How to Exit the Family Business Gracefully

How to Exit the Family Business Gracefully

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The situation is common enough: you’ve worked hard, you’ve learned a lot, and you’re ready for the next step in your career.

But what if you’re part of a family business? Since personal ties are involved, you’ll need to be thoughtful about how you orchestrate your exit.

Depending on your family and business dynamics, and the potential impact on your relationships, an exit requires delicacy and compassion.

You’ll also need to explain your tenure at your family business to recruiters and hiring managers, especially if you were there for a long time.

A smooth transition out of your family business, and positioning yourself for future opportunities will require some finesse but it can be done by implementing these strategies.

Top Tips For Leaving The Family Business

Have a private meeting. 

C-suiteYour employer deserves an in-person conversation out of respect for your position and personal relationship. You can tailor the conversation to your career goals and how you’re ready to pursue a different path that aligns more with your professional interests. Acknowledge your appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of the family business.

It’s important to keep your composure at this moment since your employer might react strongly, take your decision personally, and try to convince you to stay. Your family members can also view it as a judgment of the family enterprise. As one family business employee, Deborah Elkins, said in an interview with the BBC, “The best way I can describe leaving the family business is that it’s like breaking up with someone. You know something’s not quite right, but you still love them and want the best for them.”

Emphasize how much you’ve learned at this job, that your departure isn’t a personal criticism, and that you need to move forward and continue learning for your own professional growth.

Take an active role in your transition out of the business. 

Have a resignation letter ready to present to them at the end of the meeting, or when emotions subside. If you can, give more than two weeks’ notice for your departure, and take charge of your transition out of the business over that time period.

For example, you can help source and train your replacement, and teach other employees about the processes, tools, and relationships that you were involved with or oversaw. Don’t forget to leave information about passwords, vendor information, and anything else your business needs. You can even leave a ‘cheat sheet’ for your future replacement.

Save the venting. 

What if you’re in a toxic environment you can’t wait to get out of? Give the standard two weeks’ notice and help with your transition anyway. After all, your exit will likely affect your coworkers—for example, they might have to pick up your workload, or help coach your replacement. You might need your colleagues for references or networking opportunities in the future, and you don’t want to be known for leaving people in the lurch or departing on a sour note. Resist venting on social media—it may tarnish your family’s brand and make you look bad. Keep your composure, remain professional, and preserve your relationships.

Rework your resume. 

Your resume will need a reboot since you’ve been with one employer for some time. Recruiters and hiring managers will wonder why you didn’t move on to another position or weren’t recruited for somewhere else, so you’ll need to present yourself in the best possible light to assuage their doubts. They may be curious why you’re deciding to leave now, being prepared with a diplomatic yet genuine answer can help you make the right first impression during an interview.

First, remove any outdated skills and credentials so your background looks up-to-date. Next, show progression. For example, you might have started off as an associate and finished as a senior manager. This will show how you worked your way up and increased your responsibility to the organization. Emphasize promotions and give each title its own treatment. List out your achievements and responsibilities in bullet points. Use the right language to make it past the applicant tracking system (ATS) that companies use to screen online candidates. Most importantly, quantify your achievements to show your impact on the business. For example, “Helped grow revenue by 40% year-over-year for new business” or “increased website traffic by 200%.” Other important metrics are the dollar amounts you were able to generate or save and the number of people you supervised. A free Ivy Exec resume critique can help by offering specific, tailored insights on how to best position yourself and your experience.

Promote your volunteer work, internships, and classes.

networkingIt’s important to keep your skills updated, particularly your technical abilities. There are e-learning sites like Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, and Udemy where you can take online courses, or you can attend in-person classes at community colleges or your local library. Highlighting your volunteer work is also particularly useful if you want to transition into a new field. Serving on a board, even for a local or community organization, can be a great way to learn management skills and grow your network outside of your family.

You might feel nervous, guilty, or stressed about exiting from your family business. Just remember that you have more opportunities to grow professionally ahead of you. When leaving a family business, it’s worth the effort to ensure you leave with your reputation and your relationships intact. As you move forward in your career, you may find that any hard feelings or lingering resentment fade over time and as your family sees you blossom. Act with kindness, patience and conviction and your family members may just become your strongest supporters.


Want career advice from someone you’re not related to? Schedule a meeting with a mentor today.



Suman S.
About the Author
Suman S.

Suman Sridhar has over a decade of experience creating business content. She's worked for large brands like Experian and Pegasystems as well as smaller organizations. She has an MBA from Boston College.

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