The Hill Life: Leaving on Good Terms
Jul 11, 2012
I know you recently transferred from a Hill staff position to lobbying, and wanted to pick your brain about a similar career move. I’ve been with a PR agency for just over a year (straight out of college), and this week one of my clients asked me to interview for a junior-staff position in-house. It’s hugely flattering, and I’d like to pursue the opportunity – but II keep going over the same questions. How do you know when the right time to leave a job for another is (especially if you’re happy where you are)? What’s the best way to communicate your decision to your Boss(es)? How open should you be with your employer about your interview process?
Let’s start with when to leave. If you feel like you’re stagnating and not learning anything new, it may be time to leave. If you are presented with a new opportunity that sounds interesting and fulfilling, it may be time to leave. If you are not happy and you hate going to work every day, it may be time to leave. If there is little chance of a promotion in your future and you’re ready for more responsibility, it may be time to look elsewhere.
Unless you must (MUST) make more money, I don’t believe that you should ever leave a job that you like solely because you were offered a position with a higher salary. Whenever I’ve made decisions based solely on money, or primarily on money, I have always regretted it later.
Leaving on good terms is important in a small-world work environment as claustrophobic as D.C.. I’m by no means an expert on this topic, but I do have a few brief pieces of advice to share.
To Tell or Not to Tell, That is the Question. Should you tell your Boss you’re interviewing elsewhere? This depends so heavily on your relationship with your Boss that I almost can’t answer it. If your Boss interacts with the people you’re interviewing with, I believe you need to say something. I would simply tell them, “I was offered an opportunity to interview with XXXX, and while I love working here, I’d like to explore this opportunity further. I wanted you to know because I value our relationship, and I know you work with them closely.”
Often, letting your Boss know is good for you. They can help with recommendations and call the interviewer on your behalf. So unless you have a very good reason not to tell your current Boss, I would err on the side of forthrightness.
Plan Your Notice Wisely. Especially in a small office where one staffer usually does work of two or three people, you need to give as much notice as possible. However, giving notice is a balancing act, you neither want to be too late nor too early.
I believe you should never give notice until you have a firm offer and a start date. If you give notice too soon, your Boss might take steps to replace you and if he hires or promotes someone else, and your job falls through, you will be jobless. You don’t want to end up jobless.
So each person must balance their timeline based on their individual circumstances, giving as much notice as possible. But except in dire emergencies (death in the family, medical issue, etc.), you should never give less than two weeks notice.
Don’t Be Territorial. Once you make the decision to leave, you may be asked to train your replacement. Don’t be territorial or uppity with the new hire. This is not your job anymore, it is their job. You can teach them the way you’ve been doing it, but if they choose to do something another way, that’s their choice. And if the Boss doesn’t like the new way, it’s their funeral. Teach what you know, and let the person make their own mistakes.
Finish Your Work. When I left the Hill, I spent a solid week re-organizing my files and writing an exit memo for my successors. It detailed important work the Boss had done during my tenure, next steps for work still in progress and issues to be on the lookout for in the future. Because when you leave a Hill office, especially if you’ve been there for a few years, you need to chronicle as much of your institutional knowledge as you can for the benefit of your successor, your fellow staffers and the Member.
Also, you should go through your e-mail and flag any correspondence that may be helpful for your successor to have. E-mails with committee staff, administration employees, difficult constituents, etc.
Clean Out Your Desk. When I came to my new job, my predecessor had made a royal mess of my office. It.was.filthy. The windowsills were covered in mold, dust and dead bugs. There were live spiders nesting in the blinds and food crumbs and almonds on the floor. And those are just the things that I can remember.
I spent four hours and $50 cleaning this office. I scrubbed, dusted and vacuumed. I filled two trash cans and used an entire container of Clorox wipes. It did not make me feel very good about my new job or my predecessor. So clean up your space, it’s the polite thing to do.
Saying Your Goodbyes. The one thing I forgot to do when I left the Hill was write everyone a good bye/thank you letter. It was a huge oversight on my part and I still feel badly about it. Yes, I wasn’t really leaving, since I still see and talk to my former colleagues every week, but that’s not the point.
Don’t be like me. Write the thank yous, say the goodbyes and bake some cookies. It’s just good manners to leave on a positive note.
If you have any tips on leaving one job for another, leave them in the comments. I’m sure there is more good advice to be had on this topic.
P.S. I wrote this on an empty stomach, high on cold medicine. I’m sure there are typos that I’m reading over, be gentle with me.