It’s been an interesting week.  While the majority of clients I work with are aggressively on the hunt for a NEW assignment — I suddenly had a cluster of calls come in from people seeking to leave their OLD assignments.  These individuals, torn between a sense of loyalty to their current employer and the desire to move on to greener pastures, asked for my advice in terms of what the right strategy and language would be to use in kissing their current employer goodbye.  Hopefully with a minimum of collateral damage ensuing, as a result.

In general, when I get these calls, the first thing I make sure people realize is that their primary loyalty lies to themselves, their families, and their own career success.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should be intentionally disloyal to the person or company you currently work for.  The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.  But if a conflict of interest should ever arise between these two allegiances, the verdict is clear.  In an era where employers, even the good ones, don’t (and can’t) promise cradle-to-grave employment, you’ve got to be prepared to act in your own self-interest in cases where a more attractive, higher-potential career opportunity should come along.

Before pulling the plug on a current assignment, however, make sure to thoroughly analyze your situation — and the downstream consequences — by asking yourself questions such as the following:

•  Do I work in a highly “incestuous” industry where my departure will raise eyebrows, create conflict, or potentially cause reputation issues for me, down the road?
•  In the off-chance I burn a bridge and my current employer takes my departure the wrong way, will I cost myself a valuable positive reference?  Does my boss have the power/influence to harm my career in other ways that I need to be concerned about?
•  Before I give my resignation, have I made sure that I have all appropriate personal property, employee files, and/or work samples in my possession?  At least those I’m legally entitled to have a copy of?
•  Have I given some thought to how I’ll communicate the news of my transition to my current clients, subordinates, vendors, and the other members of my network?
•  Am I  sure — 100% sure — that the other role I’m considering is a great fit and totally set in stone before I walk away from a perfectly good position?  Do I need any further assurances/guarantees from my future employer before making this leap?

If a detailed, thoughtful analysis still suggests that your best move is to leave your current assignment in favor of a new one, than you’ll just need to muster up your courage and plan your strategy for breaking the news.  In general, my advice is to have this conversation with your boss in person, versus writing them an e-mail or submitting a resignation letter.  Ask them if you can grab a few minutes of their time, at their earliest convenience.  Then, when you’ve got a private audience with them behind closed doors, let them down gently, remembering that their feelings/pride are likely going to be impacted by your news — just as much as YOU’VE felt bad and slightly betrayed, at times, when turned down in some form of relationship.  So perhaps you could say something like:

“John, thanks for carving a few minutes out today in your schedule.  I’m afraid I have some potentially bad news to pass along.  While I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here at XYZ Corporation, and wasn’t actively looking for a new assignment, a potential opportunity found its way to me a few weeks ago through the grapevine — and after several preliminary conversations with this other organization, after hours, they’ve made me an offer that’s simply too good to pass up.  So I’m going to need to step down from my post here at XYZ in the near future, as it turns out.  I’m committed, however, to making the transition process as smooth and win/win as I possibly can.  In fact, I told this other employer that I owed you at least two weeks’ notice, at minimum, to help pass my projects off to the appropriate people and assist in recruiting my replacement, if you wanted me involved in that process to any degree.  Of course, if you’d prefer to handle this a different way or for me to wrap things up sooner, that’s totally your call and I’d completely understand.  What would work best?”

Such conversations never quite go according to plan, of course, but adopting a polite, helpful tone will help minimize the chances of your boss going ballistic or “freaking out” (for lack of a better way to put it) at the sudden news of your departure.  And while you’ll likely feel pretty bad (unless you’re a sociopath) at having to break this news to your supervisor, trust me, they’ll get over it.  Business is business and these kinds of personnel transitions are all just part of the game.  If it helps ease your conscience, remind yourself that this isn’t a marriage and no “until death do us part” vows were ever exchanged.  Keep in mind, too, that most companies these days haven’t proven to be terribly gunshy about letting people go when the roles are reversed — and they’re faced with budget pressures or other strategic mandates.

So if the time is right, and you’ve conducted a thorough and astute analysis of your options, the moment may well be upon you to rip the bandaid off and walk away from your current position in search of — or into — your next great opportunity.   All you can control in these situations is your own behavior and your professionalism in terms of how you handle the situation.  If you take the high road and your employer chooses to take it personally, or respond vindictively to your news, than that’s on them, not you.  Handled correctly, though, both sides can usually walk out of these situations with their heads held high, leaving the door open for positive future collaboration.

P.S.  I’ve even recently had several clients resign positions they’d accepted — BEFORE even starting them — due to a better offer coming along and/or the discovery of some less-than-encouraging news about the companies they’d be joining.  While again, such situations are no fun for anyone involved, they’re all just part of life in the go-go business world.  And the same strategies above apply.  Your career future, mental health, and overall happiness far outweigh the momentary ethical discomfort involved in backing out of a job, even one you only just recently accepted…