When saying goodbye is not enough

Regardless of the reason for leaving, CPAs need to be careful to leave a good impression in the minds of soon-to-be-former employers.

September 16, 2014


Every employee will ultimately leave an employer at least once in his or her career. Many workers, including CPAs, will likely say goodbye to an employer, and even possibly to a partner, a few times during the course of their careers.

There are many reasons why young CPAs decide to voluntarily leave their jobs. Another firm or company might offer more advancement opportunities or higher pay. CPAs may decide they aren’t a good fit with a particular firm or company culture. Or maybe the CPA wants to leave public accounting for business and industry.

Regardless of your reason for leaving, voluntarily or involuntarily, you should exit as if this were not your last goodbye, even if you are truly relieved to depart. Let me explain.

Depending on your location and industry or profession, your world may be a lot smaller than you think. I live and work in the Washington and Baltimore, Md., areas. Shortly after I moved here 15 years ago, peers advised me that D.C. is one big networking area and that it pays to do what you say you are going to do. If you don’t, word gets around quickly. I also found this to be true when I expanded my business into the Baltimore area.

Many people know each other, or know of each other or their organizations. For example, if you work in public accounting and are actively networking or attending CPE seminars or CPA-society-related events, you will see many of the same faces over and over again. The same holds true of other professions or industry sectors as well, especially smaller niched sectors (and niched lines of business in a CPA firm). In those specialty niches, it might not even matter where you live—all the important global players might know one another.

As you move along in your career, especially if you continue to work in the same profession or industry sector, you may work with people who once worked at the organization that you left. One of these people may become your supervisor or vice versa. Therefore, think about how leaving on bad terms may affect you when you are applying for a job later on. Your résumé may be passed around to a hiring team before you are invited to interview—and someone on the team may have worked with you before.

With that in mind, here are some things to consider if you are thinking about leaving a job or even if you already have left:

  • Don’t say disparaging things about the firm or company to co-workers, clients, or business associates on your way out the door.
  • Don’t complain loudly about the grievances that are prompting you to leave. Instead, thank peers, supervisors, and owners for the opportunity to work there.
  • Give proper notice before leaving (check your company handbook for guidance) and be available to answer questions about your former responsibilities even after you leave in order to help your co-workers with the transition.
  • Do you know what your managers or co-workers may say about you if someone asked with or without your permission? If the answer is no, or you are not sure, you should find out. You may want to contact a former manager to talk face to face or on the phone to see what he or she would say about you.
  • If you have had a good working relationship with someone who is still at the organization you are thinking of leaving, keep in touch with him or her over the next several years. This person can serve as a great reference for you. And he or she may even be able to confirm why the job you left wasn’t the right fit for you.
  • If you leave an employer where you are well-liked and respected, and where you performed well, you need to realize that you might want to work there again sometime. Maybe a new employer is offering you an amazing opportunity … that might not be so amazing down the line. Therefore, you want to leave that door open to go back to the first employer.
  • Is it possible that you are running from yourself? If you have been job hopping recently, you may want to think about what really happened. Get comfortable with the idea of trying to find out why you left. If you saw warning signs, why did you choose to ignore them? Also, if you can find a candid peer to provide constructive feedback, maybe you can learn something about yourself that an employer may not address. Do keep in mind that the overall environment or the job itself may just not be the right fit.

For some CPAs, saying goodbye can be difficult and elicit unexpected emotional responses, even when we choose to leave for bigger and better opportunities. Think positive, learn from every experience, and stay in contact and keep in good stead with those who have touched your life. Just remember: You can say goodbye, but you may very well meet them again later on in your career. 

Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland.

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