everything you need to know about quitting your job

Getting ready to quit your job can be weirdly nerve-wracking. Not only are people often anxious about leaving the familiar for the unknown, but actually telling your boss you’re resigning can rattle the nerves of even generally poised people.

If you’re getting ready to quit your job soon, here’s everything you need to know about how to do it with grace.

1. Do it in person. This isn’t a message to send by email or by leaving a letter on your manager’s desk. (Of course, if you don’t work in the same location as your boss – or if you or your boss are traveling – a phone call is fine.) Ask for a meeting, and tell your boss face-to-face that you’re moving on. Say something like this: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here. But after a lot of thought, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on, and my last day will be ___.”

2. Be prepared for your manager to ask you why you’re resigning. If your manager has a track record of taking feedback gracefully and generally makes it safe to be honest, you might consider sharing the factors that led you to look for another job (such as long hours, pay, or limited prospects for advancement). But if you suspect your manager won’t respond well to candor, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply explain that an opportunity fell in your lap, you were made an offer you couldn’t pass up, or you wanted a shorter commute, or whatever safely bland answer is likely to better preserve the relationship.

3. Resignation letters are documentation, not message delivery. Never resign by letter. Your employer might ask you to provide a written resignation letter to document your decision, but that’s strictly for documentation purposes; it should never be the way you announce the news to your manager. That also means that they should be short and sweet; this isn’t the time to get into grievances. Two simple sentences are fine: “After four years at XYZ Company, I’ve decided to move on, and November 1 will be my last day. I wish the organization every success and will work to make my transition as smooth as possible.”

4. Give at least two weeks notice if at all possible. Except in very unusual circumstances, you should give at least two weeks notice because it’s so much the professional convention that giving less risks burning bridges and harming your reputation. However, in the rare case where your circumstances don’t allow that (such as a health issue), explain the situation to your boss and be sincerely apologetic.

5. Try to find out ahead of time how your employer typically handles resignations. Some employers have people leave the same day they give their resignation (often because of concerns about access to client data). You want to know ahead of time if this is the case, so that you aren’t caught off guard by it and so that you have time to clean out your office ahead of time at your own pace, rather than with someone standing over you with a box.

6. Know how you’ll handle a counteroffer. If your employer offers you more money to try to convince you to stay, will you accept it? Is there anything they could offer you that would reverse your decision? It can be useful to figure this out ahead of time so that you’re not caught off-guard if it happens. That said, in most cases, it’s not a good idea to accept a counteroffer. There were reasons you started looking in the first place, and you want to work somewhere where you can get a raise without threatening to leave.

7. If your boss is known to handle resignations badly, be prepared for that. Most managers understand that employee resignations are a normal part of doing business. But some managers take it personally and become angry or even outright abusive. If your boss has a track record of that, be prepared for it. You should still offer two weeks notice because that’s the professional thing to do, but if you’re yelled at or otherwise mistreated, you might calmly say something like, “I wanted to offer two weeks to help transition my work, but I’m not willing to be yelled at. It’s clear that you’re upset with me. Does it still make sense for me to be in the office for the next two weeks, or would it better if I were to leave now?” But assuming that doesn’t happen…

8. Offer to do whatever you can to make the transition go smoothly. For example, write up thorough documentation of key processes, contacts, and passwords; make sure your files are well organized; and leave behind a write-up of where key projects stand. Offering to be available for a phone call or two with your replacement after you leave is purely optional but can generate a lot of good will if you’re willing to do it.

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

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    Are resignation letters not standard then? I was taught you should always write one whether it was requested or not. It’s so ingrained that instead of flipping the table at my last job (metaphorically), I went back to my desk to write one first.

