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The Profession

Ensure a smooth exit when making your next career move

How you leave a role can be as critical as how you managed the job itself when it comes to your reputation

Four colleagues talk at a tableWhen exiting smaller organizations in particular, allowing sufficient planning time for others is critical (Getty Images/skynesher)

Whether you are leaving an organization altogether or taking on a new role within it, it’s important for your reputation and professional relationships to make the transition process as seamless as possible


This decision will vary depending on any number of circumstances, says Michael French, national director, Robert Half management consulting company, but it’s best to avoid leaving at a crucial time of year. Despite trying to find an optimal time, “Exits are not always under the most pleasant circumstances,” says CPA Carmela Spano, EY Canada assurance learning leader.

If there is a succession plan in place, there is typically an overlap with the outgoing and incoming employees to ensure a smooth handover. “The best-case scenario is allowing the time to make sure communications are open and everything is in place,” says Spano.

Set reasonable timelines for the transition, she advises, the length and degree of which will depend on your current role and where you are heading next. “When I moved from audit to talent, the transition took six months in order to maintain the level of support for my team and ensure clients’ needs and deadlines were met. Whether you are junior or middle management, that level of commitment and dedication speaks volumes about you as an individual and a professional.”

When exiting a small organization, allowing sufficient planning time for others is critical, she adds. This provides them with the opportunity to answer questions such as: Does the expertise needed exist internally or will they have to look externally? Can the role be filled by one individual or can the work be divided among team members within the firm?


Whether working in teams or in a smaller organization, Spano stresses the need to prepare people for your transition and make them aware of your goals and intentions.

Having the conversation can be especially challenging for CPAs working in small businesses, however, as they typically hold a senior leadership role and are often afraid to discuss succession planning, says French. “But it’s still important to have those conversations. In many cases they need to drive the conversation so their employer knows what may be coming.”

Timelines for communicating your exit or move to a new role can also differ with respect to what point you are in your career, says Spano. “The easiest one is retirement. If the firm has already had discussions with the person, they can plan the transition well ahead of that date. At the lower levels, it’s often difficult to have conversations when you are thinking of moving.”

In terms of informing external stakeholders, says French, “Always ask your leaders what they would like from you as part of your exit communications. Some firms will spread the news by word of mouth, some will do a formal announcement and others might want to keep it quiet for a period of time to put together their plan. I would always recommend following their requested communication plan.”


The exact nature of any succession process depends on your position within a company.

The day-to-day technical details become less important the higher up you are, explains Jeff Smith, CPA, founder and CEO of SupportingLines Institute. “The more junior the role you are leaving, the more documentation of processes may be required. Knowing the CPA Handbook is less relevant when you’re a CFO because you have people that know that. At a more senior level, strategic expertise becomes more important.”

How you leave your organization is as critical as how you manage your job, says Eileen Chadnick, principal, Big Cheese Coaching. Ensuring as many loose ends as possible are tied up and supporting the people taking over is important. “If you leave things in shambles, that reflects on you,” she says.

Even for those that are in the midstream of their careers, memories can be long, she cautions. “You don’t know when you might run into those people again. It’s not uncommon for CPAs to reconnect with people they worked with before in other roles. You want to do well by everybody along the path.”


A move away from a role does not necessarily mean a complete break with your previous company or role. “In some cases, people can always call you for support,” says Smith.

However, when stepping out of a role, be sensitive to the fact that the new person does not need be a mirror image of yourself, so be respectful of their need to put their own stamp on the role, he adds. “Everyone has strengths. Remember that it is sometimes best if they don’t copy your style but are authentic to themselves.”


Looking to buy or sell an accounting practice? Here’s everything you need to know. Plus, why retirement planning is critical for small business owners.