The most important part of taking a new job is how you handle leaving your current one

Getting ready to jump ship? Even if you can't wait to leave, don't burn your bridges on the way out.

While company loyalty is important and many companies will reward people for long tenures, switching jobs is part of the normal course of business. However, the fact that there is an expectation that you will leave, doesn't mean you should take leaving lightly.

How you make your exit will have a large impact on your professional reputation, and you want to get it right. Have a plan and make sure you're taking the high road regardless of what other people do or say along the way. Here's what to keep in mind.

1. Don't play games.

For example, going out and getting job offers in order to pressure your current employer for a promotion or more money is a dicey game to play. While it might be warranted when you have clearly been passed over or are well below market rates, you can only play this card once, and you need to play it carefully.

Be completely committed to the process and only stay at your current employer if they give you a big bump. Using this technique to nickel and dime your way to higher compensation will wear your employer thin. Plus, you'll most likely not receive an offer from the new company again, so you'll be burning that bridge, too. f you work in a small industry and people talk, you might be burning others too.

2. Keep doing your job.

It's to your benefit to stay focused on your current job while you're still employed. It's also the right thing to do. They are paying your salary and have every right to expect you to perform well. Until the end of your last day, keep your head in the game.

Another reason to finish strong is you want your current employer to know that you cared enough to give it your all. Sometimes, after you make the move, things go sideways or you realized it was the wrong decision. Leaving on a good note increases the chance they would welcome you back if you were to change your mind.

3. Communicate once you've decided.

Once you've made the final decision to take a new position, be sure to communicate clearly to the right people in a timely manner. You don't want people to find out in the wrong way or from the wrong person. This misstep can lead to hurt feelings and people questioning your intentions.

Generally, I suggest that once you have a final offer letter from the new employer and you've made the decision to accept the offer, let your immediate manager or supervisor know that you are leaving. You're departure will impact them the most and they will appreciate being the first to know.

Depending on the situation, assume a two-weeks' notice, but I might offer an additional two weeks if your current employer asks for it and your new employer doesn't mind. From there, let your current employer's HR department know and then your colleagues and friends.

4. Be appreciative.

Throughout the leaving process and with everyone you speak to, be sure to thank them for the opportunities they've given you and for what you've learned. Venting your frustrations as you head out the door might feel good in the moment, but it won't help your future prospects and you'll likely regret it.

If you want to kick it up a notch, write personal thank you notes or even leave small tokens of appreciations behind for the people who you really connected with and the people who impacted your career. You never know if they will be in a position to hire you in the future or show up in your new company as your new boss.

5. Don't gossip.

It's tempting to show up at a new company and start sharing all of the internal drama and dysfunction from your old company with your new colleagues. It feels powerful and gives you a lot of attention while you're trying to fit in. Resist that urge.

Not only does it lack integrity, it might be in violation of your previous employment agreement. It will also paint you as a gossip and people might reasonable think that you'll spill their beans in your next job.

Interviewing and taking a new position is never easy: it's a mix of emotions and opportunities. Nobody expects you to get everything right, but handling yourself with poise and having a plan to make the transition smooth for everyone will serve you well now and in the future.

This article was originally published on Inc.com: https://www.inc.com/bruce-eckfeldt/how-to-leave-your-current-job-without-burning-bridges.html