what to think about before you quit your job

If you’re like most people, you have days where you fantasize about quitting your job — getting away from your boss and your coworkers, and maybe even the work itself. But while there absolutely are times when quitting is a good idea — when your boss asks you to do something illegal or unsafe, for instance, or when you’ve been offered a fantastic opportunity somewhere else — most of the time it’s smart to proceed with caution and think through all the consequences before you decide to leave.

Here are seven things to think through before you deliver your resignation.

* The job market is really bad right now. It’s not unusual for a job search to take a year or more these days. And even if your finances allow you to go without work for that long, simply being unemployed, especially for that amount of time, may make it harder to find your next job, because employers tend to prefer to hire people who are already employed.

* Future employers will want to know why you left. You can count on future interviewers asking why you moved on from this job. It’s best if you can explain that you left after a solid stay for a better opportunity – not that you hated your boss or your coworkers drove you crazy, or that you were so bored that you quit with nothing else lined up.

* You won’t qualify for unemployment. In most states, you won’t qualify for unemployment benefits if you resign, only if you’re fired or laid off. If you’re leaving for another job, this won’t matter – but if you’re quitting with nothing lined up, you may find yourself without a financial safety net. Speaking of which…

* You have bills to pay. And even if you have savings, they might not last as long as you need them to. What if your job search takes a year or more? Will you be able to survive that long? Will you have any savings left over at the end of it?

* You won’t actually “show them” anything. People often think that quitting will prove something to their boss – like showing how essential they were to the business, or showing that they have options. But it rarely works out this way: While your employer might be surprised at first, they’ll quickly move on without too much hardship. The decision to quit your job should be made because it’s the right decision for you, not to prove anything to someone else.

* If you haven’t been at your job very long, you risk looking like a job hopper. A stay of less than a year will cause most prospective future employers to ask about what went wrong. And while employers will generally excuse a single short-term stay, if you start to have a pattern of them, the most desirable employers will lose interest in hiring you. If your resume makes you look like a job hopper, smart hiring managers will wonder whether you get bored too easily or can’t hold down a job, and they’ll wonder if they’ll be next on your short-term list.

* There are frustrations at every job. People sometimes quit a job because they don’t like their coworkers or manager or the way their office does something – only to find that their next job has the same problems, or even worse ones. Some aggravations are likely at any workplace, so you want to make sure that you’re being realistic about what you’re likely to find at other companies.

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

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Tiff*

    I wish you had posted this article about 3 weeks ago! I am decent friends with a former co-worker. She left our office about a year ago because of conflict with management/lack of professional advancement. She left us for a position that was a title upgrade at a nationally recognized non-profit. We all thought she was moving on to greener pastures.

    She was miserable at the new job, and couldn’t stand the management. About 5 months later, a position opened up with our organization (but in a different office) she applied and got the job.

    Now….she’s miserable again. The problem is with her boss’s boss, and the management dynamics are dysfunctional. She hates it and she’s actively looking.

    So my question, which is a little more technical (I’ve already given her the ‘maybe it’s you’ speech.):

    Can she just skip mentioning the 5 month position? She doesn’t want to look like a hopper. If she does that, can she just say that she’s been employed by X company for 7 years (that’s the time from her first position and second position with us). Is that allowed?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. Technically it’s not true, and if a company did a thorough verification, they’d probably find out that she left for a while (her dates of employment given by your company won’t match what she says). Some companies won’t do that, though, or will accept her explanation … but others won’t. So it’s risky.

  2. Claire*

    I’m dealing with…half of this right now. Trying to decide if I should “apply” for the position created by the place I’m temping with now. I feel like I should, but I also have a permanent part-time job in my field and it’s hard to commit to a job that I don’t enjoy (but don’t hate, usually) when I can almost support myself on job-in-my-field alone and would ideally go full-time here. I’ve told my temp supervisor that I would leave if I could go full time at my other job even if I was hired on permanently, and she said that was fine, but it still doesn’t feel right. :\ Conflicted.

    1. A Bug!*

      If you’re honest and up-front about the fact that you are not in it for the long run with this company, then you should take them at their word when they say they’re okay with that and would like to have you full-time for however long they can.

      If you want the job, take it without guilt, content that you informed them fully about your intentions and they chose to hire you knowing that.

      But that’s the key point: if you want the job. You may want to opt out just to keep your foot in the door for the job in your field!

      1. Claire*

        Thanks for the advice! It would actually be a part time position (since I’m not willing to leave the job in my field!) which would leave me with two permanent part-times which is…non-optimal, since I’m not eligible for benefits at either place. I don’t want the temp job, but…it’s nonobjectionable, if that makes sense? And I worry that I’d get stuck somewhere worse if it’s a long time (or never!) until I can get full time work in my field. I know it’ll be okay either way, but that almost makes it harder to make a decision.

  3. Jamie*

    Alison is right – we all have those days where the fantasy is to turn in your phone and credit card and sign “Everything I Hate About You” all the way home with the windows down.

    What helps me keep perspective during those days is I think about the person at work who is irritating me the most at the moment and I tell myself that at the next job there are two of them.

    Identical and they are both my boss.

    1. A Bug!*

      (Does signing song lyrics while driving count under “distracted driving” laws, I wonder?)

      I remind myself that every other law firm in the city is way more dysfunctional than my own. With very little exception it’s absolutely true.

      1. Jamie*

        Ha – singing. Letter placement matters!

        I leave the signing to my sisters – she’s an ASL interpreter.

        1. Anonymous_J*

          Yes. I was picturing someone driving along, signing with the windows down. Very amusing!

          (I’m learning sign language, myself.)

