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How and When to Resign from a Senior or Executive Role?

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How and When to Resign from a Senior or Executive Role?

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​​How and When to Resign from a Senior or Executive Role?

A well-managed, professional exit can prove invaluable to your career in the long-term, allowing you to retain the network and relationships you have worked hard to establish. When resigning from a leadership position, effectively managing the process throughout the transition period will also help ensure your career prospects in the future by preserving reputational credibility.

Resigning can be an uncomfortable, and occasionally unpleasant, conversation to have with your employer, but as it's a necessary part of career progression it's important to know how to resign from a senior position. This guide is intended to provide some key strategies to implement before and after resigning from a leadership position.

Future-proofing: Being Prepared to Step Down From a Management Position

Preparation and planning will allow you to transition smoothly, minimise disruption at your current firm, and allow you to leave with integrity when the time comes – all while safeguarding your career ambitions. This entails keeping your business practices transparent, organised and replicable, to aid your colleagues during the handover period, as well as offering to support the firm in sourcing a replacement.

It is advisable that you maintain an awareness of the job market within your industry at all times. This includes following companies of interest on social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, looking at recent moves and building up a list of valuable contacts within your industry, including recruiters.

When considering how to step down from a management position, search consultants, like those at Rutherford, can be an invaluable source of advice and guidance when it comes to effectively managing the exit process, from securing a new role in the first place to haning in your executive resignation letter from your current position – recruiters can help you navigate the situation in a professional manner.

How to Communicate Your Reasons for Leaving a Senior or Executive Position

When leaving a leadership position, it is vital that you have a clear rationale for choosing to resign. Uncertainty or doubts surrounding the reasons you have decided to leave a firm can be frustrating for all parties involved, not least for a prospective employer or a recruiter working on your behalf. Therefore, it is advisable to have considered your internal options thoroughly prior to deciding to a move and to approach the resignation process with purpose.

Having clarity on the reasons you are leaving a current role is particularly important when resigning from a senior position, as often during the resignation process a current employer will endeavour to persuade you to stay by making a counter-offer. This offer has the potential to address the reasons you are leaving the firm in the first place, but be wary, lofty promises don’t always materialise.

The following points identify some common reasons executive professionals decide to leave a role and how to rationalise these motives when vacating a position; briefly addressing how to navigate the counter-offer process.


Leaving a firm for financial gain is a valid motivation for choosing to step down from a leadership position. However, in this circumstance the resignation process will need to be handled astutely to ensure your reputation remains intact. If the sole problem in your current role is monetary, then it may be worth discussing with your employer prior to resigning.

As stated above, it is likely that your manager will attempt to retain you by presenting a counter-offer, as finding a C-suite replacement can be costly and time-consuming. Unsurprisingly, this counter-offer is usually a financial incentive. This offer may be more substantial than a prospective employer is proposing, but it is important to be cautious. It can be risky to quickly accept a counter-offer, especially a monetary one, for the following reasons: firstly, without the offer being put into writing it isn’t always binding, and secondly, being persuaded to remain at a firm for monetary gain may suggest disloyalty, and your employer may consider this during bonus season, regardless of your decision.

Manage expectations and allow time to consider the offer further. Bargaining with your employer or asking your agent or prospective employer to match a counter-offer needs supreme tact as it will only highlight that your reasons for seeking a new role are purely monetary and may appear mercenary.

Cultural Issues

Choosing to leave a firm based on cultural problems is a common rationale for stepping down from a leadership position. Management style in particular is one of the most frequent complaints made by professionals exiting leadership roles. Changes in management can present unprecedented conflicts within a firm, leading to a negative working environment.

If you have decided to leave an executive role based on cultural issues, including behavioural problems or values, know that if your line manager promises cultural change during the resignation process in a bid to make you stay, it is unlikely that wholesale cultural adaption will occur overnight. Recruiters can help you find a role that presents a readymade cultural fit both for you and a prospective employer.

Role Trajectory

Often those in senior positions find themselves reaching career ceilings early on within a firm, and a current role may not offer scope for progression. As such, you may need to find a role within a larger company that presents opportunities for internal mobility. During the resignation process, if your manager offers you an promotion, be cautious. As ever, do not agree to anything until it is in writing, as it may turn out the role may not be viable or never really existed etc.

Work-Life Balance

Leaving a role for a more flexible alternative is becoming increasingly common, especially since the pandemic. More employers are having to consider offering flexible work schedules that allow even executive staff the ability to work from home. If issues arising from work-life balance are causing you to consider leaving a position, address these with your current employer prior to starting a job search. However, if a flexible work schedule is not available to you in a current role, you may find yourself having to look elsewhere. Once again, if an employer promises to address this during the counter-offer stage, do not agree to anything until it is in writing.

If you have decided to vacate a current role, you should have already considered the options available to you thoroughly, and even addressed some of your concerns with an existing employer before resigning. This will help eliminate any doubts around leaving and secure your motivations – allowing you to leave a position with a resolute mentality.

Steps to Take When Resigning from a Senior or Executive Role

When resigning from an executive role, it is likely that you will have already finalised the details of a new position, either directly with an employer or through a recruitment agency. Do not resign until you have signed your new Contract – a contract can be revoked by communication at any time prior to acceptance. Even if you are excited to begin a new position, it is vital that you follow the resignation procedure of the company you are leaving. Demonstrating a respect for internal processes and keeping confidentiality throughout will be key to leaving a leadership role with integrity and transparency.

C-suite Resignation Letter

A successful CEO resignation letter, for example,should be brief, simple and positive. It should generally take the form of a thank you letter, wherein you praise your time at the firm, illustrate how the experience has led to both personal and professional growth and wish them continued success; avoiding stating the reasons you have decided to leave by focussing on your time at the company. It is good practice to also offer your support and commitment during the transition period.

