How to resign gracefully when you're going off to work for the opposition.
August 27, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

What is the most graceful way to resign, given that I'll be working for a direct competitor?

I just got a killer job offer, and I am beyond elated at this point. Great money, full-time telecommute, wonderful company, perfect match for my skills. I! Am! Stoked!

My boss is on vacation until middle of next week, and even though she's my brand-new boss, I still would like to tell her in person and leave here on the best possible terms. So while I would love very much to strip nekkid right this second and yell SEE YOU SUCKERS L8R as I dash from the building, arms a'flailin', I will keep my shirt on and say nothing to anyone until she returns.

Having time to plan this is actually a good thing, because it's going to be (potentially) a delicate situation, and I want to make sure I handle this correctly, because: I will be working for a direct competitor. I didn't sign any sort of contract, non-compete, or NDA when I started working here, so there won't be any actual legal issues to deal with*, but I am concerned about answering the inevitably sticky question of "So, where will you be going?" I don't know if there's any way not to answer the question -- either I play coy and don't give a straight response, thereby signaling I've got something to hide, or I answer straight-out and risk... what? I'm not sure, exactly. Moreover, I'm sure I'll be getting this question from my boss, my coworkers, and everyone else who knows me here, so I'm glad to have a few days to really think this through.

Any suggestions for how to handle this situation with the most amount of finesse would be greatly appreciated.

* - God willing. This company can get nasty with people who leave, but as far as I know I am not high up enough on the food chain for them to merit any sort of retaliatory action. I hope.
posted by shiu mai baby to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Other detail that might or might not be important: I got this offer because a former sales colleague of mine was fired last fall and was picked up by this firm. Once this position opened, he really, really wanted me to come work for them, so the opportunity pretty much fell directly into my lap. I have not been searching, my resume isn't on any of the job sites. I'm not sure if this is something I should include in my explanation.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2010

I have dealt with this before- went to work for a former boss. I was honest about where I was going. The CEO of the company I was leaving went nuts and threatened a lawsuit. He had no claim, but he wascrazy and he sent a bunch of threatening letters and generally made himself a pain in the ass.

Frankly, I would recommend:
"I"m going to freelance for a while."
"I'm going to consider my options."

You're really under no obligation to tell them, and the information isn't useful to them really.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:57 AM on August 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

Yeah, don't cause extra problems for yourself for no reason. "I'm not sure yet...thinkin' of doin' some traveling."
posted by rhizome at 12:02 PM on August 27, 2010

You are resigning to take a new opportunity. you don't owe them any more explanation than that and would be foolish to say anything else. Good luck!
posted by the foreground at 12:04 PM on August 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

"I've decided to take another opportunity. I hope you understand. I wish you and everyone here nothing but the best of luck. It's been a pleasure."

That's it.
posted by inturnaround at 12:09 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Keep your actual resignation letter brief:

"To: Boss

I am writing to inform you that I am resigning my position of X on DATE.


That is literally it. Do not thank them, mention what opportunities and growth you've experienced, how much you've enjoyed it, or anything else. That's the sort of stuff a vindictive company can decide to use against you.

It's going to come out you're going to your competitor at some point, so I'd just state it matter-of-factly if people ask where you're going but certainly you are not obliged to do so. But as you say, you've got nothing to hide so now worries really.
posted by mikepop at 12:18 PM on August 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Mikepop, how would thanking them for the opportunities and growth and stuff be used against me? I'm genuinely curious, because that's exactly the sort of ass-kissy stuff that I would probably put in a letter of resignation.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2010

I don't know how big your field is, but I know that if I were to resign and head to a competitor, it would be found out within days (hours?). You are likely to burn more bridges by being cagey about where you're headed than just being straightforward with your colleagues.
posted by Jugwine at 12:43 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be honest about where you are going. It doesn't matter if you have a non-compete or NDA or whatever - your employer's concern is that you are going to take the information you know and share it with their competitor. If you give two weeks notice and don't tell them where you're going, and they find out later, they would logically assume you had spent the two weeks collecting intel that you could take with you. That's when lawsuits pop up.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2010

Agreed. You might not need to be forthcoming, but you definitely shouldn't lie. Not sure about the ass-kissy stuff...I can't see how it would hurt?
posted by schmod at 12:56 PM on August 27, 2010

Mikepop's letter is almost exactly what I've used in the past. I think mine said, "X date will be my last day at ABC Company."

This may be more general job-leaving advice, but applies especially if it does come out that you're leaving for a competitor: prepare to be asked to leave immediately. As in, not even allowed to collect personal things from your desk.

If you have personal files on your work computer, toiletries in your desk drawer, friends' email addresses in your Outlook, start removing all those immediately. Take home your personal items. Of course don't steal or sabotage, but clean up and collect your personal stuff.
posted by peep at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with those who say hold your cards close.

