The best way to quit your job (without burning any bridges)
So you’ve decided to quit your job, and you’re feeling anxious. This is expected. Maybe this was your first job – straight out of varsity. Maybe you just got a raise and a promotion for being such a stellar employee. On the other hand, you might be leaving because you have a horrible boss, and you don’t know if you can handle his reaction when you say “Ciao!”.
In some ways, quitting your job is similar to a break-up, and there are good and bad ways to do it. It may not matter what your ex-boyfriend’s family and friends think of you, but it does matter what impression you leave at your ex-job since it impacts on all future career opportunities. No matter how well you worked during your employment, the way you part will leave a lasting impression. Here’s how to make sure it’s a good one.
Why do you want to quit your job?
The reason we leave anything – a city, a country, a husband or a business, often boils down to one of two motivations: we run from something, or we run to something. If you’re running away, make sure that the elements you’re trying to away from, won’t simply follow you into the new position. One useful way to assess this is by listing the pros and cons of staying and leaving. Then, get someone you trust to go through the list with you, playing devil’s advocate on all the reasons you listed. Unless you are absolutely sure that 1.) the new opportunity will be better than the current one, and 2.) you can’t get what you’re looking for at your current role, you may be ready to move ahead.
In my experience, people who want to move to something tend to be in a better position than those who want to move away from something. More often than not, what we want to run away from is in some way part of ourselves, and we just end up taking the problems with us in a different form.
What is the best time to give notice?
Unfortunately, there is no good time to give notice, but there are certainly bad times and worse times, so aim to avoid the latter. Throwing in the towel in the middle of a massive project, where you carry most of the moving pieces, is probably a worse time. Leaving just before your role eases up a bit, might be a better time. Choose wisely – thinking about the impact on your colleagues and superiors.
Before you make the announcement, ensure you have the following in place.
1. You have a concrete offer from the new employer
There are certainly times when you can’t avoid being between jobs. If you have the option to stay on until you find something else, always stay on. Gaps in your career are stressful, create unnecessary friction and do not reflect well on your C.V. Even if you want to start your own business, make sure you have a substantial plan in place, that can carry you for at least 3 to 6 months. Too many people jump ship in desperation, with no life-jacket to carry them to the next one. It’s not just an impulsive decision for you – it also tells your future employer that you might do the same to them.
2. You are prepared for the changes at your current job
The minute you give notice, the entire dynamic of your role changes from “job description” to “job-description + managing relationships + tying up loose ends + answering questions about why you’re leaving + handing over any unfinished tasks”. If the last few weeks of your work wasn’t a little harder than usual, you probably missed a few beats, so make sure you are prepared for the transition period.
3. There are at least 2 weeks before you need to go
Unless your company’s termination-clause specifies more time, give them at least 2 weeks notice before your last day. Not only is it courteous, but it’s practical, since you want to give your employer time to find someone else, and may even need to do a hand-over to the new person. The smoother you help make the transition for your company, the more they’ll love you for it. If a smooth transition will take more time, give it to them. There’s nothing that says “fantastic employee” like someone who’s willing to put in the effort, even when they are legally allowed to jump ship. It shows integrity and dignity.
Even if you’re leaving because you dislike your boss, colleagues or work-environment, that has nothing to do with how you leave. Your behaviour should never be a reflection of theirs: it should be an expression of your values. Leave in a way that serves s an example. It doesn’t matter if they don’t notice it: this is about more than the impression you leave: it’s about the type of character you shape. If you are the type of person that can be the good guy despite a negative environment, anyone would want to hire you in a heartbeat.
What is the best way to quit your job?
1. Tell your boss first.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about your boss, and how much you want to gossip about your decision beforehand, always tell them first. Not only is it respectful to their position, but you also allow them the opportunity to manage any impact of your decision on the team and the broader business.
2. Do it in person
We shouldn’t need to say this, but in this day and age, where even divorces happen over text, we may need to drive this point home. There are circumstances where this is not possible to have a face-to-face conversation. So, if you have to choose, here are your options from best-to-worst:
A) In person
B) In person
C) Over a video-call
D) Over the phone
E) Over an email (absolute worst case scenario)
In options B-E, make it absolutely explicit why it was impossible to have the conversation in person. (And “I didn’t have the guts to” is not an acceptable reason, by the way.)
