Whether you call it the Great Resignation, the Great Reassessment, the Big Quit, or something else, the United States (and much of the world) is in the midst of a big shift in the workforce. The technology industry isn’t immune to this phenomenon — in fact, I’d venture to say it’s one of the more volatile workforce segments at the moment. As a manager, I’d like to offer some perspective on how to make the transition to a new role. This advice is especially targeted for folks who are leaving a technical consulting role, like the work we do at Atomic Object, but it probably applies more broadly as well. Here are some tips for making a smooth transition from one company to the next.
1. Know your worth.
As a software developer, engineer, designer, IT professional, or similar role, you are in high demand in the workforce right now. This is great for you! It’s an opportunity to find a role that really fits you. Since the pandemic, I’ve seen folks who left our company for the opportunity to work fully remote (we don’t offer that). And, I’ve also welcomed folks who left their remote positions to join us because they want to work in person. Whether somebody is coming to our organization or leaving it, I consider it a good thing when somebody is able to make a move to something that’s a better fit. In fact, I’m even willing to provide negotiation advice or help analyze how different benefits packages stack up.
As a technical employee at this moment, you should be aware of how in-demand you are and feel confident when negotiating with any potential employer. When it comes to salary, benefits, remote or hybrid expectations, and start date, you hold a lot of power, so be open about what you want, and why! But also be aware that the economy or workforce dynamics could shift in a few months or years from now. If that shifts to a more employer-favorable dynamic, this could impact your relationship with your new employer or the terms you’ve agreed to. Know what’s important to you, and ensure that you can preserve it regardless of the external forces, and/or have a plan for how you’ll respond if things change.
2. Remember that in essence, you are leaving two employers at once. Act accordingly.
If you work for a company that provides technical consulting services like software development, DevOps, IT Support, or similar services, you are essentially leaving (at minimum) two companies: your direct employer and the clients you service.
In software or IT consulting, the “standard” two weeks notice is almost worthless to the company you’re leaving — you may as well quit on the spot. As an information worker at a technical professional services firm, you have valuable information in your head about your clients’ software, their technical infrastructure, and their trade secrets. You are hard to replace. You’re not leaving a fast-food kitchen. You’re leaving a highly-skilled role. For any successful IT consulting business, two weeks is not enough time to staff a replacement on your team. Even if it were, it would not be enough time to responsibly hand off tasks and transfer the valuable knowledge you have.
When you’re leaving, it’s ideal if you can align your departure to a project milestone or end date. Failing that, a month’s notice at minimum is much more courteous to your teammates and client.
Is your new employer putting pressure on you about a start date? Are you worried that you’ll lose the position if you don’t start when they want? In that case, remember the point I made above: they are lucky to have you. They’ve probably struggled to fill the position, so they should be working hard to accommodate you. Ask yourself this question: If they’re putting pressure on your boundaries even before you start working for them, why should you expect things to change once you’re an employee?
3. Be kind to your colleagues and clients on your way out.
As you transition out of your role, try and minimize the pain felt by your teammates and your clients. As excited as you are about your new job, don’t tell your teammates or clients about your departure until you’ve talked to your manager. Put yourself in their shoes: on hearing your news, they will certainly be happy for you, but now they’ll be filled with uncertainty and worry about the future of their project or the additional responsibilities they may need to take on. In the absence of concrete plans for taking care of these things, burdening them with the knowledge that you’ll be leaving soon is actually quite unkind.
Your manager’s job is to take care of clients and colleagues you’ll be leaving behind and to keep things running smoothly for them. While it’s courteous to coordinate with them before sharing your news with anyone else, the people who really benefit are your teammates and clients. Your manager can put together a plan for the continuity of your responsibilities and share it in a way that is reassuring to your colleagues and clients.
In addition to being careful with how you share your news, do your best to finish well. That means you should tie up loose ends in your work, document things where you can, and be kind as you hand off responsibilities.
4. Do your best to leave for a better opportunity.
Hopefully, you’re moving toward a new role because of the immense opportunity it affords for you. If this is the case, you’ll probably experience a lot of support and well-wishes from your old company as you finish up your work. However, if you’re running away from a conflict or challenges with an individual or the organization, tread more carefully. Especially in the current moment, we’re all tired from the pandemic and suffering from a trust recession. That means you’d do well to pause and consider whether you’re running toward something good or away from something hard. If you are running away, are you sure you’ve clearly shared your feedback? Have you pursued all avenues for resolving the challenge before giving up on an otherwise good thing?
If you’re leaving your company because of challenging circumstances or a mismatch in values, that’s okay. We all have our limits. The past two years have caused many of us to take a step back and evaluate what’s important. However, take care if you’re an at-will employee giving your notice, and trust has eroded between you and your company. Don’t be surprised if your employment ends sooner than the end date you gave.
Why does it matter?
When moving to a new opportunity, it may feel pointless to take care of those you’re leaving behind. So why should you follow my advice?
Well, exiting gracefully is actually to your own benefit: people remember how you made them feel. While the tech world is an employee’s market right now and likely will be for a long time, you hopefully have a long, interesting, rewarding career ahead. Taking care to exit gracefully may feel arduous at the time, but you never know the opportunities it may lead to later on in your career.
I have personal experience in this. Ten years ago, I was hired at my current company partially because of the impact I made two employers ago when I took good care of a team I was leaving (who happened to be a client of Atomic). A few of my current colleagues observed the good care I took at that time and advocated strongly for me when an opportunity arose here.
But I think it’s about something even more basic than that: leaving well is about doing the right thing and leaving things better than you found them. The media likes to highlight transactional, adversarial relationships between companies and employees, and there are certainly bad actors out there (I’m looking at you, big tech). However, I firmly believe that it’s possible for workers to find values alignment, collaborative relationships, and high levels of autonomy and trust in their work.
As we look towards the future of work, the thing we all have control over is our own attitude, our behavior, and the legacy we leave through our interactions with one another and the world. What kind of mark do you want to leave on the people you work with throughout your career?