Don’t burn bridges with resignation letter

Patricia Sabatini
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It’s not uncommon for people to leave a job on bad terms — sometimes involuntarily as in being fired, or voluntarily after a disagreement or maybe witnessing something ethically improper. Still others may resign because they feel the ax is coming and want to get out first.

Whatever the reason for the bad blood, it’s critical to leave behind a well-crafted resignation letter, said Jeff Shane, president of the reference and background checking firm Allison and Taylor Inc. based in Rochester.

“Many people put great care into writing a resume and cover letter but think of a resignation letter as an afterthought,” Shane said. They shouldn’t, he said.

“If done properly, it allows you to leave on a higher note, a professional note,” he said. The goal is to soothe the situation and guard against triggering a bad reference to a prospective employer.

The key to a good resignation letter is using a respectful tone and remembering not to let anger or other emotions rule.

The letter can reflect legitimate concerns about the company or the way someone was treated, without giving the employer “a piece of your mind,” he said.

“You want the (former) employer to carefully consider what is being said,” Shane said. That way, when asked for a reference, the former employer will be “more inclined to give a more nuanced opinion or assessment as opposed to thinking to themselves that you trashed them and they need to respond in kind.”

People also may want to consider hiring an expert to do a reference check so they know for sure what their former employer is saying about them, he said.

If needed, a “cease and desist” notice can be sent warning the company to stop the criticism.

Companies often give bad references, despite policies that limit them to confirming employment dates or titles, Shane said. He estimates roughly half of the references his firm checks include some negative feedback.

“They don’t recall the drill, or they choose to ignore it,” he said. “Never assume the company has your back.”