So you’ve found a new position, decided to start your own business, or want to go back to school and take your career in a totally different direction. Regardless of the reason, the time has come for you to quit your job and move forward in your career. Quitting your job, however, isn’t as easy as putting in your notice and having a celebratory cocktail — it takes some preparation, and there’s definitely a right and wrong way to do it.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the quits rate — or the number of people quitting their jobs voluntarily — is the highest it has been since 2001, in part because unemployment is low, and there are more jobs available. That gives people more room to be picky and chase what they want rather than what they really need. But there’s still a way to do that gracefully, so here’s how to quit your job without burning bridges (and burning up all your future references in the process).
You should lay the groundwork ahead of time.
You should ideally start your exit strategy a few months before you leave so that you don’t take your boss totally by surprise, according to Rusty Rueff, an investor, advisor, and venture coach for startup companies. He writes in an article for Glassdoor that you should balance “being open and being too open about the fact that you are thinking about leaving a company.”
He recommends having general conversations about your hopes and ambitions with your boss starting about three months ahead of when you plan to put in your notice. Talk about what you’re looking for in a career and ways you hope to grow that maybe your current position doesn’t offer (but don’t point this out). Then, when the time comes, your manager will be more prepared and understanding.
Prepare your teammates and those you work with — without giving too much away.
If you share your workload with other people, try to be ahead of the game before you quit, so that you’re not leaving them with a cumbersome amount of work. But experts warn that you should not gossip with your coworkers about why you’re leaving — even if you are leaving as the result of a bad boss or poor treatment by the company. You also should not tell your coworkers you’re going to quit before you tell your boss face to face. “Learn the essential lesson of being a politician: There is only one story, told one way, and you stick to it,” Len Schlesinger, a professor at Harvard Business School, told The Harvard Business Review. “That way nobody can ever say they heard anything different.”
Meet with your boss in person and be as flexible as possible on the timing of your departure.
You should always tell your boss that you’re leaving during an in-person, one-on-one meeting, “unless absolutely impossible,” according to career coach and strategist Adunola Adeshola. She also recommends keeping what you say short and sweet. “The trick is to keep the details minimal and to focus on the positive,” she writes for Forbes. Thank your boss for the opportunities they have given you, and focus on how excited you are to begin the next step in your career. Daniel Gulati, the coauthor of Passion & Purpose tells Harvard Business Review that, "the more transparent you are, the more likely you are to preserve and build on the relationships you already have."
Adeshola recommends wrapping up the conversation by discussing how you plan to transition out of your role, maybe even offering a transition document that specifies what you do each day and any current project. You will also need to state when your last day will be, which might be set in stone if you’ve already accepted an offer at another company, but Rueff recommends being as flexible as possible. “Remember, you will likely need them for references in the future,” he writes. If you’ve been at the company for a long time, or if you carry a lot of responsibilities, you might want to give at least three weeks notice to help the company prepare for your departure. You will also need to draft a formal resignation letter, and you can find examples of those here.
Be prepared for every possible response from your employer.
A few things could happen when you put in your formal notice with your boss: they might want to put together a counter offer, or they might want you to leave that day. You should figure out ahead of time whether you’d be willing to stay for more money or something else you desire should your company present a counter-offer. If you have accepted another job offer or opportunity elsewhere, though, Rueff recommends being firm from the start of your discussion with your boss. “Be clear there is nothing they can do to keep you there and that you are not running away from your company but running towards something new, exciting, challenging and different,” Rueff writes for Glassdoor.
Your company might also ask you to leave immediately, even if you give two weeks’ notice, especially if you accepted a job offer with a competitor, according to Adeshola. Prepare for that possibility by backing up “any projects and essentials that belong to you and be prepared to turn everything else over,” she writes for Forbes.
Exit gracefully and graciously.
Once you’ve put in your formal notice and a resignation letter, you should work with your boss to ensure you “tie up loose ends” during your last few weeks, according to Harvard Business Review. You should also work as hard during your last few days as you did when you began your job, and be grateful to your colleagues and managers for the time you spent working with and learning from them.
You should also create a transition document with any important information about your projects, any clients or s that you work with directly, and the information for the team or person who will be picking up some of your duties once you leave, according to Glassdoor. You should also send a transition email a few days ahead of your departure so that clients and teammates know who to once you leave.
Human resources may also ask you to do an exit interview, and there’s a lot of disagreement among employment experts regarding how honest you should be during the interview. Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of You Can't Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work, told Business Insider that it’s a balance. You want to be honest without hurting someone’s reputation, gossiping, or revealing too much personal information.
“Even if you are leaving under difficult circumstances, take the perspective that the organization needs you to be honest, otherwise the entire process is a waste of time,” Kerr told Business Insider. But "if you catch yourself ever saying, 'Can I be completely blunt here?' be very cautious about how you proceed. Often, this phrase is code for taking off the gloves or wanting to say something that might cause offense."
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert told Business Insider that you should imagine that everything you’re saying is being written down and could be made publicly available to the company. Think about how you want to be remembered, and stay calm. At the end of the day, you’re moving forward, and you want to make sure you can do that on the best terms possible.