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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Writing Professional Resignation Letters

Actively searching for work means that your daily reading materials include a lot of writing advice. There are hundreds of thousands of articles that explain step-by-step how to write cover letters, resumes, query letters, status updates on LinkedIn…

The latest article that jumped at me from one of the writing boards explained, in a very simplistic way, how one must compose a professional resignation letter. I also fear this was repurposed from advice written in the mid-20th century and never updated.

I will not link to it here, but Step One was “clearly print the date . . . at the top right hand of the page.” Step Two was that the subject line should be “Resignation Letter.”


After working for two decades, I’ve written a letter of resignation or two.

I’m fairly sure we covered the topic in high school, and also as part of the communications curriculum towards my Associate’s degree.
The letter should generally be brief and to the point, and addressed to your immediate supervisor. The gist is that as of a specific date you will be leaving the company, that you are grateful for the opportunity to have learned whatever you learned at that job, and an offer to help in whatever way possible for a smooth transition.
This gets truly epic at 1:35

Of course, this assumes that you are leaving amicably, and that HR and lawyers are not involved (or federal prosecutors).

There is always a pressing need to remind people it must all be done “professionally” or very bad things will happen!

I always take this advice with a grain of salt because there were two jobs that I resigned from for which I did hand in unconventional resignation letters – of course I had a very cordial relationship with my supervisors (and I also provided a back-up, more sedate note for human resources purposes).

The first included a half page with a fashion design that my editor found hilarious because the note looked like a cover to one of our books (I was working at Fairchild when it was “the” fashion publisher of note in New York).

The second made the marketing director and my publisher chuckle. There were a couple of private jokes involved – our magazine was about to collapse and life had turned into melodrama. We took any opportunity to amuse ourselves. Gallows humor saves the day!

To be fair, I had told my boss I was looking for work and had even shown him the campaign I had sent out (I was trying to branch out of publishing). Well, we were all looking. Nobody wants to go down with the ship, unless it’s the Enterprise! But that may be the geek in my speaking.

After I handed this to my boss and he showed it to his boss, I earned myself a very expensive lunch at the Algonquin. When the opportunity that I left for fell apart before 9 o’clock the first Monday I started the new job, my old boss told me, “Screw it, come back! We’ll just rip off your resignation letter.”

Stupidly, I did not take him up on that offer, but when I started freelancing soon thereafter, I found myself taking contract jobs with him. We worked together on at least three startup projects after that.

Yes, my work ethic, and the results of my efforts while in his employ were contributing factors. But you cannot convince me that the “I WANT A DIVORCE!!!” resignation letter hurt.

Creativity isn’t always the right answer, I know that. And it isn’t 1990 anymore--when we were all younger and care free! Professionalism always wins, but you need to be able to know when a little pizzazz or levity can give you an edge and take it! Writing advice is well and good, but don’t ever allow step-by-step tutorials replace your personality if the position and company you are in allow for individuality.


  1. I love this more than I could ever express.

    1. This one was fun to write as it allowed a trip down memory lane.