"Considering my options/Might freelance for a while/Not sure yet" all work. These non-answers don't necessarily signal that you have something to hide -- they signal that it's none of their business.

Yes, they will probably find out about it sooner or later -- but why complicate your exit and expose yourself to potential hassles and unpleasantness by making it sooner?

To put it another way, what's the upside to telling them where you're going? It's not going to make them love you for leaving and thank you for your honesty!
posted by ottereroticist at 12:58 PM on August 27, 2010

"I appreciate the time I've spent here, and I want to thank you for providing me with a pleasant work environment, but I've decided to go in a different direction and am seeking opportunities elsewhere."

Instead of "pleasant" you can insert whatever adjective best fits: caring, hospitable, educational, etc.

Be nice, don't burn bridges, but you don't need to be any more forthcoming than that.
posted by quin at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2010

I would agree with the crowd that is advocating "I have found a new opportunity" without specifying what that opportunity is.

This is based on a coworker who left my company recently with a job offer from a company that could be seen as a direct competitor. When she resigned, they asked her to leave immediately (though they were kind enough to supervise her for 10min while she collected her personal belongings from the office) and threatened her with a lawsuit. I assume she did have an NDA, and they have since decided to drop the lawsuit idea, but it still made for a very unpleasant resignation.
posted by dormouse at 2:34 PM on August 27, 2010

The great thing about management is that they're incredibly short-sighted. They'll be furious if you leave for a competitor, but if you come back a few years later applying for what amounts to a promotion, suddenly that's ancient history and all that competitive information you now know is valuable enough to overlook past transgressions. So I advise you to not burn this bridge. And don't update your LinkedIn profile until things have settled down if you're intending keep it a secret. Which kind of sounds like a good idea, given how short term outrage in this thread translates into lawsuits and immediate termination.

I would not include a description of how you got the job. It won't make management any happier to find out the pain in the ass they punished/fired is getting revenge from beyond the pink slip.
posted by pwnguin at 2:47 PM on August 27, 2010

I work for an accounting firm and we have one main competitor in town. If the bosses catch wind that you're quitting to go there, you will be "invited" to pack your shit and not even finish out the day, much less a 2 week notice.
posted by CwgrlUp at 2:59 PM on August 27, 2010

Keep the resignation letter short and sweet. Since you are moving to a competitor, you need to be totally honest or it could look very bad for you later. Keep the letter brief. Make sure all your stuff is already cleaned out and you are ready to leave when you turn it in. When you are asked about your plans, and I think you have a responsibility to answer this question honestly. This would be the time to state sincerely that you were not looking, you were contacted by the competitor, it was an opportunity you just couldn't pass up, you've enjoyed your time with present company, etc. Leave the ex-employee out of it. You will probably be asked to vacate immediately, but don't take it personally as they really have no choice.
posted by raisingsand at 3:38 PM on August 27, 2010

It's a judgment call about volunteering where you're going, or declining to answer if asked. Omitting the usual pleasantries from your resignation letter or exit interviews seems a bit harsh, but who knows.

But please, for God's sake, do not lie about what you are doing next so they don't know you're going to a competitor. The nicest most happy-for-your-success doesn't-mind-good-competition boss will fly into a paranoid, vindictive rage if you do that, and understandably so. Expect your web traffic, phone logs, email, expense accounts, etc., to be scrutinized. Expect anything found to be used against you. Expect threats and maybe even litigation, even in the absence of a contract. Please do not lie about that.
posted by MattD at 5:57 PM on August 27, 2010

Thanks ever so much for the feedback, everyone. I'm surprised the opinions are fairly evenly divided between tell and don't tell. I sort of hoped there would be greater consensus, but I appreciate all the answers so far, as they've given me plentry to mull over.

My stepfather had an interesting suggestion, so I figured I'd throw it out here: what about saying that my new employer has requested that I keep their identity confidential? This approach would take the heat off of me, at least in theory, as it makes it seem as if it's not my choice not to divulge the new place.

I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable with that approach, per se, but I'm interested to hear what y'all think.

A little more info about the nature of what I do, in case it matters: I'm not in any client-facing position, so the current company is in no danger whatsoever of losing any clients on my account. I do have a shitload of knowledge about what we do and the industries we serve, of course, but there's not much they can do about that.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2010

As someone who's spouse was sued (irrationally) by a former employer: I vote don't ask/don't tell. If there's no legal reason to identify the new employer, don't. You may "burn bridges," but only if by that you mean "tick off crazy business owners with no sense of boundaries." Anybody with any maturity will realize you take the opportunity that's best for you and your family, period. Business is business, and it's not personal.
posted by shopefowler at 6:40 PM on August 27, 2010

Mikepop, how would thanking them for the opportunities and growth and stuff be used against me? I'm genuinely curious, because that's exactly the sort of ass-kissy stuff that I would probably put in a letter of resignation.

