Ready to head for the exit door at your job? Have you thought about a letter of resignation? Submitting a resignation letter when you decide to leave a job is a valuable practice for many reasons. You may have had a good experience and want to continue the positive vibe, and this letter can help you do this. But even if the situation that caused the leaving is due to stress and/or other workplace issues, it's still a good gesture to make even if you don't want to write one.

Exit sign
Credit: j. botter via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Keep in mind, some employers require a resignation letter as a part of the exit process to show proof the resignation was voluntary. 2 Others may not ask for one. Whichever the case, it doesn't hurt to write one. It shows a strong level of professionalism and it also demonstrates levels of respect and courtesy. Not to mention it can help preserve any relationships built during the time spent in the organization. (You also may need a reference someday).

Haven't written a resignation letter? While every situation is unique depending on personal circumstances, there are a few general guidelines to follow when putting one together.

Length of Letter

Resignation letters are not expected to be lengthy; however, the document should include a few important factors including:

  • Supplying a reason for leaving
  • Outlining an exit plan
  • Length of time you plan to stay at your position

The letter should offer just enough detail to fill your employer in on your intentions and reasoning for your decision, but not be overly detailed. This is not necessary nor is it expected in most instances.

Should You Give a Reason for Leaving?

There are a couple of different schools of thought on this. On one hand, employers like to know why their employees are leaving. Occasionally, a workplace experiences an unusually high level of high turnover of good employees and this is costly for them and, in most cases, is counterproductive. For instance, if the reasons for the employee revolving door are related to organizational culture, the employer will be interested in exploring where the root of the problem lies. If the reasons are related to talented people leaving for better job opportunities, the organization may want to reconsider its employment packages and promotional practices to remain competitive to retain good employees. Bottom line, giving a reason is usually helpful to managerial decision makers.

On the flip side, some experts do recommend not giving a reason for leaving, especially if you are moving to a competitor or if the reasons have to do with the job being an unsatisfactory experience.  These experts lean towards the "less is more" philosophy when it comes to sending a resignation letter. This is a good argument as well.

Before deciding whether or not to give a reason for leaving, consider your personal situation and then what you want to say. lists several templates that are designed to fit a variety of situations. 3 For instance, options include letters for:

  • People who are long-term employees may want to give a reason or provide feedback
  • Employees who want to simply give a courtesy and outline the basics
  • People who are in a situation where the resignation happens with short notice
  • Staff members who are looking to retire

It's a good idea to check around to see if there is a template you can modify to fit your specific situation if you are unsure how much you want to or should say in your letter.

Offer an Exit Plan

Offering an employer some sort of exit plan helps your supervisors plan for your departure and gives them ample time to hire another person either internally or externally for your position. This also helps them with continuity and allows them to have time to recruit, interview and hire a new employee.

The exit plan is also beneficial for you to make sure any loose ends are tied up, such as owed pay, vacation time and benefits - you'll want to put this all in order. Additionally, in some cases, there may be other employment-connected issues which need attention or resolving before your departure. This could even include securing personal property and cleaning out files, both electronic and paper.

Time to leave
Credit: Alan Cleaver via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Pay Attention to the Tone of Your Words

The tone of the letter should be very courteous. Even if you are leaving due to stressful or unacceptable work conditions, it is critical to keep the nature of the resignation letter positive, even if you are feeling negative. Generally, emotions should be left out of the letter completely. If you have additional comments to be shared, you can do this at the exit interview. Usually, employers will give leaving employees a chance to offer more information. This also allows time to carefully plan what you want to say and not inadvertently (or intentionally) leave off on bad terms.

Structured Form

Resignation letters should follow professional business letter style which includes the current date, a formal statement of your intentions and your signature. In terms of actual structure, it should:

  • Be checked for consistency
  • Contain all required blocks and signatures
  • Is error-free words
  • Has correct grammar and punctuation

When leaving any job, no matter the circumstances, it is a good practice to never burn any bridges with a soon-to-be former employer. This letter will become a part of your permanent employment record with this organization. You never know if you might want to return in the future or, if you work in specific industries, people who you work for now in one company may turn out to be people you work for in a different company down the road. In addition, it is wise to avoid linking yourself to any negativity because, in some instances, you might be blacklisted in certain employment circles.

When writing a resignation letter, it is always a good idea to leave doors open, and always remember to thank employers for the experience.

[ Related Reading: Why a Positive Attitude Can Help Further Your Career ]