Knowledge Center: Publication

Human Resources Officers

How to leave a job gracefully

7/26/2017 Kelly O. Kay
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Advice about how to secure a position at a new company is plentiful, but little has been said about how to leave your current company the right way. Even less has been done in the way of research. To close that gap, we undertook a national survey of more than 600 senior executives who have voluntarily left their employers and more than 100 senior human resources officers who manage such transitions. We asked respondents about best and worst practices in voluntary resignations, the career consequences of the manner in which someone exits, and best practices in preparing for a new job. The results of our research, detailed in this report, can help transitioning executives make their exit with forethought and tact, enhancing their reputation and their career.

Key findings include the following:

  • The overwhelming majority of respondents (84% of HR leaders, 81% of transitioning executives) agree that leaving one’s job poorly will adversely affect one’s future career.
  • The chief adverse consequences of a clumsy departure, say HR leaders and transitioning executives alike, are a damaged reputation and strained relations with former mentors and colleagues.
  • Among the worst mistakes that people make in transitions, the most frequently cited was “criticizing the company, the boss, management, or colleagues during the transition.”

To read the full report, flip through the interactive version above or click the download button for the PDF.

About the author

Kelly O. Kay ( is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ San Francisco office; he leads the firm’s global software group.

The author wishes to thank Katarina Dempsey and Kunal Sarkar for their contributions to this report.

For more about these findings and their implications for leaders, see our article in Harvard Business Review.

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