To-Dos for Leaving a Job

Whatever your reasons for leaving a job, there are things you need to consider as you transition out of your current position.

Whatever your reasons for leaving a job, it’s usually not as simple as saying goodbye to your coworkers and walking out the door. There are things you need to do to set yourself up for success in your new situation and ensure you leave your replacement in a good place.

Save Your Work

Whether you’ve already secured another job or not, there’s a good chance you’ll want records of what you’ve done at this one. Save versions of your largest projects and proudest accomplishments while they are easy to access, and add them to a work portfolio. A work portfolio is a collection of work samples that you can reference as needed or send to potential employers to showcase your skills. You shouldn’t need to ask to save publicly accessible projects, but if your work is hidden behind a paywall or could potentially be proprietary, talk to your manager about the best way to get a sample of your work that follows company policy.


Setting Up Your Successor

It’s important to help ensure a smooth transition to your replacement. Write up a document that outlines everything you do in a day and your most important tasks. You can also create a brief step-by-step guide for any unique or complicated tasks. Finally, write down locations for important documents, summarize any information and context that is important for the next person, and lay out key contacts.



As your last day approaches, the IT and HR departments will likely each set up a meeting with you. If they don’t, reach out to them yourself. You’ll need to talk with IT about returning equipment and when and how to securely hand over appropriate passwords and account information.

Your conversation with HR will likely cover a wide range of topics. If you are choosing to leave, you may be given an exit interview that goes over your experience with the company and your reasons for going to a new job. This is your chance to be honest, to a point. If you can, remember it’s best to keep a good relationship with your former employers. You wouldn’t want to burn a bridge that could lead to a good opportunity in the future. Do your best to talk about frustrations professionally and respectfully.

As needed, you should also touch on things like your retirement account, stock options, and even, potential compensation for unused vacation or sick days. If you have a 401(k), you’ll need to decide what to do with the money. You’ll generally have three options: leave the money in the account, roll it over into another one, or withdraw it. This article goes more into the specifics of each option. If you have another type of retirement plan, your options are likely similar, but your HR representative will go over the specifics. Be aware that if you have an employer match program, you may lose out on all or part of your employer’s contributions if they haven’t vested. Vesting happens as you stay with a company for a set period of time. If you haven’t been there long enough, you could lose that money. You always keep the money you’ve contributed, though, so don’t worry about that.

If you’ve been laid off, you can also talk to your HR representative about severance pay. Severance pay is a bonus check that you sometimes get when you leave a job unwillingly and through no fault of your own. This could happen if you're laid off or asked to retire early. Severance pay could be a few week’s pay, a month’s, or a flat payment based on how long you worked for the company. Keep in mind that often, to get severance pay, you must sign a waiver saying you won’t seek legal action against the company. If you feel you may want to do that, talk with a lawyer before signing anything.


calendar with two weeks and due date circled

Illustration: Cristi Cash


COBRA & Government Assistance

It’s essential that you have health insurance. If you won’t have it in your new situation for whatever reason, COBRA may help you bridge the gap. For those that qualify, COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) allows you to maintain your current healthcare provider and services without interruption, although you are responsible for paying the full premium rather than splitting it with your employer. As you can imagine, this means that COBRA can be expensive, but it's important for those with pre-existing conditions. You have 60 days to elect coverage after leaving a job. Quick decision-making ensures no lapse in health care coverage.

If you don’t qualify for COBRA, you can also purchase your own health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Again, this can be expensive, but you’ll be able to pick and choose options that may fit better in your budget.

If you’ll struggle to pay for basic necessities without your current job, you can look into government assistance programs. There is no shame in getting help when you need it, and these programs are designed to help speed you on to a better place.

Income Adjustments

If your income is changing, don’t forget to create a new budget (even if it’s temporary). Ideally, you’re moving to a higher-paying job, but there could be a gap in employment while you switch companies. If you’re out of work, budget adjustments are definitely needed. Focus your budget around must-pay bills—anything that impacts your credit if you don’t pay it—and cut back on variable spending for things like eating out, entertainment, and the like. Hopefully, these changes are only temporary. But they may help you see ways you can save money on everyday expenses.

If you’ll be making more money than you are currently, congratulations! Now is the time to think about the best use for that extra income. You’ll likely owe more in taxes, so take that into account. Consider using the money to pay down debt, build an emergency fund, or save more for retirement. Think about what your future self would thank you for.


Moving Forward

Whether you’re headed to the job market or if you’ve already accepted a new position, take time to update your resume and LinkedIn profile while your job responsibilities and specific accomplishments are still fresh in your mind. If you’ve already secured a job, add these details to a master resume or document that can be tailored to specific jobs in the future.

Don’t forget to ask colleagues for referrals—you might even ask for a letter of reference. Make sure you save their contact information somewhere accessible after you no longer have the company directory (in keeping with the corporation’s privacy policy, of course).

Job transitions can be complicated, even when leaving a company is the right next step. It’s never good to act too excited to leave a job—whether you loved it or hated it—so the best practice is to stay positive, professional, and polite. The way you leave a company is part of how you’ll be remembered. When you want to call in references or referrals from former colleagues and employers, you want them to recall all of your positive contributions, not the nasty way you left things. After you leave, consider writing impactful colleagues and mentors at the company a thank you note or posting an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation for them. The goal is to be remembered in the best light and build on that positive energy going forward.


While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.

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