When you plan to leave a job gracefully, more than likely, you’ve heard the expression, “Don’t burn your bridges.” Burning bridges is the quickest way to find out just how small the world is, not to mention the industry in which you work. The person you leave on a smoldering bridge could very well be the person you report to or interview with in years to come.

Here are 6 Ways to Leave a Job Gracefully

Although the six ways outlined below could be considered more “how-to” steps for leaving a job gracefully, they all fall under the category of leaving gracefully with one eye toward the future, rather than doing so to simply exit your current company in a neat and clean fashion.

1. Honestly discuss your reasons for leaving with your boss. It’s the professional way to exit and an excellent opportunity to secure a good reference. The first thing a prospective new employer will ask for is a reference from your former company/boss.

2. Complete all your work before you leave, especially if you’re working on a project. Try to complete any and all outstanding work. If you can’t do this, be sure to document what needs to be done for your replacement. Make the transition as smooth as possible. (I had a candidate with a great reference except for this . . . and the company ultimately passed on them.)

3. Never speak negatively about a former employer. This does not sit well with a prospective employer. They may deem you a malcontent who will do the same to them if you’re hired. It will also raise a red flag with a prospective employer that it was your fault that you left your job.

4. Plan your departure very carefully. Don’t leave anything to chance and keep your work history and reputation as spotless as possible. If you can’t speak well of your previous employer and your previous employer can’t speak well of you, why would a future employer want to hire you?

5. Beware the “Boomerang Boss.” In this age of rampant acquisitions and mergers, the company you’re going to work for may one day buy the company you just came from. If that’s the case, you might find yourself working for the same boss you just left on that burning bridge.

6. You don’t know who your former boss knows. It’s virtually impossible to be privy to this type of information. The fact of the matter is that there are hidden references that are passed between managers all the time. Your old boss and your new boss might golf together on a regular basis. Plan your departure as though they do.

Leaving a job gracefully is an investment in your future. How much it pays off remains to be seen, but if you don’t make the investment, the consequences could be detrimental to your long-range plans.

When you leave a job for a new position, make sure that the bridges you’ve built remain standing. You never know if you’ll have to cross them again.