    To be fair, it may be because it gives time to cool my head so I can quit politely and retain my dignity. Actually flipping the table and speaking my mind would’ve been satisfying but probably damaging in the long run.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Side note: you can tell it’s Monday when my grammar, sentence structure and tense agreement fall apart. -_-

    2. Kyrielle*

      I don’t exactly have a large amount of experience here – the company I was at did want a resignation letter – but I’m told other places don’t care. It can’t hurt to have one prepared in case they ask for it, though in my case they wanted a resignation email. I just went back to my desk, plugged in similar verbiage to Alison’s, and tweaked to fit my actual resignation.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Many places will ask for one as documentation, but not all. My point, though, was that they’re documentation — not the way you deliver the message. You deliver the message in a conversation, not through the letter. Then, if they want the letter, that comes afterwards.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      My manager did ask for one at my last job after I resigned verbally, but the job before that, I didn’t have to write one.

    5. JM in England*

      I’ve always written resignation letters, both for documentation purposes AND as a professional courtesy. Also, I’ve handed them to my boss in person (after telling them verbally first of course).

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        ^ This.

        I have had one with me, but have always spoken to my boss in person.

      2. Sarahnova*

        Yes, I inform my boss in person, and have the letter with me to hand over at the end of our conversation. That said, in the UK we do have formal employment contracts so written notice of resignation is indeed standard, as it indicates you are terminating the contract.

  2. Kyrielle*

    Thank you for gathering these in one place. I found / read most of them through you before resigning my last job, and they were really valuable to me – mostly in giving me confidence. (Still hard to go in and resign, especially because I know how much I had become a part of ‘who is always here and can do this’…and suddenly I wasn’t. But so it goes.)

    As an aside, along with ‘know whether you will accept a counteroffer’ – if the answer is no, under no circumstances, also have a good way to say that. You don’t want to accidentally blurt out “you couldn’t offer me enough!” or “only if you fire senior management!” in the moment. A simple “no” will work but may be taken personally – you know your management better than anyone else, but consider it.

    Anyway, I found a very good (and, as it happens, honest for me) response that was very respectful but still left them no wiggle room to escalate the counter offer, or hopefully feel bad about it. “That’s very generous of you, but I’ve already given my commitment to $NewCompany and I am not willing to break my word to them.”

    That may or may not work for others, so I put it out there to consider. :)

    1. T3k*

      I need to keep this in mind when I finally get out of where I am. I keep thinking they’d have to double my salary to keep me, but reality is there’s other reasons I want to leave and I should just keep it to a simple “thanks but no thanks” comment.

    2. Ama*

      Excellent point — the day I went in to resign was the day my old bosses *finally* settled on the job description for a position I had originally told them I was interested in (because any position would have been better than my then job). I had an easy out in that I could honestly say that I’d always wanted to work for an advocacy non-profit (where my new job was) and couldn’t pass up this chance, but if I hadn’t been moving sectors I definitely might have answered my boss’s “Is there anything we could offer in the new position to induce you to stay?” with something I’d later regret.

    3. Natalie*

      Oo, I like this wording. Fingers crossed I will be quitting soon, and I was slightly concerned about how to handle a counter since the reasons I’m leaving are really unlikely to be solved and on top of that are hard to relay in a professional manner.

  3. Manders*

    Oof, I just got stuck in a very weird resignation situation–both of my bosses just left for a two week vacation, leaving me in charge of the office, and I just accepted another job offer. I put in my notice and my plan for the transition by email since they’re out of the country, but they haven’t responded yet and I’m not sure if they’ve received it (they both have a habit of letting important documents pile up in their inboxes).

    I’m not sure what else to do! I would have resigned in person, but I got the offer literally hours after they left.

      1. Manders*

        Nope, it’s a very small family business, and I’m not part of the family. The owner of the business and his daughter, my supervisor, are on vacation with the owner’s son, who’s also an employee. Under normal circumstances the daughter or the son would handle HR-related stuff, and I’d put in my notice in person to the owner. So all three of the people who I would normally have informed are out of the country and checking their emails infrequently.

