Finding your next job: Happy endings

August 9, 2012, 9:00 am

This is the final post on Finding Your Next Job. I hope it’s been of some use. As a reminder, you can one-stop-shop the entire series at this link. Helpful for if you need to bookmark it or pass it to a colleague.

This post assumes that you’ve gone through the process of the job search and accepted an offer. Congratulations! You’ve just stepped into the unknown. But before you get too far out there, you have to take care of business at home, which means acting with integrity one last time and leaving your current employer with grace. How this happens depends on the climate of the job you are leaving. If the job’s been good to you overall, beign gracious is easy; leaving will be hard. If the job has been a bad scene, then vice-versa.

But first, why should we try to be gracious when we leave a job, though, especially if your dean has been a jerk and you can’t wait a second longer to get out? I can think of three decent (not necessarily irrefutable) reasons.
1. You just never know what the future holds. That jerk Dean to whom you just sent a manifesto detailing his personal failings and those of the institution he runs may turn up at your next job as the Dean, or on the board of the committee deciding a nationwide grant, or on the organizing committee of that conference you’re wanting to speak at. Higher education is a much smaller community than we think it is sometimes, and as a general rule you shouldn’t foul up the place where you live.
2. You want to exit on higher moral ground than the place you’re leaving if your current employer has treated you poorly. This isn’t to appear self-righteous but simply to exit your job knowing that you did your level best, at least at the end, to make the job workable.
3. You want to set the right tone for the job you’re entering. You’re presumably accepting the new offer partially because it’s a better and happier working environment than the one you are leaving. If so, then what good is it to carry the smell of your lasat job with you? Start acting, now, how you want your new work environment to function and it will be easier to create that environment when you get to the new job.

Like I said, that’s hard, especially if you’ve been mistreated in your current position.

As to how to go about leaving with grace,

  • Thank the people who helped you. You don’t have to lie about how you feel — if you can’t stand the Dean, you don’t have to say you’ll miss her. But insofar as people have helped you, give them credit. Be thankful, because really, being able to go from one reasonably well-paying white-collar position to another in this day and age is no small feat, and we’re all quite privileged in that sense. There is always something to be thankful for, and now is a great time to say so.
  • Continue to act with integrity. Give your best work to your students, committees, Dean (yes, even the jerkwad Deans), and other co-workers up until the last moment that they are co-workers. Don’t mail it in. Honor your commitments and help the people you’re leaving.
  • Focus on what lies ahead. I’ve seen people who take a job elsewhere, and their last act as an employee is to send out a visceral email detailing the injustices and shortcomings of every person and program they can think of. Don’t do that. It makes you look ridiculous, and it says “I’m running from this job” rather “I’m embracing a new opportunity”.

I’d also say, be mindful of other people’s feelings. This is higher ed we’re talking about, so you know people’s egos are fragile — but even the tough types can be hurt inadvertently. When I resigned my position prior to the one I have now, I found I needed to have a plan for how I told people. First I had a sit-down talk with my department chair in his office; he was the first person to be informed. Then I walked my resignation letter to the Dean and President’s office. (They weren’t in.) Then I popped into the offices of my colleagues (I was in a five-person department, so this wasn’t hard) and told them face-to-face. Then I sent an email around to the rest of my colleagues. Then I posted this on my blog and repeated it on Twitter and Facebook. In that order. Because it’s jarring and upsetting to be close to a colleague and find out they’re leaving… via a second-hand report that you posted something on your Facebook page. (Indeed, one of my colleagues hadn’t checked his email and found out about my leaving second-hand, and expressed that he was quite hurt about it.)

If you’re interested, I’ve dug up my letter of resignation for my previous place and redacted all the names (except the institution where I am now) and put it here (PDF). I tried, in a short space, to be thankful, gracious, informative, and helpful. Whether my employer deserved this is not the issue. This is how I wanted to be remembered, and how I wanted to start as I moved to my new position.

Leaving with grace sets the stage for having an awesome career at your next place, and it’s worth the effort.


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