is it okay to resign while I’m still waiting for my new job’s formal written offer?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working at a company for the last year and a half, and its been great for what it is– first job out of college, I’ve learned a ton, and they’ve been very nice about working with my schedule. I’ve been working full-time and going to school at nights to get my masters degree, and they’ve been great about accommodating that.

I’ve been offered another position more in line with what my education (and newly achieved masters degree!) is for, and I’m excited to take it. However, until the background check is completed, the formal letter of intent from the new position can’t be sent out to me. I know there’s nothing in the background check, and that I’m going to be offered the job barring massive catastrophe, but here’s the rub:

I’ve told my direct supervisor about the job offer and my planned final date, and she’d like me to tell our boss this Friday (giving them a little more than 2 weeks notice). I’m okay with the idea in theory, but it makes me nervous to offer anyone *anything* until I have the formal letter of intent from the new job in my hand.

If I know the other job is more or less solid, is it okay to offer notice? Or do I wait and keep my mouth shut?

Do not under any circumstances resign until you have a firm offer in hand. “More or less solid” isn’t solid enough, unless you’re willing to risk being unemployed over it.

Until you have a written offer, you don’t really have a job offer, no matter how certain you think it is. Positions get cut at the last minute, background checks turn up things that you’d never think would be a problem but the company does, all sorts of crap can happen.

And if you give notice before you have the offer and then it falls through, your current employer may have already made plans to replace you, or for whatever reason may not be willing to let you rescind your notice (which also happens), and then you’d have neither job.

(Not to freak you out. Chances are that this won’t happen, but the consequences are serious enough if it does that you don’t want to take the risk.)

So you want to have the offer in writing. I recommend that you:

1. Tell your direct supervisor that you’d like to wait until you have the formal offer before officially giving notice or setting an end date, but that as soon as you do, you will formally give notice and talk to your other boss. Assure her that you’ll give at least two weeks notice when you do.

2. Tell the new company that you are excited about the offer and that you will give notice at your current job as soon you have the formal, written offer from them.

They should implicitly understand that this means that the longer they take in getting you that written offer, the further back your start date may need to be pushed (depending on how far away it is now).

3. It doesn’t sound like you’ve agreed on a start date with the new company yet, but in case I’m wrong, and one has been discussed: Ask how long they expect the written offer to take. If they give you a timeline that implies you may not have the letter in time to give sufficient notice at your current job, explain that you need to give your current employer at least two weeks notice, and ask if it’s possible to (a) push your start date back slightly to accommodate that or (b) get a written offer letter sooner.

As long as you’re polite in asking for these things, they should accommodate you. If for some reason they balk, keep in mind that an employer who pushes you to screw over your current boss (and your own professional reputation) by giving insufficient notice, or one who doesn’t understand your need to protect yourself by getting a written offer before you resign your old job, is an employer to be wary of anyway.

Good luck!

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Let's not overlook the possibility that the background check could reveal some horrid things b/c someone might have stolen your identity.

    While that would probably be corrected (eventually), it could cost you some time and perhaps might even cost you the job. (The hiring firm might go to their backup choice to get the job filled faster.)

    The advice given is rock solid: don't resign until you get the offer in writing!

  2. Anonymous*

    AAM – I think you should really emphasize that people should read earlier posts using those convenient tabs along the right margin. I feel as if you have reiterated plenty of times the idea about not having an offer until you have it in written form at the least. Even your most loyal fans repeat that information constantly.

  3. shawn*

    Uh… why do people continue to think that having something in writing is a guarantee? Like having it in writing means all those things you are naming can't go wrong. I wouldn't take a "more or less solid" verbal offer to the bank either, but if I was flat out offered a job verbally how does getting in writing make it any better?

  4. Charles*

    "More or less solid" isn't solid enough, unless you're willing to risk being unemployed over it. And risk not being able to collect unemployment!

    In most states if you resigned, for any reason, you cannot collect unemployment. So, beware.

    In the future I would suggest that you not even mention to a supervisor (no matter how friendly you think they are) that you have such plans until you have a firm offer in hand.

  5. Ask a Manager*

    Shawn, it's true that some people have had written offers pulled before they started, but (a) it's rare and (b) you have to give notice at some point if you're leaving for another job; when do you suggest you do it if not upon receipt of a written, accepted offer?

    Having an offer in writing can also help if the worst happens and the offer is revoked — it may aid you in collecting unemployment (when you'd otherwise be ineligible if you quit, as Charles notes) and may also be useful in negotiating a payment from the company in lieu of the promised work.

    But again, this is rare and people shouldn't panic that this might happen to them.

  6. Anonymous*

    I totally agree with Shawn – I recently had a written offer in hand which was rescinded. I had resigned my old job, and even though only two days had passed, my boss would not let me retract my resignation and remain in my old job. There are no guarantees. And unfortunately, you can't (at least in MD) sue the company that rescinded the offer for damages – you can only sue for lost wages between the time they rescind and the time you find another job.

  7. Anonymous*

    I was in a similar situation recently. I was negotiating some small details of a job offer, and I knew I was going to accept the job, but I was afraid to pass in my two weeks notice until I had a written offer.

    At the same time, my current boss was looking to move me into new a new role, one that would help out a lot of good people. I really didn't want them to waste their time figuring out my new responsibilities, and I especially didn't want them to suddenly move me over, where I would just waste everyone's time getting up to speed before quitting.

    I talked to a departing manager I trusted, and asked if I should apprise them of my plans. He told me not to take the risk.

    It was an annoying balancing act. I'm glad the offer came through and I was finally able to pass in my two weeks notice without trouble. I don't know what I would have done otherwise.

  8. Eddie*

    I accepted a job with company A. The same day company B called for 2nd interview. The start date for company A is 3 1/2 weeks away. The commitment was only verbal. If company B comes through with an offer, I expect it to be next week. I prefer company B over company A. Company A is a full time permenant position. Company B is a full time permenant position BUT has an ending date as it is based on a renewable federal grant. History shows (since 1996) that this grant gets renewed.

    Company A will increase my commute over 30 miles a day as company B comes with a car.

    Although based at the same work site, company A is more of an office job as company B does much more field work.

    The position is the same with each company and the pay is the same. I have over 10 years vested in the “parent company” so I am vested
    and what not.

    I guess I’m wondering the best way of I chose company B, how do I let company A down even though it would more than a 2 week notice and I haven’t started or even signed anything…..

    Also, how do I chose one job over the other…..mostly because of the end date………

    Plase someone help with advice.

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