A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

How to Take a Bow

by on March 15, 2013

We’ve all had days where we fantasized about marching into the director’s office with steely eyes and cavalier confidence to say “I quit!” Then, smiling wider than a senior on the last day of high school, we peel out blaring Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” and laugh as the building dissolves in our rearview mirror. But it’s probably more peaceable than that and you’re just ready for a career change. Maybe you’re moving or your current situation isn’t allowing for the advancement you need or are due. Having a job affords the luxury of looking for your next job with a little less desperation and a little more idealism, but it doesn’t make it any easier – finding that perfect placement can take years. So what to make when it actually happens? You’ve spent so much time and energy mastering the fine art of the application process, what do you do when you actually land a job?

The Cut and Dry Approach to the Process:

Notify Human Resources or your supervisor/manager or your director in person, as well as in writing. The pecking order here will depend on the size and organizational structure of the system you’re in. In most libraries though, I would recommend going first to the director and speaking openly and honestly, notify them of your decision and the context of the situation. While it may be or feel like a big deal, resignations and career advancements happen – you aren’t the first and won’t be the last. That said,t no matter how many times you fantasized about it, it may be surprisingly emotional (for you and them). Inasmuch as you did just resign, you may notice a more grounded and open “real” conversation too. The fences of business decorum and formality are down. You may even witness the whole spectrum of human expressions unfold: disbelief, denial, dealing, processing, and congratulatory acceptance. As with the end of any relationship, don’t be surprised if your resignation is received defensively either – “What did I do to lose you?!” – and to this, don’t be afraid to disarm this situation with the old “It’s not you, it’s me…” Follow up this meeting and same approach then with your immediate supervisor. Resist the temptation to notify fellow employees until after the “Official” announcement – you don’t want this to leak out. Nefarious conjecture aside, it’s just not professional.

–          Take the time to write your official resignation letter before you notify any personnel in person – and TAKE THE LETTER IN TO THE MEETING WITH YOU. While the letter is mandatory, taking it in with you isn’t, but it represents preparedness and efficiency – and you won’t have to worry about it later amongst the million other things you will be hit with. The letter itself need only give the date of resignation, a brief announcement of the resignation, and anticipated last day. But it can also be used as an opportunity to summarize or capture what your experience there has meant to you. Often these letters are read or included in board meetings and reports and can serve as a nice conclusion to your career (at this establishment, anyway) narrative.

–          Stay in Touch – A graceful exit ensures a positive relationship moving forward – not just with management, but also your colleagues. You cannot ever be sure where paths may lead and/or cross, and your polish and dignified consideration will go far in solidifying any future encounters, as well as thwart any bad ones – just like in advertising, complaints and bad press travels faster and further. You never know when a previous employer (and, perhaps, a onc-time colleague now in an advanced position) may be called upon as a reference.

What to Consider and Reconsider:

–          Reconsider “Telling it like it is.” Be honest, but constructive. Check your emotions.

–          Be prepared and anticipate how the resignation conversation will go down – if you still feel anxious, practice it.

–          Give appropriate notice – two weeks is the norm, but situations where contracts detail otherwise and more technical positions may require more time to responsibly and thoroughly transition. (Consult HR after you’ve given notice in person.) Perhaps even offer to train your replacement.

–          Finish what you started – not just for the library, but as a professional courtesy to your colleagues. Any programs or initiatives you began are likely to already have been published to the community or “gone live,” assuming that not all will be canceled and the facilitation is convertible with a co-worker’s skill set, leave instruction scripts for your programs – or, if possible (if you are a specialist/expert, or are tied by grant or obligation), come back to present. This shows an above-and-beyond professionalism transcending typical call of business duty that will precede and follow you.

–          Don’t screw the employer – tell them as soon as possible.

–          Before you make any announcement, transfer any personal files/documents from your computer, and make address lists of contacts you’d like to keep from your work email account.

Moving Forward:

Keep in mind that you are starting with a blank slate in your new library and position, take advantage of the opportunity. Consider your prior working experience as objectively and with as much humble honesty as you can – What would you change? What would you like to do-over? If you have a good relationship with your (now) prior director or manager and feel you can trust them judiciously, ask them for an honest evaluation or revisit past departmental performance reviews.  This is your chance to reinvent yourself and create the image you want to project. If you feel you were wrongly typecast or developed an inaccurate reputation (all because you reheated fish in the office microwave one time!), now’s your chance to start over.


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