3. Prepare for the conversation with your boss
Your boss will have questions, so you should be ready to give them answers. In fact, if you were a stellar employee and you recently received a raise, your boss would want to use this opportunity to persuade you to stay. ‘Why quit your job, when we can just make things better?’ Be ready for it! If you’re not, you may be caught off-guard by all the perks, money and promises laid at your feet.
The best way to prepare is to think through these questions and present the answers up-front. This tells your boss that you thought ahead, you have made up your mind, and that you want to make this move as easy for them as possible. In basic human language: it shows that you care! Here are some answers to prepare before the meeting:
- What is your transition plan? Think about the who, the how, the what, and be prepared to carry the extra load during your transition. You can even create a transition-document, that can serve as a reference or training manual for your replacement. This shows tremendous work-ethic, especially if it is not within your job description.
- What is your response to a counteroffer? An exit-conversation is not the same as a negotiation for better compensation. If you’re not prepared, though, the former will soon turn into the latter. How much are you worth? If there is a price, your reasons for leaving may not have been the best. You need to be prepared for your boss to entice you to stay on with promises of new benefits or responsibilities. What if they promise to double your pay, give you more vacation, and fire the person you dislike? Think about the most outrageous offers they could put on the table – that way, you will be prepared for anything less. And, if they do put these on the table, be ready to negotiate terms that are crystal-clear. Too many people have been talked into staying on, based on empty promises that ‘things will get better’. If money could solve the situation, though, you may not be leaving for the right reasons: then you should have had a negotiation, not an exit-conversation. Go back to question one and make sure you are leaving for legitimate reasons.
- Would you be willing to stay longer? Depending on the situation, your boss may want you to stay longer. Be ready for the question, and with the maximum amount of time you are able to offer.
- Will you be able to leave today? Company policies may enforce this once you have the conversation with your boss. In this case, make sure you don’t leave anything behind, since they may not allow you back into the building.
- What can you thank your boss for, specifically? Whether you loved or hated your boss, it is important to list some qualities you’d like to honour them for, and contributions you’d like to thank them for. Words of affirmation are one of the most powerful (and under-utilized) gifts in the workplace. Again, it shows that you care, but it also counts in your favour, should you request a letter of recommendation.
Keep the conversation professional, positive and pragmatic
If you’re leaving a job at the gates of hell, you may feel like getting all those pent-up emotions and unsaid aggression on the table. Don’t. You can process your feelings, personal hang-ups and frustrations with family, friends and your therapist, but this is a time to make sure you leave a professional, courteous mark. Even if certain things are wrong in the company – if you can’t talk about them in an objective, constructive way, don’t talk about them at all.
It’s okay to be vague, but don’t be avoidant
“It’s not you, it’s me.” It’s may be the most cliché break-up line, but the principle works: your boss doesn’t need to know why you’re leaving, or even where you’re going to. You are more than welcome to share the details with them, but it is entirely up to you. When in doubt, just keep it vague – there’s nothing wrong with “I’m ready for a new kind of challenge”; “This is a better opportunity for me”; “They gave me an offer I can’t refuse”; “It is an important step in my career progression.”
“What does she have that I don’t” another cliché from the world of romcoms, some bosses may feel similar when you leave them for another company. They may want to tease out the details and see if they can do better. You can answer with something like “They have a few interesting opportunities that I am excited about.”; or you can even say: “Maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side, but I have made my decision, and am ready to take the risk.”
Remember: You don’t owe your boss an explanation beyond what you want to give. What you do owe them, is to honour your job-description with flying colours, until the very last minute.
4. Inform your colleagues and mentors
No matter how uncomfortable you feel about telling people you’re leaving, make an effort to sit them down, and have personal, face-to-face conversations with them. This is especially true when dealing with mentors, superiors or anyone who’s made a contribution to your career. Thanking them for specific things they have done, and honouring their role in your career is the best parting gift you can give.
Treat your last week at work like your first week
When in doubt about something, simply ask yourself this: “How would I have handled this, if it was my first week on the job?” Do you remember that time when you still wanted to impress everyone, spent extra time doing things that were above and beyond your job description, double-checking each email before sending it out? Bring back that level of commitment before you leave. Even though first impressions last, last impressions linger – so leave in a way you want to be remembered.
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