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Quitting Your Job? Here’s How to Write the Perfect Resignation Letter

A hand signing a document.
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One of the hardest things about quitting your job is resisting the urge to simply stop showing up. You’ve already made the decision, so it can seem like not much is at stake. However, your job isn’t over until that last day officially ends.

It’s well worth the bit of extra time and effort it takes to make a classy exit. Someday, you might be glad to have a recommendation from your old boss, or even a new, better position back at your old company. To keep those doors open, you have to strategize.

A recommendation letter can be an important part of your quitting strategy. While they’re not necessary in all situations, certain industries, companies, and situations call for one. When the time to resign comes, will you be prepared? With our help, you will! Read on to learn how to resign in style with the perfect letter.

What Is a Resignation Letter?

A letter of resignation is just a formal, written declaration of your intent to leave your job. However, a well-written resignation letter does more than just announce that you’re quitting. It should also cover any relevant details about your departure.

For example, your letter should confirm when your last day will be, and any other logistical details about your exit. This might include things like how you’ll help find and train your replacement.

You should also include a thank you to your employer (yes, even if you hated working there). A little bit of gratitude now—even if you have to fake it—leaves a good impression that might help when you need a reference later.

Your resignation letter should also include the best way to get in touch with you. Even though the company probably already has this info, it’s professional and polite to include it.

If you’ve ever written a cover letter, you’re already familiar with the format of a resignation letter, so writing one will be easier than you think.

When Do You Need a Resignation Letter?

Do you need to submit a resignation letter every time you quit a job? Not necessarily.

A letter of resignation is a formal document that goes above and beyond what’s expected in most informal companies and industries. While a few workplaces might require written notice when you quit (and it’s worthwhile to check if you think yours does), many neither require nor expect it.

The industries that require resignation letters usually also require business formal attire—think finance and law. However, even if it’s not required, there are still some compelling reasons to write a resignation letter.

Erring on the side of formality is often (but not always) a good thing at work. If you submit a letter of resignation to a company that doesn’t often get them, it might make you seem more professional and organized, and boost your reputation even as you’re leaving.

More importantly, though, these letters prove that you gave appropriate notice to your company. This way, a bitter former employer can’t later claim that you didn’t give notice before you quit.

If you’re on good terms with your employer when you quit, this shouldn’t be a concern. If you’re not, though, a resignation letter can be a safeguard that proves you quit in a professional, respectful manner.

If, however, a boss wants to fire you, he might encourage you to resign with a letter instead because it prevents you from receiving unemployment benefits.

If you think you’re going to be fired, or your boss suggests you will be unless you resign, it might be best not to write that letter. Even if you resign instead of technically being “fired,” you’re still leaving on bad terms. A resignation letter won’t magically turn that employer into a good future reference—and it could block your access to unemployment benefits.

It’s always worthwhile to carefully read over your contract before you write a resignation letter. Sometimes, you might get a smaller severance or lose other benefits if you resign.

Also, if you’re considering filing a discrimination or harassment claim against your former employer, consult a lawyer before you write that letter. What you say in your letter could affect the legal action you can take.

However, in most cases, writing a letter of resignation is a smart move with minimal drawbacks. So, with that in mind, how do you write one?

Essential Resignation Letter Writing Tips

A man on his laptop at a coffee shop.
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You’re probably eager to leave your old employer in the dust. Still, it will serve you well to take your time and draft a good resignation letter.

These tips will help:

  • Inform your boss first: A resignation letter doesn’t replace the “I’m quitting” conversation you need to have with your boss. You should have this conversation first, and then submit your letter of resignation to HR (or you can give it to your boss in your in-person meeting). If you don’t talk to your boss first, she might find out from someone else, which is a mark against you.
  • Follow standard business letter format: Format your letter like any professional business letter. In the appropriate places, include your contact information and the company’s, a salutation, and your signature. If you need some guidance, use a template to simplify the process.
  • Open with the essentials: Start with the fact that you’re quitting, the position you’re leaving, and the date of your last day. You don’t have to say why you’re leaving (and most of the time, you shouldn’t). You can tell your boss why you’re leaving during your meeting, so you don’t have to repeat this in your letter. However, if the reason is simple and neutral (such as, you’ve accepted another opportunity), you can include it.
  • Offer to help: It’s always good to mention that you’ll make the transition as smooth as possible. This might include helping to find your replacement, training others in your department to handle your duties, writing down helpful tips for your replacement, or anything else that’s relevant. Offering to help demonstrates you’re a good employee right up to the end.
  • Thank your employer: Try to offer a specific detail or two, such as how much you’ve learned, or what you liked about your job. Fake it if you must—stretching the truth about how much you liked your job might help you get a good reference in the future.
  • If you can’t say anything nice. . . : You know the old adage. Your letter of resignation doesn’t disappear when you do. The company might keep a copy of it with your records long after you’re gone. So, don’t say anything negative, even if you mean it as constructive criticism, it could come back to haunt you later.
  • The shorter, the better: Your letter should be one page with three or four short paragraphs. Get straight to the point and try to avoid rambling about what you accomplished in your job or why you’re leaving.
  • If you resign via email, confirm it was received: In some circumstances (like a remote position), you might have to email your resignation letter. If you do, send a follow-up message to confirm the appropriate person received it. If it gets lost in the ethers of someone’s inbox, your carefully worded letter will do you no good.
  • Proofread it: Even though you’re not facing the pressure of applying for a new job, it’s still worthwhile to submit a clean, typo-free letter. Proofread it a few times before you submit it, or ask a friend to look it over for you.
  • Read examples: If you’re having trouble getting started, read some example resignation letters online. You shouldn’t copy and paste someone else’s, but you can use similar language. After all, you’re writing a business document, not an original creative work.

Writing a resignation letter might not be fun, but it can have great results, like helping you get references for your dream job. When you quit a job, it’s usually best to burn as few bridges as possible—and a nice, professional letter of resignation is one way you can do that.

Next, check out our guide to maintaining valuable connections with former coworkers!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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