How do I Write a Letter of Resignation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A letter of resignation is a formal document which indicates that an employee plans to leave a company. Writing a letter of resignation is expected in most jobs, and it is also a mark of respect. Even if someone resigns verbally in a conversation with a supervisor, it is still advisable to submit a resignation letter. Writing the letter doesn't have to be a chore, either, because by their very nature, resignation letters are short and to the point.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

The key thing to be aware of when drafting a letter of resignation is that the letter should remain positive. This is because the letter remains on file with the company, and it may be seen by a number of different people who will remember the tone of the letter when asked for a reference about a former employee. Additionally, staying positive in a letter of resignation can help a job end on a good note, rather than a sour one.

At a minimum, a letter of resignation should state the position the person is resigning from, and the date that the resignation will become effective. Employees should consult their employee handbooks to determine how much notice they should give, with two weeks being typical. In the case of someone in a major position who is planning an exit, talking over the effective date of the resignation with managers and coworkers is common, in which case the date in the letter will not be a surprise.

While a letter of resignation can stop here, most people also include a brief note expressing appreciation for their time in the company, and regret for having to leave. Even in cases where people are living on bitter terms, they should be able to come up with something positive to say, even if it's a white lie. Saying “I've enjoyed working with everyone at Company Y,” or “Company X has allowed me to become involved in many interesting and fulfilling projects” expresses appreciation, which will be remembered by supervisors.

Employees are not obligated to give reasons for their resignations, although some may choose to disclose reasons such as relocating or changing careers. Employees should be careful about how they word these disclosures to make sure that they don't cast aspersions on the jobs and companies they are leaving. For example, saying “I am moving to Germany for a better job” is a no-no, but “I am relocating to Germany to pursue new opportunities for professional advancement” says essentially the same thing, in a much more polite and acceptable way.

Despite the highly publicized and oft-circulated evidence to the contrary, employees should not list grievances with a company in a resignation letter. These grievances should have been brought up with supervisors and other members of the company in advance of the resignation, and they should not be referenced or discussed in a letter of resignation, as they can detract from the overall polite and positive tone which should characterize a formal resignation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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