          1. Manders*

            Thanks, I’ll give that a try! They’re somewhere in Europe and I’m in America, so I’m not sure if their cell phones will be on and working (and I’m not sure exactly what time zone they’re in–they didn’t give me a lot of details about their plans).

              1. Manders*

                In a case like that, they’d be too far away to do anything in the moment, so I’d contact whoever was responsible for dealing with the emergency (the IT company that sends repairmen, the security for our building, emergency services, etc.) and then I would send an email summary of the situation once the immediate crisis was dealt with. There’s really not that much they could do from Europe that I couldn’t already do from the office.

                I tried calling their phones, but both went straight to voicemail.

  4. tickledpink*

    How do you handle it when you’re a volunteer in two departments at the same non-profit? I’ve given my notice in one department. I’ve agreed to keep the work afloat (the nature of it is that when it is completed for the day, there is more the next day) and stay until I have trained my replacement. Should I set a more definite number of weeks? Is there anything I can do to expedite things in the other department I volunteer in, which recruits volunteers? I work twice a week in the dept I’m quitting from, and the other three days in volunteer recruitment. My replacement has applied, for additional info, and I would be grateful for any advice.

  5. Ellen N.*

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for writing this blog. I find it informative and fun.

    I would not cite wanting a shorter commute as the reason I was quitting if it wasn’t true. In my former field, entertainment business management, there are many firms who won’t hire people who don’t live very close as they have had employees leave citing the commute.

  6. WorkingMom*

    Anecdotally … a few things to NOT do:
    -Don’t email your boss your resignation when you work in the same office… down the hall.
    -Don’t follow up your resignation email with a request to work from home.
    -Don’t take unpaid PTO during your notice period, the whole point of the 2 weeks is to be there to transition out.
    -Don’t blow off your last day. Seriously.

    1. F.*

      Definitely do NOT blow off your last day!! I just got off the phone with an employee who did just that. (Fortunately, he sent his new work contact info to one of his former colleagues, who in turn forwarded it to me since he knew I was looking for ex-employee). He worked in a remote office, and when I called to do his exit interview last Friday, I was informed that he had cleaned out his desk on Wednesday, was out in the field on Thursday, and decided to take PTO on Friday, which was supposed to be his last day. That changed his official resignation date to Oct. 15, creating a problem for our accounting person. He also failed to turn in his parking pass and his time and assignment sheets for last week, which are required for payroll and billing. Fortunately, I reminded him that we owe him some accrued PTO, so I think we’ll be getting what we need pretty soon. Even if your office doesn’t have any official HR exit procedures, always check to be sure before leaving permanently.

    2. LBK*

      Definitely one of my manager’s finest moments was cutting a guy who lost all forms of professionalism during his 3 week notice period. After being “out sick” for the third day in a row, my manager told him to just not bother coming back.

  7. Mike C.*

    I want to stress the “you can leave right now if you really need to” bit. You won’t trash your reputation, and if it’s really the kind of place that is terrible folks will see that on your resume and know.

  8. A Dreamer*

    I am waiting to be able to put this advice to use. I’ve been going crazy at my current job, and just dream of giving notice to see them freak out. Mature? Newp. But I’m so burnt out and mentally dulled by this job and company that I really can’t be buggered to care much more. Given how freaked out they were when I took a 2 week vacation in May, I suspect they will try to get me to extend whatever notice I give them – and at the moment, two weeks is pretty generous in my eyes. The gleeful devil on my shoulder really wants to dream about giving absolutely no notice, but even I would feel bad about that. But the dream certainly makes me smile.

    Now if only the places I’ve interviewed at would speed up their process a bit so I can make my dream a reality.

    1. James M*

      Yeah, just FYI, when they freak out, you’ll make your schadenfreude all the sweeter if you maintain professional decorum.

      1. A Dreamer*

        Oh, that’s the plan. But dreaming of tossing it all to the wind just keeps me somewhat sane. Or at least minimizes the anxiety attacks I get driving to work.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        This is so true. I once quit a terrible situation at a deeply flawed employer.

