The art of writing handover notes

In January I will be starting a new job as Web Content Officer at Newcastle University. I’ll write another post specifically about this move soon, for now I want to concentrate on the process of wrapping things up in the job I’m leaving.

One of the hardest parts of this is writing a handover document, especially if you don’t know who will be replacing you, or picking up your work in the interim. As I began struggling to write my handover notes last week I wondered if there was something I was missing, and asked my Twitter followers if there was an art to it. It seems that if there is one, nobody knows it! The overwhelming response I got was from people wanting me to pass on any insight I received. As nothing was forthcoming I thought the least I could do was share my own experience.

My top tip is it’s never to early to start. It’s far easier to build this document up as you do the tasks you’re describing, rather than trying to dredge information about everything you do from the depths of your brain in one go.

So, what do you include in your document?

For specific pieces of work:

  • a brief description
  • a list of actions (with timeframes if possible)
  • links to files, emails, or any useful information that can be found elsewhere.
  • the status of the work. Is it a current piece of work or just for information in case it comes up again?
  • details of who else knows about it or has input into it
  • any deadlines or milestones

And more generally:

  • a list of contacts
  • details of any upcoming meetings or events
  • a list of key information sources, e.g. websites, blogs, social media accounts
  • usernames and passwords for relevant accounts

I’ve also found it useful to keep a checklist of things you need to do before you leave. It’s amazing how many small things will slip through the cracks. When leaving my previous job I was lucky to piggy back off a list written by a  colleague who left just a few weeks before me.

Well, that’s my approach to the dark art of writing handover notes. Is there something obvious I’ve missed? Or have you got your own top tip? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

2 comments

  • Anonymous

    Simple tip – write one!

    In my three most recent posts (all professional librarian jobs) I have not received a single bit of a handover documentation. In one of those jobs, the previous postholder had been promoted internally, and told me she had “washed her hands” of my job – I think she was trying to tell me that she wouldn’t intefer, but not a good approach to a face-to-face handover!

  • Emma Cragg

    Sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences there, Anonymous. When you next take on a new job perhaps you should send the outgoing member of staff a link to this post :)

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