How to quit your job in an investment bank 101

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As bonus season comes around in investment banks, it usually brings with a wave of resignations. In my experience, most young professionals in a first banking job (and plenty of older ones) don't know how to properly handle a resignation. They often leave behind a messy transition and burnt bridges.

Here's my step-by-stop guide on how to quit your banking job properly:

Step 1: Have a confirmed job lined up

By "confirmed", I meant set-in-stone, legally binding confirmed, with all paperwork signed AND the background check clears. An oral offer and acceptance are not sufficient; neither is a binding offer conditional upon background checks. You do not want to inform your current employer of your intention to go until this new job is lined up unconditionally. The worse possible situation for you to find yourself in is one in which you've informed a current employer of your intention to resign, only then to find out that something is wrong with the job you're moving into (e.g. A small glitch in your background check such as wrong internship dates on your CV), which could leave you with no job at all.

A legally solid job offer includes:

1. Formal offer letter signed by you and countersigned by the new employer.

2. Confirmation in writing that the new employer has received your signed acceptance / offer letter (whether by post or by email).

3. Confirmation from the new employer's HR department that the position is confirmed and final (ie. There's no chance you'll be informed of a "headcount change," or that the "position has now been put on hold") as well as starting date and other logistics.

4. Confirmation of background check clearance and reassurance that the offer is now unconditional.

These confirmations need to come from your new employer's HR department, which should be used to receiving such requests. All the confirmations need to be in writing.

Step 2: Resign on a Monday, be careful what you take with you

Each employer, and even each division within the same firm will have different policies and procedures for handling staff who are leaving. What your friends have gone through may not directly apply to you, and you should therefore always prepare for your departure as if you may be asked to walk straight out of the door the moment you give notice, never to return.

For this reason, the best day to resign is often a Monday. This way,  you can come in on the weekend to pack all of your belongings without people noticing. If you can't afford to resign on a Monday, then stay in the office very late the night before you quit and bring your stuff home after everyone has left. If you're in IBD where everyone stays in the office equally late, then you can slowly clear your desk and bring home your belongings home over a few weeks while you're waiting for Step 1.

Many leaving staff not only want to take home with them physical belongings but also personal files, e-mails and contacts they have on the firm's system. Beware. When you leave, all your activity on the firm's system within the previous 1-3 months, including any printing activity and communications to external emails, will be reviewed in person by a member of the compliance team.  Your digital footprint before your departure has the potential to provoke an unwanted lawsuit, especially where the bank thinks its intellectual property (eg. a trading strategy or codes used by quants) has been compromised. 

Step 3: Write a resignation letter that resembles a thank you letter

Resignation letters may not be widely read, but they will be kept on files. A piece of good advice is to write a resignation letter that resembles a thank you letter. This is a place for you to thank the bank for the experience it has given you and to praise your managers for the learning opportunities they provided. The resignation letter should softely allude to some vague causes of your resignation that will not cause any offence.

You also may want to compose in advance a leaving email to your co-workers (not on work computer as your boss could routinely check your activity), which can be sent shortly after you resign. This email, similar to the resignation letter, should remain professional and respectful.

Step 4: Break the news 

Once you've gone through the previous three steps, you're ready to resign. 

Who to resign to

It might be that there are several bosses in your reporting chain. In this case, the most respectful way is to resign is to contact the most senior person in the team with whom you have regular contact with. You should not resign to your immediate reports. You should also consult the senior person on how you should behave towards the rest of the team regarding your news; they may want to be tactical about how to handle your replacement.

What happens in the resignation meeting

Hand over your resignation letter and explain clearly and assertively that you're leaving, as well as other logistics that you've planned, such as mentioning how you plan to handle the transition. Add more value by offering analysis and reflection on how the current team can improve, focusing on the business aspect rather than on the people involved to avoid any negativity.

If you're leaving for a fierce competitor, you may find that your old boss might want you to go as soon as possible. In this case, try to be pleasant and understanding and comply with his/her requests.

Prepare for the attempts to keep you

You will usually have an exit interview with your boss and HR staff, where you will be asked of your reason for leaving in more detail. Here, they will usually try to persuade you to stay with the firm (typically by offering you more money in the form of a buy-back, or by offering you a better position). Here, you should have a thought-out, non-political answer that explains why you have to go, but maintains a good relationship with your old team. For example, as HR will be present in your meeting, you want to minimise the damage to your old boss by presenting a forward-looking story about the opportunity that the new job will bring to your professional development. You should avoid any direct or indirect criticism of role you've been in.  

Hold back

In no circumstance you should mention the exact name of where you are going to your previous boss or your colleagues until after you have started at the new firm (unless the specific name is legally required by compliance or HR). In most cases, a generic description such as "another bulge bracket", "a consulting firm", or"a long-short equity fund" will suffice. Do not give in to your old boss pressuring you to know exactly where you are going, even if you have gone through Step One to lock in the new job. You never know what kind of strings people can pull in this industry! 

Prepare the logistics 

There will be logistics surrounding your exit. - You'll need to hand back your work phone or finally clear your desk. You should always consult your old boss about how to do this in the least disruptive manner possible. The sight of you leaving may be distracting and giving your old boss the control over how your resignation is managed helps to ease the damage and make their life easier.

Step 5: Handle the transition

You may be asked to serve your notice period. If so, these are the steps of a proper transition:

1. Introduce your replacement to all your internal and external vendors and counterparts. If you don't know of your potential replacement, make a note of all the contact information you hold so that your colleague can pass it on after you leave.

2. Make a list of all outstanding tasks, where to find the information, and the contact details of any vendors involved.

3. Leave your personal phone number and email with key team members in case they need to ask questions and clarify.

Don't 'leave before you leave.' In the last days you need to be even more engaged than ever. Bring current team members up to speed and answer any last-minute questions. This will help your colleagues out; it will also minimise the number of times people need to contact you during your garden leave.

Your boss and colleague will remember your respectful resignation for much longer than anything else you did during your time. If you follow all the steps here tactically, you might even be gifted with a glowing recommendation from your old team.

The final step is then to enjoy your garden leave and get ready for your next endeavours - good luck!

Mai Le was an investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs before she left to found several of her own ventures. Besides writing on her own blog (lequynhmai.com), she also runs a cover-letter sharing community called Cover Letter Library (coverletterlibrary.com) and a learning and community platform for analysts called Next Analyst (nextanalyst.com).

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