  4. Anon*

    All good points, but someone is going to write in about how they did it and it worked out for them, or someone will say they were on the brink of a nervous breakdown and just had to quit without something else lined up. I know what a horrible manager looks like, but unless you can financially handle it, stick it out until you find another decent position. Missed mortgage/rent payments, car payments, student loans and not eating can cause lots of stress too.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. Some day I need to write a post about how just because something worked out for one person does not mean that it’s generally good advice for all to follow.

  5. HR Pufnstuf*

    You won’t actually “show them” anything.
    A great lesson I learned at 19. That was 1985 and I’m still thankful for that manager for not (as I expected) begging me back.

    1. some1*

      And if you are leaving because of management, you won’t show them anyway because they will just dump all your work on your co-workers. People who like and respect you will have a bad last impression of you, and that could stay with you your whole career.

    2. A Bug!*

      You will show someone, of course: the coworkers who have to pick up your slack when you quit in a blaze of glory. (But that’s okay, because you hate them, too!)

      And then you’ll wonder, five years later, why you’re having a hard time getting interviews at certain employers, little knowing that that your blaze burned a bridge you didn’t know you were going to need.

    3. Anonymous*

      I’m always a little surprised how many people don’t learn this lesson. When you leave your boss will hire someone new, that person will do your job, in 6 months often people won’t even think gee I miss Cookie McGee, in a year or two even traces of you might be gone. Companies rarely fall apart because one person leaves, and when they do that person is usually a really, really bad person (embezzlement/law suits) or bad employee (no documentation, something else, I can’t think of a time a company larger than 2 people collapsed from one person and there weren’t legal issues).

  6. Blue Dog*

    Make sure you finances are in order before you do anything rash. It will likely take you much longer than you think before you get another job. Even if everything goes perfectly, it would be naive to think you could get another job in 4-6 weeks. Think you could go that long without a paycheck? Try going 6 months or more.

    Also, you want to make sure any Lines of Credit are in place and that you withdraw your emergency fund and place it in the bank. If your lender were to shut down your Line of Credit, your safety net could disappear overnight (and you will never get another one without a current source of income).

    If the concept of withdrawing all the equity in your home and placing it into a savings account at 0.5% scares the hell out of you, you shouldn’t just walk in and quit your job.

  7. AG*

    I quit my job without anything lined up because my fiance got a great job back in our home state after finishing grad school. It’s been six months and I still don’t have a job. Being unemployed is awful! I never thought it would take this long. I can’t really say that I would go back and do things differently because I know that this was the right move for us long-term, but it *sucks* in the short term.

  8. De Minimis*

    I’m in that situation, although I’m the one who left rathe than the one left behind. My spouse just left her job and is feeling remorse to the point where I almost think we should have just committed to staying apart a few years and both working at our respective jobs.

    That may sound crazy, but two of my co-workers are both doing that with their respective spouses with no definite end date to the separation. I am starting to think it may be less unusual in government positions where people may be more likely to have to relocate for work.

    I think in each case one big reason is that the “trailing spouse” has a job opportunity they do not wish to leave.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I think living apart is becoming fairly common. I know several people doing it or who have done it. My boss relocated here with his spouse a couple years ago. It didn’t work out for her to stay here, so they relocated back to their home and he now has a 2-hr commute by plane every other week. There are so many factors (kids/ages, level of your position, house/market) that I don’t think you can be wrong or right by choosing to move the whole family or deciding to live apart.

  9. Erik*

    I left my job three months ago, with nothing lined up.

    When I worked at my previous job, I was miserable, had a long commute (2+ hours each way) and was going nowhere professionally. I’m sure that my wife was tired of me bitching as well.

    I took a hard look at my financial situation, talked openly with my wife, and gave my notice.

    I’ve been using this time to focus on my MBA degree as a full-time student (which I had originally considered and prepared for anyway, with our financial adviser) and it’s allowed me the flexibility to focus on new skills, build new relationships and examine new areas for growth. This has given me time to re-center myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and this has been reflected in my improved health.

    I know that the market sucks right now, but I know that with some hard work something better will come along. My former colleagues are currently miserable and working in a depressing environment, and I know that I made the right decision.

    1. Maria*

      Yes. Very great points. Sometimes, it’s important for your health to leave a position. I was at my old job for five years and was miserable mentally and physically. I often came home in tears and suffered from stress-induced migraines.
      So I left my job without another lined up…before my health got any worse. My husband and I could financially handle it and since my bonus was coming up a month before I left, I asked if I could have it, which they obliged to. It definitely bought me more time to look. So yes, if all the cards are in the right place, there certainly are situations where I feel that it’s perfectly okay to leave without having another job to go to.

  10. XT*

    I left my job a month ago with a two week notice and nothing lined up- of course I didn’t tell them that, I did tell them I had a job lined up :)

    Normally I don’t do this, however they kept changing my schedule last minute, calling meetings 3 hrs in advance on my day off, and as it kept getting worse and worse I realized my manager just didn’t like me and was most likely trying to push me to quit. Also, I had received a petty write-up that made me believe that she was attempting to get a paper trail started….I have never been written up at any of my previous jobs either.

    I looked at my financial situation and thought long and hard, and concluded that it would be better to quit than to eventually get fired and in the meantime be miserable. I was trying super hard and doing everything I could to get on my manager’s good side, but nothing I did seemed to matter.

    I just received an amazing job offer which is pending my background check. I really hope everything works out! :) I don’t regret my decision, I’ve had a LOT more sleep since I made it.

    1. Abbie*

      Congratulations XT!! I am so happy for you. I have a similar situation. However, I loved my job and my co-workers, but I was stuck in a position with no opportunity for growth. I decided to take a chance, and ended my employment as of 12/31/2012. Since then, I have had two interviews, but not offers yet. The waiting part is the worst, and I am afraid I would just end up taking anything. How long did it take you to get a job? CONGRATULATIONS !! well done!!!

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