Don’t Leave Your Job Unprepared: The Emergency Exit Checklist

“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.”  – Tom Stoppard

Maybe it’s the unrelenting cold weather, but everyone seems to be talking about escape. And it’s not just fantasies of warm tropical islands; lately I’ve had a lot of conversations about people leaving their jobs. There’s the senior executive surreptitiously plotting his exit with all the precision of an Ocean’s Eleven plot. The loyal employee shocked and delighted by an offer she couldn’t refuse for her dream job. Not to mention the dedicated, hard-working manager thrown under a bus for someone else’s mistakes and blindsided by calls for his dismissal.

They aren’t alone. A recent study by CareerBuilder estimates that 21% of workers are actively looking for jobs, and it is widely recognized that many more are open to the idea of moving. But if you were to get the unexpected knock on the door (or push) would you really be ready to leave? I’m talking about leaving IMMEDIATELY. If security showed up at your desk with a mean look and an empty box, would you be adequately prepared to jumpstart your career somewhere else?

For most people the answer is a resounding no. You would remember to grab your family photos and maybe an office supply or two (not that I’m advocating theft), but experience has shown that there are a few critical details that are commonly forgotten until it’s too late. That’s why I’ve created this emergency exit checklist. Go through this list at least twice a year to ensure that you are never forced to leave at a disadvantage.

Emergency Exit Checklist

1.  Update your resume:

I know, I know. You hate writing resumes. Everyone hates it. What makes you so special? The only thing worse than writing a resume is trying to recreate everything you did for the past seven years. It’s brutal. Every now and again I receive a frantic call from a friend asking me, “Remember in 2002 when you reviewed my resume…Do you still have it?” Don’t be that person! Find the latest copy of your resume, dust it off, and get it up to date. Trust me you will thank me later.

2. Transfer your personal files:

You’re not supposed to use your computer for personal matters. Also, you’re not supposed to eat too much sugar or drive above the speed limit. (Yeah, right!) Go through your work computer and locate the files that you might need to access once you leave. If you’ve been with the same company for a number of years you’d be surprised how many kids’ school calendars, family budgets, and non-profit board meeting minutes are hidden in the digital depths of your computer. Please don’t leave these files on a jump drive that can easily be tossed into a random drawer. Your memory isn’t what it used to be and three weeks from now you’ll have no idea how to get that data back.

3.  Backup your phone:

Company cellphones can be taken away, at any time and for any reason. Most companies are reasonable and they may let you take a few minutes to save personal photos, but I wouldn’t suggest crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Don’t get cocky if you use your personal phone for business. If you can access company emails there is a high probability that the IT department can remotely wipe your phone clean. You’ll be back to the technological dark ages (a.k.a. factory default settings) – no apps, no data, no contacts, no photos. Is this the end of the world? Not even close. Is it annoying as hell? Yep. If this sounds like a pain in the butt to you, there are several apps that can help depending on your hardware and service provider.

4.  Save your contacts:

Think of all the coworkers, clients, vendors, and industry peers who you’d like to stay in touch with even if you moved on. Where is their information stored? Outlook? The company contact management system? Leaving means that you have to track down all of those phone numbers and email addresses again. Make it easy on yourself. If you don’t have a personal method for managing contacts, at the very least start connecting with these individuals on LinkedIn so that you can reach them later.

5.  Gather your resources:

This part is tricky. I don’t want you violating any policies about handling proprietary information. However, try to keep on hand a few examples of work that you’ve done. Templates, processes, and methodologies could all be useful as a reference for future assignments without committing corporate espionage. One note of caution – do NOT spend a marathon session downloading files onto a removable storage drive. This is the kind activity that gets noticed by IT and raises lots of eyebrows.

If you only do those five things, you will be significantly better off than most of the population. However, to truly be ready for anything I suggest a few bonus options:

6.  Pay down your smallest debt:

Financial insecurity breaks up marriages, cripples countries, and kills dreams. If you can afford to put a few extra dollars towards your smallest debt, please consider doing so. When that debt is finally retired, start on the next smallest one. With less of a debt burden you’ll have a little more peace of mind if an exit ever presents itself. They don’t call it financial freedom for nothing.

7.  Export your LinkedIn connections:

I love LinkedIn and I wish them a long and happy life. But never forget that they are a business like any other. For all of us free users, if they were to unexpectedly close their doors they honestly don’t owe us anything, not even the ability to save our connections. If the apocalypse comes, would you be able to find all 982 people in your contact list? The lovely folks at LinkedIn have thought of everything. From the settings menu you can export a file that can be used on a bunch of other programs.

So, what did I forget? What else do you recommend adding to the Emergency Exit Checklist?


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  1. tallandcurvy

    I did much of what you suggest when I left my job. I actually created a private Google site and uploaded contact lists, reviews, acknowledgments, benefit details (valuable to have your COBRA details handy). I could do this discreetly and little by little. I also used this site to map out a plan for my sabbatical–places I wanted to go, timelines, what I wanted to do next and why. This way I could keep everything ordered.

    • Terra Winston

      Thank you so much for sharing that tool – I didn’t know about the private Google site. Keeping all of those things handy makes exits easy, but it also helps us as we move onto other stages of our lives (new jobs, sabbaticals, everything). NICE!!!

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