A professional resignation letter should be timestamped and include a departure date, abiding by the stated executive resignationnotice period in your contract. Today, an electronic resignation letter is generally accepted, preferably sent at the same time you discuss your resignation with your superior. If you are struggling to write a succinct and coherent CEO resignation letter, there are plenty of useful examples online.


Resigning in person is always best practice, and your superior should be the first person you inform of your intentions to leave the firm. During the discussion, be gracious and positive about your time at the company, reiterating the points you have made in your resignation letter. Do not feel obligated to disclose to your current employer the reason you intend to leave or mention the name of the firm you are moving to unless you want to or are required to do so. If your manager queries you, be vague; stating you are moving ‘for a better opportunity’ or ‘this isn’t the right environment for me anymore’. Do not focus on what your current position lacks, but what the prospective role offers in terms of career progression and personal growth.

Reassure your existing employer that you will work to tie up loose ends during your executive resignationnotice period and leave clear instructions if this is not possible. The conversation might be uncomfortable, and your employer may become visibly frustrated or angered by your intended departure. Remember to keep things cordial, and refrain from immediately accepting any counter-offers – what to do in this situation will be covered below.

Executive Resignation Notice Period

Your official notice period can be found in your contract. It is not only professional etiquette to honour your notice period, but you may risk legal action or loss of termination benefits if you do not. Working your notice period demonstrates respect for your current employer, and a willingness to ease the transition phase. Make sure to inform recruiters working on your behalf or a prospective employer concerning the length of your executive resignation notice period, and how soon you will be able to start a new role. Occasionally, an employer may ask you to work ‘garden leave’, meaning that you will remain on the payroll but work out of the office as the firm endeavours to secure a replacement.

Leaving on a Good Note

Effectively managing your exit will be necessary to avoid burning bridges with your current firm. The majority of negative feelings towards an executive departure stem from a sense that essential duties will be left unfinished. Future-proofing for this scenario will help all parties during an exit situation. This entails sharing responsibilities, keeping your business practices transparent and training up members of staff prior to your departure. Working your notice period will help the firm work through a potentially challenging transition phase and enable you to tie up loose ends successfully.

It is important to try and maintain the relationships you have built in a previous role. You may require references down the line or need to contact that specific firm. For these reasons, it is pertinent not to broadcast your departure, but keep the proceedings discrete. Look to your manager on how to communicate your departure, it may be more suitable for them to announce it on your behalf.

Unlike past decades, it is common, and many believe prudent, to change roles every 3-4 years in order to keep your experience fresh and avoid career stagnation. Therefore, knowing when to resign from a job and how to handle the transition professionally is an invaluable career skill which will no doubt come in handy again.

Counter-Offer Process

When resigning from a senior role, it is imperative to be aware of the counter-offer process and how to manage it professionally and intelligently. Counter-offers are the bane of recruiters’ lives, as it is during this stage a candidate can be persuaded to remain at a firm and disappoint a potential employer. In general, do not let yourself be caught off guard by a counter-offer, be prepared that this can happen, and they can be flattering, but consider your options carefully.

Having a default position on a counter-offer is disingenuous, so it is important to be transparent with recruiters or a prospective employer concerning your expectations and limits; acknowledging when you may be turned around during the counter-offer stage. A counter-offer may look appealing initially, but it is always worth considering why your employer is asking you to stay and recalling your original motivations to leave. That said, it is important to assess the new internal offer as thoroughly as you would an external one; considering your career ambitions, personal development, and the environment you want to work in.

Some individuals may experience a certain level of reluctance or ‘break-up feeling’ when leaving a firm, but do not let the moral pressure to remain sway your decision. Remember, do not agree to any counter-offer until it is in writing, and even then, accepting a counter-offer is not necessarily advised. Most people in the industry acknowledge that those who accept a counter-offer generally leave within a year, as the circumstances that caused the desire to leave have not changed, or your superior has found a replacement. When you accept a counter-offer, you run the risk of marking your card internally, and your position can become isolated and eventually untenable.

Recruiters can help you through this process and prepare you for the counter-offer stage when resigning from a role; giving you advice to avoid either confrontation or confusion. Search consultants encourage candidates to manage expectations with both their current employer and prospective one when resigning, prising clarity and transparency.

Fundamentally, if you are looking to exit a business it is quite rare for that feeling to change.

When to Leave

There is no right time to vacate a senior position but knowing how to resign with professionalism is an integral career skill. Professionals within the compliance industry tend to move more frequently than other financial sectors such as legal or insurance. This stems from the fact compliance professionals primary job role is to challenge conventional ways of doing things and make sure regulation is being followed. As such, compliance professionals often encounter conflicts within their career paths, which make their position untenable, or at least difficult – necessitating a move.

Employer’s generally dislike frequent job moves but remaining in one place for too long can also compromise your objectivity and attitude towards risk as a compliance or legal professional. Leaving for somewhere new is a good way to that mitigate risk, especially if you have grown too close to the company, becoming ‘institutionalised’.

Moving externally will allow you to mitigate risk, protect career credibility, and present the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Similarly, changing the senior management within a firm can positively effect company culture, stimulate growth and present new, innovative approaches to deliver success.

Get Help Finding a New Opportunity

If you have yet to pursue a new career opportunity, but the above has led you to question whether you want to stay in your current role, feel free to get in touch with the Rutherford team for personal, confidential advice.


Rutherford is the executive specialist in compliance, legal, financial crime and cyber security recruitment.

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