how to quit your job

If you’re thinking about quitting your job, there are a bunch of things you don’t want to do: Quit in a huff, get senioritis in your last weeks, be so concerned about the right timing that you put it off too long, and more. You may cross paths with your manager and coworkers in the future – and even if you don’t, these are the people who will be giving you references in the future.

Here are 10 tips for a smooth resignation.

1. Be sure that resigning is really the right decision.Quitting your job in a huff or to make a point is a good way to wind up jobless and unhappy. And it rarely makes the point to your employer that you think it’ll make.

2. Don’t agonize too much about the timing. People often wonder if they need to wait until a big project is over, or that vacancy in the department is filled, or the boss is back from maternity leave. But there’s rarely a perfect time to resign, and if you wait for one, you might never leave. It’s nice to look out for your employer, but it’s a normal part of business for people to leave jobs, and the timing isn’t always convenient for the employer. You shouldn’t pass up great opportunities just because the timing isn’t ideal.

3. Talk to your boss in-person.This isn’t a message to send by email or by a letter left in your manager’s in-box. Ask for a meeting, and tell your boss face-to-face that you’re moving on.

4. Give an appropriate amount of notice.This is usually a minimum of two weeks, but in some jobs, it can be more. You really, really want to stick to this, because otherwise you’ll burn bridges and tarnish your reputation. That kind of thing can haunt you in the future.

5. Be ready to answer questions about why you’re leaving. How honest you are in response to those questions should depend on whether doing so would burn bridges. If the job’s long hours and low pay or the company’s culture were part of your decision to leave, you’re doing your employer a favor bytactfully letting them know. But if your boss can’t take criticism or is simply a jerk, you might be better off having a bland response ready: You’re leaving to “take advantage of a great opportunity,” “get experience in new areas,” or have a shorter commute. In this case, it’s not your fault that your boss doesn’t make it safe for people to be honest.

6. Be prepared for a counteroffer.It’s rarely a good idea to accept a counter offer. After all, there were reasons you started looking for a new job to begin with, and those reasons will still be there. Even if money was your sole motivator, do you really want to stay at a job where the only way to get the raise you deserve is by being on the verge of leaving?

7. Offer to do whatever you can to make the transition go smoothly.For instance, leave thorough documentation of how you do your job, contacts, passwords, and so forth. Make sure all that all of your email has been answered, your replacement well-trained (if time allows for that), and remaining work well organized. Offering to be available for a phone call or two with your replacement after you leave is optional but can generate significant good will.

8. Don’t get “senioritis.”If you check out during your last few weeks, it will show and can damage the reputation you built previously. So no matter how much your mind might be on your new job, make sure that you stay engaged: Don’t start coming in late and leaving early, and care as much about leaving your work in good shape as you cared about your performance up until now.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.


{ 19 comments… read them below }

        1. Jennifer*

          Thanks for the link Alison.

          P.S. I couldn’t (and still can’t) find the “show all comments” link on the original article. (I’m usually good with that kind of thing…) Where should I be looking?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right below my bio, there’s a black bar that says “reader comments.” In the right part of that bar, there’s a link to “read all comments.” It’s not very noticeable!

  1. Jamie*

    Once my ducks are all properly aligned, I’ll definitely let you know.

    It absolutely wasn’t in a huff – and we’re working on a transition plan now which will make it as smooth as possible for both parties. I gave notice to take effect at the end of first quarter.

    I know two weeks is customary, but some positions require a longer transition and I wanted to extend the professional courtesy. My boss appreciated the longer notice and in return I can interview with transparency and good references from a current employer. I have no ill will toward this company, in fact I’m very sad that it came to this. As much as I’ve loved this job, there were a couple of things which were not going to change; unfortunately for me they became untenable. I wanted to move on while I was still performing at a high level – before my attitude (which has become more and more visible) hurt my career.

    That doesn’t make them a lousy company, nor me a crappy employee – reasonable people can disagree in good faith on matters of business.

    I wish I could say it was because I had another job lined up, offer letter in hand, but I don’t. As stupid as this may sound to some people I’m acting on instinct and it just felt like the right time to rip off the band-aid.

    I may have made the biggest mistake of my life – time will tell.

