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.

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  1. r says:

    Great points, Belle. I have just a few more things to add that might be specific to the PR/consulting world. Some firms “frown upon” clients poaching staff members from the agency. It might be smart to talk to former or current coworkers (or even your boss) to get their take on the subject. Your bosses will likely want to preserve their relationship with the client, so it might not be a huge risk, but definitely something to think about.

    Also consider what happens if you interview and don't get the position. Will you be okay working for the client after they hire someone else?

    Best of luck!

  2. Shannon says:

    I always leave a memo when I leave a job – even if it was just a week-long temp gig. Make a list of all the tasks you were working on, the status of each, if there are any next steps, and the name of anyone else involved in the task.

    For example:

    1. Updated Administrative Assistant Manual. Status: draft submitted for approval 6.25.12 to Susie Jones. Next step: Approval by SJ and distribute to admin staff.

    If I work somewhere long-term, I also try to create a manual on how to do my job. Step-by-step tasks, a rundown of duties, etc. It never needs to be more than about five pages, but it's an invaluable resource for the next person. (Otherwise – and I've learned the hard way – your replacement will be baffled, which will make it look like you didn't conduct a proper training, which will in turn harm your reputation.

    In terms of etiquette, I usually go around person-to-person to say goodbye. I follow up by sending an email to colleagues and thanking them for the opportunity to learn from them. I also give my contact information.

    I think the last day on the job matters just as much as the first, so it's important to leave a good impression.

  3. SL says:

    Belle, please check your “their” and “there” – several mistakes throughout and I assumed this would be something you would be particular about.

  4. SL says:

    Oops just saw your bit about being on medicine – comment retracted!

  5. Belle says:

    SL: I do care. I've been trying to improve–I think I have improved–my homophone issues. I'm just in a fog. I'll read it through again.

  6. Victoria says: covers workplace issues like this all the time. Check it out!

  7. SE says:

    I agree with r – at my consulting firm, we have very strict guidelines in many of our contracts regarding poaching our consultants. We can actually be fired/reprimanded for taking interviews for in-house positions without alerting our company. Be sure you know the policies at your particular firm, and if you're not comfortable approaching your boss, start with HR.

  8. Valerie says:

    Man, the number of times poor Belle gets hit in comments for typos! I'm a professional writer/editor, and perhaps because my brain hurts from fixing typos all day it's nice to see a blogger who posts for content rather than grammar perfection. The homophone spelling issue also seems to be common among a lot of smart people I know- my mom was an experience surgeon who sent emails littered with mistakes. You are in good company, Belle.

    I had another question about job etiquette from a gender perspective. After leaving a recent job of several years, I sent emails and handwritten thank-yous to my colleagues (as well as saying in-person goodbyes), but didn't leave any cookies or gifts. I figured a male colleague in my position would have done the same. Do you think women are more compelled than men to bake cookies, etc., or is it just something you enjoy doing that you can share with your coworkers? I know there was a whole discussion a while back about baking and gender perception in high-powered offices, so this is perhaps an extension of that thread.

  9. Valerie says:

    *experienced. Clearly I'm not doing my job too well today with allergy issues either.

  10. Belle says:

    Valerie: I'm by no means saying you MUST bake cookies. I just hate going to the bar for going away parties, so I'd rather eat cake or something instead.

    Also, we had a discussion on baked goods in the office last year that you might enjoy.

    And, as to your other point, I make spelling and grammar errors. People point them out. Usually, it doesn't bug me. I miss stuff, I'd like the opportunity to correct it. IT's only when people insinuate that I'm dumb or unqualified for my job because of the typos on my blog that I lose it.

  11. Susan says:

    At my last job, a manager who left asked her colleague to finish cleaning out her office for her so she could take an earlier train on her last day of work. And then yelled at her colleague (in front of everyone else) when she said she couldn't do it.

  12. CBK says:

    Last night one of my managers let me know he was leaving our organization for new position with a client. This posting has helped me figure out what I expect from him when he leaves, so thank you! One thing I would add that I have asked him to do is clean out his contact list: remove any personal contacts, update ongoing project contact information and categorize remaining contacts based on Belle's system (friend, colleague, I know a guy, I met a guy). This way I and his successor will be able to save time by dealing with the right point people for each project.

  13. Ella says:

    Great advice! When I left my last job I tried to leave on the best terms possible. I finished all my work, said good bye to everyone, thanked my supervisors for the experience, and left an extensive document to help my replacement. In fact, I left on such good terms that they hired me back (with a promotion and raise) in less than a year.

    Also, I know this doesn't directly apply to the writer, but switching jobs on the Hill can have some extra complications. The community is so close that it's similar to transferring departments. Your boss may learn if you interview somewhere else, and when you leave you're probably going to be working with the same people, including all your former coworkers. With that in mind, leaving on good terms and following the rest of Belle's advice is even more important.

  14. Valerie says:

    Belle- thanks for the thoughts. Bringing in goodies makes sense as an alternative to a goodbye gathering at a bar.

    Ironically, I just watched the season opener of “Covert Affairs” where the main CIA agent attempts to make office cupcakes for the 4th of July…and ends up botching them so badly that her sister (a homemaker) has to give her a replacement set. I guess in TV land you can't be a baker AND a career gal.

  15. AB says:

    Just to ditto what “R” said – In the PR world, leaving your agency to work for a current client can be taken really, really poorly by your current employer and coworkers. I've seen it first hand recently with a coworker and it did not end well. It also does not happen very often because it is so frowned upon. Not saying you shouldn't explore the opportunity, but you just need to be careful and think it through…

  16. Hillary says:

    I agree that it's important to leave on a good note. On the last day of my first internship I brought a handwritten note to the staff and a box of cookies to share. They still had that note on the refrigerator in the kitchen when they hired me eight months later. The little things make a difference!

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