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How to Quit–Nicely

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When you are quitting a job, it is an ideal time to keep in mind the old saying, “it’s not personal, it’s business.”

That’s not a favorite phrase of mine, because it tends to be an excuse for people to treat other people in less than ideal ways. But because a lot of emotions are triggered–in you, your boss, and your colleagues–when you leave a job, it is a good reminder that you should keep a lid on your feelings and follow professional norms.

First, never, ever, leave in an angry moment. It is just not worth it. If you don’t have another job, or other reason you are leaving such as going to school or staying home with your children, make sure quitting, and quitting now, is the right choice for you and your career. (Here are some questions to ask before you resign.)

But when you are ready to go, here are the basics:

  • Wait until you have accepted another offer in writing before you announce that you are leaving.
  • Tell your employer first, not your colleagues.
  • Give two weeks notice. Some employers will  ask you to leave sooner, others will request more time, but offer to stay for two weeks. More senior employees, or those in the midst of projects might want to give a longer time, but whether that is a good idea depends on your relationship with your employer, your industry, and, of course, the needs of your new employer. Employers like to make people feel they owe them something, but you don’t owe anyone anything than professionalism. I’ve heard of many companies that simply ask people to leave the day they resign, so be sure you are prepared for that possibility before you give notice.
  • During those two weeks, finish up as much as you can. Make notes about project status, process and clients. Don’t cut out early and come in late and spend your days online shopping. Even if that’s your typical workday, make an effort to give more, not less, before you go. This is the time to stay on that high road.
  • Be supportive of your colleagues, and don’t make them feel bad about staying in their own jobs if the entire environment is toxic.
  • Be prepared for some awkward moments. Some managers and some colleagues feel betrayed when someone leaves, but that kind of response doesn’t belong in the workplace. They may be disappointed, but they also need to respect your choices.
  • Express gratitude for your managers and colleagues’ assistance during your tenure.
  • If you want to stay in touch, ask about connecting with them on LinkedIn and other sites, and collect personal email addresses. Do not assume everyone wants to stay in touch with you if you have had a difficult time at your current job.
  • For those colleagues who have been good during your tenure, now is good time to give them recommendations online.
  • Discuss with your manager how to notify clients or customers about your departure. Agree on what is said, but don’t expect your former employer to direct people to your new job or even your personal email.
  • Send a departing email to people on your teams. No matter how you feel, be gracious. The purpose of the email is simply to inform people that you are leaving, a professional courtesy. Keep it brief and to the point. Be sure to express appreciation for your peers and the company and end on an upbeat note.
  • If you have an exit interview, be as candid as you feel comfortable, but don’t feel that you should, or must, tell people everything they did wrong. Unless you have a very close relationship with your boss, and even then, most people just don’t like to hear negative feedback. If you have specific ideas about aspects of the job that might be improved, whether a process, a new hire, or suggestions for your replacement, voice them. But delving into emotions and relationships or “clearing the air,” usually doesn’t work.
  • You have made your decision, and it is up to your managers to decide how they can hold on to good employees in the future.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.