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Put Down the Match: Avoiding Burned Bridges When Leaving Your Job

Topics: Career Advice

It’s easy to relate to Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. After she spends so much time getting to know and falling in love with the wondrous characters around her, it’s always a bit bittersweet to watch her part with her newfound friends in order to return home. She had grown such a strong bond with a scarecrow, a tin man and, of course, a lion, and she was willing to hop on that balloon knowing full well that return visits weren’t going to happen.

For most of us, an exodus from a relationship isn’t so dramatic, but there are times when the way we leave dictates the fact that we can never return.

burning match

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Every day in offices around the world, people move on — whether of their own accord or someone else’s. All too often, regardless of the circumstances, our focus is on the next chapter of our lives. When this happens we forget about the strong relationships that we’ve created with our co-workers. This becomes our “Dorothy” moment: We hop on a balloon and look back as our relationships quickly disappear.

Whether you want to think of it in terms of flying away, burning bridges, or even kicking down the ladder, the point is that relationships are valuable — they’re the foundation of your network. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re exiting — voluntarily or otherwise — here are some ways you can maintain these relationships.

  • Be Genuine. The question is going to come … and I can assure you that you will hear it uttered many times before you leave. Most will start with a simple compliment: “Heard you’re leaving. We’re gonna miss you.” And then comes the hook, “So, where are you going?” or some other variation of the same. Sure, you don’t have to provide this information, but consider that the second you update LinkedIn or Facebook, the headline is going to break. In the end, those who are most transparent tend to preserve, and even grow, their relationships.
  • Consistency Counts. “Inquiring minds want to know.” The Enquirer trademarked this iconic slogan in 1981 and it still rings true today. If your position was terminated, you may not have a clear answer, but there are plenty of reasons why a person may choose to leave their current organization. While honesty is always the best policy, you have the freedom to explain your decision to depart in whatever manner you see fit. The only word of advice I have is to be consistent in your messaging — there is no reason that you should provide different stories. Remember, people talk to one another. Think of what runs through your mind when you learn that someone has given conflicting accounts of an event. Now ask yourself, “Do I want others to think like this about me?”
  • Meld Seams. Whether you’ve chosen to leave or have been informed of a layoff, the end goal for anyone transitioning out of a job is to ensure their work is not simply dropped in the lap of another … or even worse, dropped entirely until the fateful day when the state of your affairs is revealed. Tie up any loose ends. If you can’t finish projects, make sure that those who will be assuming your responsibilities are left in a reasonably comfortable position.
  • Give Thanks. Letting those around you know how much you appreciate them as friends, co-workers, peers, and mentors is a gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed. Even under the worst circumstances, there are certainly things that you will miss or enjoyed from individuals or things that went well.

L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, didn’t give Dorothy an opportunity to return to Oz, but in the end she never really left anyone behind. As you consider leaving your current role, remember that you’re the one authoring each chapter of your career. Don’t leave yourself in a position where the past can only be viewed from across a burned bridge. Instead, gently close the door and know that someone will be there to open it should you ever return.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever burned a bridge? How did you cope? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Michelle Kruse has more than 10 years of hiring and recruiting experience and has a background in coaching and leadership development. At ResumeEdge, Michelle recruits and hires resume writers, provides training and ongoing support, manages strategic partnerships, and serves as a subject matter expert on the job search process.

Michelle Kruse
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Don’t disrespect the employer you are leaving to the employees you’re leaving behind. I left a good job with an awful employer but made a lot of friends there; they ALL know they have an awful employer. So, when asked WHY I was leaving, I simply stuck with the “I landed a better-paying job” routine. Crowing about how you’re “outta this place, WOO-HOO” only makes your co-workers feel worse about their situation, and they will resent you for it. If… Read more »

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