      1. Jamie*

        I’ve had former employers who would escort you out when you gave notice, so I certainly don’t advise this approach for everyone.

        As you’ve said before, an employer doesn’t earn the right to honesty and long notice periods if they punish people for resigning. But this is the benefit to the employer of being decent about transitions – there are fewer blindsides.

        1. Jamie*

          Edited to add that while I gave notice this morning, a subsequent conversation resulted in the delay of accepting my resignation until after the first of the year.

          Year end is the busiest time of the year for me and both sides thought it wise to save the formalities until we revisit this after year end close.

          Kind of like a grace period to make sure this is really what I want and not a decision borne out of exhaustion and now chronic migraines.

          I know it makes me sound like a flake, people trying to protect me from myself, but I’m really not. I appreciate the fact that they’ve recognized the burnout for what it is and want to give me some time to see if I can recharge and stay or if it’s time to move on.

    1. CK*

      Good for you, Jamie. Leaving a job without having another lined up is one of the hardest decisions to make, but ultimately I think you’ve thought it through well enough and it sounds like it’s the right one for you. I’m also glad to hear that your company is understanding in giving you that “grace period” until the new year, although it does sound like you’ve already made up your mind.

      I’ve left two jobs without having anything lined up. The first time, it was like ripping off the band-aid. I was in a role that I didn’t enjoy and although I liked the company and loved my boss, there was no future for me there. My boss knew this well enough as we had a really great working relationship and he wasn’t surprised when I told him I wanted to move on. I actually didn’t hand in a formal resignation – he preferred that I leave it open-ended and take as much time as I needed. Having this out in the open meant that I didn’t have to lie about having interviews (in fact, he would get excited for each one and want to know how it went, etc). I left about 2 months after the initial conversation with my boss. I was lucky that it worked out the way it did. Had it not been for that boss, I’m not sure if I would’ve left in that manner.

      The second time… not so smooth, but ultimately I didn’t like the changes that were going on in the organization and I wasn’t happy with playing the office politics. Luckily I was able to get a temp job right away – and I’m still temping until I find the right opportunity.

      I hope everything works out for you.

    2. Anonymous_J*

      I applaud your bravery. I do. I should have done the same thing four years ago, but I’m afraid to.

      I’m doing my best to take one day at a time and just keep applying for jobs, but this job is definitely affecting my health, so I’m still thinking and weighing my options.

      All the best of luck to you, Jamie! My hat is off to you!

  2. suzanne*

    I left a job a few years ago after 10 months. I hadn’t quit a job without having another lined up for 20+ years, but it was not a good fit and the place dripped mis-management. Was it a good decision? I’m still not sure. After 3 years, I’ve still not found a decent full-time position with benefits. At times, I have doubts about having left a full time benefitted job, but then I think back to the huge knot in my stomach every morning as I drove to work, and how after 10 months I still had no direction or feedback about what I was supposed to be doing, and how at this place, it was obvious that women were considered lesser beings, so I figure, at least I sleep better. Poor, yes, but rested.

  3. Jennifer*

    I have just been offered a job and am finalising the details with my future employer, so this is perfect timing for me.

    My question has to do with giving notice. At my current job, we have had a number of people leave this year and each of them gave 1-3 months notice. The professional standard seems to be at least 1 month notice and because it’s a small professional community, I don’t want to give less than that.

    My new employer wants me to start as soon as possible, but I’ve told them I would have to give one month’s notice to my current employer (so couldn’t start until the end of January).

    Here’s the problem: You recommend (wisely) to talk to my boss in person; however, he won’t be back in the office until the new year (i.e., 2 weeks). This would mean I either give only 2 weeks notice to my current employer or ask my future employer to wait 6 weeks for me to start.

    Alternatively, I could give notice to the CEO (my boss’s boss). I’m just concerned my boss would be upset that I didn’t tell him personally. (He’s pretty emotional.)

    Any suggestions?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Give the notice to the CEO — you have no choice in this situation. Explain to the CEO (and to your boss when he’s back) that you wanted to make sure they had the maximum notice possible, which is why you’re doing it this way.

      1. Jennifer*

        Thanks Alison. That had been my instinct too.

        I think I’ll wait to tell my team and coworkers until after I’m able to talk to my boss in person (unless the CEO suggests otherwise).

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