        I gave a month’s notice, cleaned all my projects up, documented the livin’ daylights out of everything, and didn’t even slack off my final day until after lunch when, really, the only thing left to do were farewell drinks and turn in my equipment.

        My boss (who I kept in touch with) afterward complimented me on how much grace I exhibited in my departure. Other folks who knew the rotten situation I was under also made mention. Pretty sure all of those people will gladly employ me again elsewhere.

        TLDR: I know it’s hard but it’s SO SATISFYING to look the jerky folks straight in the eye and say calmly, “yep, it was time to go, I just want to make sure I leave everything in great shape for my backfill! [inside voice: who I totally know is vapor due to your awful hiring and headcount policies]

  9. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    I would add, be prepared for it to be a little more emotional than you expect. I’ve never made a resignation without getting a little verklempt — even when I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be getting out of there!

    In many ways, submitting your resignation is a lot like a breakup. It might be the best thing you could be doing for yourself, but in the moment it still feels bad. Knowing ahead of time to expect those feelings can be helpful in keeping your composure.

  10. some1*

    I sent a resignation email to deliver the message once, but in my defense it was a paid holiday and I explained in my email that I wanted to let my boss know right away, because by coincidence it was two short work weeks back to back.

  11. Clever Name*

    Also know that you are under no legal (or even moral/ethical!) obligation to fill out an exit interview form. If you are asked to do it in person, use your judgement. It’s totally okay to give really bland answers or white lies, “I can’t think of any ways I’d change how managers handle conflict”. I know of at least one instance where a person exposed some legal wrongdoings during an exit interview, and the person who was doing the illegal things found out and caused problems for this person at their new job. Not cool. Many places are toxic for a reason, and you baring your soul in an exit interview may not change things and may even cause problems for yourself in the long run.

    1. Clever Name*

      Oh, and read any legal agreements they want you to sign. A former company wanted me to sign an agreement where I wouldn’t share company secrets (which I was happy to sign) but they wanted me to foot their legal bill if they decided to sue me (which I crossed out stating that I did not agree to that portion).

    2. Greg*

      My rule on exit interviews is to only offer genuine feedback if you think it will be heeded. Don’t use it as an opportunity to settle grudges. You’re feedback will be ignored, you’ll look petty, and you’ll just burn bridges. The general rule “HR is not there to advocate on your behalf” extends all the way through your tenure with the company.

      That said, if you can offer them constructive criticism divorced from emotion, then do so. For example, “There were no opportunities to move up in the organization” or “The hours weren’t family friendly.” That kind of stuff is far more likely to be heeded, especially if they’re hearing the same thing from others.

  12. TheExchequer*

    Alternatively, I’d like to give some advice for bosses when their employee tells them they are leaving.
    – Do not try to wrangle money for a customer error out of your supposedly valued employee. (Had that happen).
    – Do not be late with the last check. (Had that happen multiple times).
    – Do not decide the last day is a good time to give your leaving employee a review (unless absolutely everything is rainbows and sunshine).
    – Giving your employee a box to take home their stuff rather than making them pack it up is a nice gesture.
    – Double check and make sure things like keys and badges are accounted for *before* the employee leaves.

    1. T*

      Working in IT, I would also have the employee delete the company email profile on their phone before they leave. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a manager at my desk telling me I need to wipe an ex-employee’s phone to delete any existing company email and/or contacts. I always explain that this will wipe their entire phone – pictures, music, documents, etc. but the manager doesn’t care. This is especially true when an employee is fired or a top salesperson leaves (a smart salesperson has already exported their contacts before resigning). If you’re really that concerned, ask them to delete their company email profile before leaving the building or tell them you will wipe their entire phone.

