How to write the perfect resignation letter

Tips for making a smooth transition

By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business
Shutterstock/CNN

(CNN) - You found a new job, successfully snuck away for all the interviews and have accepted a job offer.

Now you just have to tell your current employer you are leaving. That can be harder than you think.

"Always leave on a high note," said Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. "You never get a second chance to make a last impression."

Go straight to your boss

Your immediate supervisor should be the first person you tell about your decision to leave the company. Even if you don't get along with your boss and they're the reason you sought a new job, they should still be your first stop.

"Information like this is currency for people who like to gossip," said Janel Anderson, a workplace communication expert. "The chances of the information getting into the wrong hands and then being leaked to your boss before you get a chance would make you look incredibly unprofessional."

Giving the news in person is your best option. Request a quick meeting or pop into their office asking for a few minutes to chat.

If an in-person conversation isn't an option, request a phone call or video conference. The main idea is to avoid giving notice over text or email.

Next should be the coworkers and clients who will be the most affected by your departure. You could also call a group meeting to get the news out all at once.

Avoid giving too much detail

It's up to you how much information you divulge about your new gig. But it's usually best to keep it short and sweet.

Tell your boss that you have accepted a new position and let them know your effective last day of work.

If you got along with your boss and enjoyed your time at the company, you can also share your gratitude or mention a positive memory like how much you've appreciated the opportunity, the mentorship or career development.

This conversation can be awkward, so practice what you are going to say to stay on track.

"Be prepared for how to answer," said Salemi. "You don't have to reveal anything you don't want to."

Keep it very top level. If your boss continues to push and ask questions, you can broadly answer that it's in the same industry or working with different types of clients. You can also politely say you'd rather not share any details, but plan to send out an email with your new information when you get settled in.

Offering up too much information can be risky.

"It's a very small world," said Salemi. "Your boss may reach out to your future boss and bad-mouth you. You never know what is going to happen."

However, if you signed a non-compete agreement that stipulates you have to detail where you are going, then you must adhere to it.

"I can't tell you how many people come to me swearing they didn't sign a non-compete and they did," said Donna Ballman, an employee-side employment attorney. "You better make sure you don't have one."

Some agreements prohibit you from working for a competitor, a vendor or customer.

It's also helpful to have an exit strategy in place to help with the transition. Come up with a plan to provide an update to colleagues about projects you're working on, hand off a list of applicable contacts and train someone to fill the gap in your absence.

"You want to be able to hand over work to someone who can keep it afloat until your replacement is brought in," said Anderson. "You don't want to cause undo damage. Think downstream to the clients and customers -- you don't want them unduly affected."​​​​​​​

Give adequate notice if you can

Unless you have a contract that stipulates how much notice you have to give before leaving, you don't have a legal obligation when it comes to your last day in the office.

But it's customary to give an employer at least two weeks notice.

"You can literally walk in and say, 'I resign, and today is my last day,' but that is not a politically savvy move," said Alex Twersky, co-founder of Resume Deli, a resume and career services firm.

Get it in writing

Many companies require a formal resignation letter to have on file. It's also good for you to retain a copy of the letter (or more likely email) to prove you weren't terminated, should that ever become an issue.

So what do you need to say? Not much.

State that you have accepted another job offer, and when your last day of work will be. If you enjoyed your time at the company, you can also add a line about how much you appreciated the opportunities, and that you will look back fondly on your time there.

However, if you did not have a great experience and might have grounds for a potential lawsuit, keep the letter very generic, advised Ballman.

"I can't tell you how many people who have legal claims against a company had a gushing resignation letter," she said. "You don't think they will show that to a jury?"

She recommended saying something like: "I hereby resign, effective such-and-such date and I wish everyone well."​​​​​​​

Be prepared to walk

In some circumstances, your employer might decide to make the day you announce your resignation your last day.

Sometimes it's confidentiality issues and sometimes it's a vindictive boss.

So be prepared. It's illegal to take any company property, but if you kept any personal information on your work devices, make sure to clear it off before you give notice.

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