace you. Moreover, now that you have made your intention to resign known, they will undoubtedly question your loyalty as an employee, and so will the company that was going to hire you—you may ruin the possibility of working for them in the future if you decline their offer after having already accepted it. After all, what is to stop you from attempting to resign again when a bigger carrot is dangled in front of your nose? So, even if your former employer does ask you to stay and throws in enough perks to seemingly make it worth your while, they may choose to replace you with someone who they feel is more trustworthy, as soon as it is convenient for them. And, if in the future, they need to cut back their personnel, you may be near the top of the list of expendable employees.

Most importantly, though, remember why you wanted to resign in the first place. Unless you express your concerns and the situation at your workplace actually changes, the reasons that you wanted to leave in the first place will still remain. It is important to realize that, according to statistics, employees who resign and then stay for whatever reason are very likely to have other employment within six months, either because they remember why it was that they wanted to leave, the situation doesn't change as they were assured it would, or because their employer replaces them. For these reasons, it is usually best to decline an offer to stay. When declining, as with all business dealings, be tactful and courteous.

Preparing for and training your replacement.

As mentioned briefly above, your boss and co-workers may experience some anxiety because of your sudden departure, as well as the added workload and the need to train someone to replace you. Try to anticipate their concerns, and work to minimize their unease by remaining helpful and cooperative. To aid in the transition process, make sure that your files are in order, and create documents that outline the tasks that your replacement will need to complete and that explain and give directions on how to proceed with the projects that you were working on. Make the change for all concerned as easy as possible. If a replacement hasn't been found by the time you leave, offer to let your employer call you for help or information until one is found and even afterwards, if necessary.

Often, though, you will work directly with your replacement to train him or her before you leave. It is important that, if you are leaving under less than desirable circumstances, that you do not taint your replacement's opinion of the company. After all, even if you ended up hating your job and everything associated with it, your replacement may thoroughly enjoy it.

Finishing strong.

Whether you leave the day you resign or a short time later, it is important that you be remembered as being helpful, courteous, and professional to your last day there. After giving your employer notice, stay focused and make an extra effort for the few remaining days. Though you may feel that the two weeks you are required to stay and work is a great time to simply coast till the end without really contributing anything worthwhile to your soon-to-be ex-employer's company, this is not a good idea. Again, last impressions, like the first ones, are very important. They can make or break you when you are out in the workforce. As you complete your final days, give the same kind of heart and excitement to the job that you did your first few days so that, when your future employers call your old boss and ask his or her opinion of you, you will be remembered for all the positive things you brought to the company, not for any laziness, arrogance, or rudeness when you left. It is important to prove to others that you are a true team player to the end.

On the other hand, don't let your employer take advantage of you. Your boss may try to talk you into staying longer than your two weeks because this really isn't a good time for you to leave, or because there's too much to do, or because they need more time to find and train your replacement. You may feel good about staying for another couple of weeks to help them out, but don't allow yourself to be manipulated, especially if you have agreed to start another job. There may never be a convenient time for you to quit.

Requesting letters of recommendation.

If you are leaving on good terms, it is strongly encouraged that you ask your supervisor(s), co-workers, and other colleagues for recommendation letters (also known as reference or referral letters). Doing so may seem unimportant if you already have another job lined up, but it is very likely that eventually, either voluntarily or involuntarily, you'll be changing jobs again. And when that time comes, it will be to your advantage to have a few reference letters on hand. It is best to ask for these letters before you leave your current workplace so you can appeal to your co-workers while they can still remember you and your achievements. Reference letters have a number of benefits: they generally focus on your positive qualities, they are not as awkward and can be more thorough than a phone call, and they are less threatening for the person making the referral because they don't require direct contact. Additionally, they can sometimes take the place of having to track down your references, which may cost you the job if prospective employers are unable to reach the people on your list. Some people actually prefer to write recommendation letters for these very reasons.

When requesting recommendation letters, it is a good idea to include a list of your recent accomplishments, your current résumé, samples of your work, and/or similar documents.

Completing the final interview.

At many companies, it is customary to conduct an exit interview before you leave. In this interview, your boss or an HR representative may ask you about your experience with the company and your co-workers or supervisor, what you felt could have been done differently or better as a whole to improve the work environment, what you liked about working for the company, and so forth. Though it may be tempting to express your frustrations with your job (especially if you restrained yourself during your resignation letter or if you feel that you are speaking with an unbiased party), again, use caution. You may be dealing with these people in the future, and you don't want to say anything that you will regret. Be careful, too, that you don't inadvertently say something that might be held against you during future reference or background checks.

Moreover, if your last interview is with your boss, though his or her interest in your comments may be genuine, he or she might still be offended or hurt by something that you say, and this may have negative consequences down the road.

During this interview you may also be asked where and for whom you will be working after you leave. Think carefully before giving out this information; it is quite acceptable to simply tell them that you do not feel comfortable revealing this information until your employment with the new company is official.

Keeping your contacts.

It is very much to your advantage to keep in touch with your co-workers after you leave your current workplace. Make a list of names and phone numbers of people who know you fairly well and who think well of you—they might be very beneficial to you later on in your career. In addition, consider writing thank-you letters and giving them, along with your new contact information, to some of your supervisors and co-workers. You never know what opportunities might arise in the future from doing so.


Your resignation letter can be a very powerful tool; don't underestimate the importance of this document. When written well, it can help to cement your employer's good opinion of you, soften a difficult blow to the company, and facilitate the passing of what might be a tense period of time. Whether short and simple or longer and more detailed, take the time to convey the perfect tone and message in this all-important letter.