  13. Brett*

    As a further demonstration of my screwy workplace, letters of resignation are required. And they have to be addressed to our appointing authority instead of our boss, who then delivers them to the director of personnel (who hopefully notifies the manager affected).
    If any step along the way goes wrong, e.g. you forget to date the letter, you leave before 2 weeks, you give the letter to the wrong board or the board fails to deliver the letter to the director of personnel, by law you are discharged instead of resigning, which impacts future references and retirement benefits.

    1. Jean*

      What’s to prevent departing employees from following all the protocol re giving the letter to the “correct” board…and then also giving copies to the key people who really, really, really need to know?
      In other words, CYA instead of hoping that the director of personnel manages to get your resignation letter to the right people in a timely fashion.

      Sheesh! With a workplace this screwy, I’m imagining the corridor feels like a wind tunnel as the departing employees hustle to get outta Dodge. Good luck to you in leaving!

  14. Wanna-Alp*

    I had a weird resignation experience at a former workplace. There was a voluntary severance scheme in place at the time, and I resigned by following the advertised procedure for that. I can’t remember whether it involved a resignation letter but it did involve going to see one of the higher-ups (my boss’ boss) to get his signature.

    The higher-up in question took a neutral tone, with no questions about why I was leaving. Fine, no problem. What really really surprised me is that he did not communicate with my boss at all. I asked several weeks later whether he had heard anything. Nothing. Not a word!

    Fortunately I had told my boss myself, several weeks in advance. But I just couldn’t believe that the higher-up had received my resignation and not even mentioned a few words to my boss to check that he was aware. ?!

    So my recommendation for quitting your job would be to make sure proper communications occur, don’t just follow the procedures.

  15. Mirilla*

    Wow, this is a good example of why I have needed this website! Once I secure a job, I planned on giving my resignation via email. My boss and I do not have an open dialogue relationship. I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and sit down with him.

    I can’t imagine he’d be surprised. He arranged a group “air your dirty laundry” meeting recently where problem employee (who has been written up more than once) accused me of doing all the stuff she does. I wasn’t given an opportunity to defend myself. “We don’t want to be here all day going back and forth” or some such nonsense. On what planet is a group bitch session helpful when everyone knows the problem is one person? I have one foot out the door. If he thinks I’m going to wait around until she’s fired (she’s very close to being fired I think), he’s wrong. Serious management issues don’t resolve themselves when one person leaves. If offered more money, I’ll say no, but I’ll say it nicely (thanks for the reminder in this post.)

  16. Greg*

    I agree with Allison that two weeks is a standard professional courtesy, but as I’ve said in previous threads, you should only go beyond two weeks if YOU have a specific reason for it (for example, you want to finish up a project). Don’t be pressured into thinking you owe the organization anything more than that, no matter what they say or how they try to guilt you. If the organization can’t survive you leaving on two weeks’ notice, that’s bad planning on their part. But more likely, it’s simply not true. To paraphrase Charles De Gaulle, the graveyard is filled with indispensable employees.

    1. Mirilla*

      My ex boss (who I still actually miss, apart from this incident) was so reluctant to see me go that he wanted me to call current boss to push back my start date. I said no way. I did go in on a weekend though to train a temp who ended up quitting the next day so even that wasted.

  17. Ms. Piggy*

    Do you have a favorite reference/website for a job-leaving checklist? Things like COBRA, Flex plans, PTO payout, etc. Our HR and Accounting departments are such a mess, I’m nervous something will be missed.

    1. Greg*

      Ooh, that’s a good point. I don’t have a checklist, but one piece of advice I can offer: *Always* move your 401k into a rollover IRA with whatever broker you’re already using.

      Here’s why: Let’s say in the next five years you change jobs two more times. Now you’ve got retirement accounts spread across 3-4 different brokers, each potentially incurring management fees, and you’ll barely be able to keep track of them. Practically speaking, it shouldn’t really matter where you have your money — they all have equivalent funds. But this way, you’re putting all of your retirement money with a single broker selected by you, not some HR flack from your ex-employer.

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