You don't want to put anything in writing that implies in any way that you benefited from this job beyond drawing a salary if you are at a company that "can get nasty with people who leave". You don't want to give any sort of ammunition to their lawyers to help them make things nasty. Sure ultimately they probably can't make anything stick but you don't want to help them inconvenience you, or inconvenience your future employers just enough to make them think maybe it's not worth the trouble to hire you after all.

They gave you money. You did your work. Now you are done. The end.
posted by mikepop at 6:54 PM on August 27, 2010

My experience seeing this happen (person starting with a competitor within an industry): You do the "right thing" and provide a letter of notice, two weeks, and you also state that you will be working for another company in the industry. Don't have to give specific details, that should be enough.

Places I've seen either say "thanks for letting us know" and leave it at that, or "thanks for letting us know, this is your last day," and then you empty your desk.

Personally, I'd have already emptied most of my stuff out of the place before handing in a resignation (possibly under the cover of "I've got too much stuff here, thought I'd tidy up a bit" or something). Just in case they pick door #2.

As shopefowler said, it's business.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 6:54 PM on August 27, 2010

how would thanking them for the opportunities and growth and stuff be used against me? I'm genuinely curious, because that's exactly the sort of ass-kissy stuff that I would probably put in a letter of resignation

You know they'll be upset and that there is a tiny chance that they'd sue you. I'm in a legal pickle now, so I can tell you that the rule of thumb in legally-charged situations is to put in writing only things that you have a particular reason to want to put in writing. Everything you put in writing should be something that you want officially memorialized. You plan to use it later somehow so you want to make it part of the official record, or you must make the statement to instigate some action. Anything beyond that is too much.

Here's why. What is in writing and signed by you becomes your official and true history of the situation. You'd want to be sure that there would be no circumstances ever under which you would want to change, hedge, or add caveats to that statement. Since you can't predict all future circumstances, all statements carry some risk. They could, at some point in the future, have a downside. Therefore, every statement you make should have an upside that justifies taking that risk onto yourself. The less you say, the more options remain open to you later.

Let's say they sued you, and then suppose it happens that one answer against breaking some working-for-competitors standard is that you were driven out by something that they did. (IANAL, and I don't know if such a law exists.) Suddenly, you're asking yourself, "hmm, did I really like it there? Come to think of it, this counteroffer proves I was underpaid. Their persistent underpayment drove me out. And their loud hallways always hurt my sensitive ears, and they never took my complaints about that seriously. So, I did have cause." But unfortunately, in your letter, you put in writing that you loved everything, and that you were leaving for reasons that had nothing to do with them because they were wonderful in every way. Whoops. What was the amazing upside of saying that? What was the amazing upside of putting that in writing?

No, if your goal is to kiss ass and be friendly, I would do so verbally and be highly specific. Not "this was a highly pleasant work environment, I loved it here," but "you bought me a potted plant, Lissa, and it brightened my days in the office!" Not "you were a perfectly wonderful supervisor," but "I wanted to thank you for your mentorship in [technical thing]. That taught me a lot, and I so greatly appreciated that teaching." They could still testify that you failed to say anything negative (and I'm sure in my imaginary world, you'd be in better shape if you had put in writing "I am leaving because working here is unendurable for me"), but not taking a particular action is nowhere near as damning as affirmatively taking the action of signing some all-encompassing statement that later turns out to say the opposite of what you wish you had said.

Anyway, IANAL, and some employment lawyer may very well come along and tell me that I'm full of it and that in the world of actual employment law, none of this actually matters. I'm not claiming to tell you anything about what the law says in this situation. I'm just using this long hypothetical to describe what I've osmostically learned to be the way to communicate in a legally-charged situation and how it theoretically might apply to you.
posted by slidell at 7:27 PM on August 27, 2010

Update: I gave my notice this morning. I felt sort of bad about it, as my boss had just gotten back from vacation, but she was very nice and supportive. I am reasonably confident they're going to let me work the full two weeks, although based on the great advice given above I spent the last two days very quietly packing up my personal items, just in case.

My boss did ask the "where are you going" question, as have several colleagues, but I figured the best way to handle it was answer to answer what instead of where. So when someone asks I just give a nice little speech about how it's a role that plays to my strengths, it's a great match for my talents, plus it's a smaller company so there's a lot of growth opportunity.

I will eventually update LinkedIn, but I'll wait at least six months before doing so.

Many thanks for all the recommendations. Thanks so much, everyone.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:54 AM on September 1, 2010

« Older Failing in mom duties, I need this book!   |   I want to learn more about jazz! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.