The Proper Way to Quit a Job
[This article was updated in March 2017]
Thinking about quitting your job??? Seems like a crazy topic for a blog aimed at job-seekers, eh? Well, the fact is many job-seekers find new opportunities BEFORE they leave their old jobs. From a recruiter’s perspective, that is the traditional goal of a “Head Hunter” – to get someone to leave one job and go to another. [Read “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters” for more on how “Head Hunters” differ from other types of recruiters.] And it goes without saying that a candidate who is currently working somewhere is perceived in a better light than an unemployed job-seeker by most potential new employers. So naturally, it’s a really bad idea to quit a job without having another job already lined up – unless the circumstances are pretty drastic at your current company. That said, people choose to switch jobs for all kinds of reasons: they find a better opportunity that pays more money, offers better chances for advancement, is a better fit for their skills, is with a company that has a better culture, etc. There are also the typical negative reasons why people would be looking to leave a job in the first place: feeling underpaid and/or under-appreciated, conflicts with the boss or co-workers, poor company culture or morale, unpopular leadership changes, company is in financial trouble, fears of impending layoffs or staff reductions, planned company reorganization or relocation, dead end job with no possibility for advancement, etc. Whether the economy is up or down, lots of people are still working, and still switching jobs. In fact, the total number of job changes the average person will have over their lifetime has risen dramatically in recent years.
As a recruiter, I’ve counseled many candidates through the process of giving notice to their employers, and I know it’s something that scares a lot of people. It’s been said that quitting a job may be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life — comparable with a death in the family or a divorce. The actual act of giving notice to your employer is not something that most people have a lot of experience with. So here are some tips and some advice on how to leave on the best of terms, in as professional a manner as possible, and without burning any bridges. [Read “The Golden Rule for Business: Don’t Burn Bridges” for a more detailed explanation of why this is so important.] Typically, what causes a bridge to be burned is what the employer does when hit with the news of a resignation, and how the employee reacts to that.
A Resignation Letter Template:
Dear (Supervisor’s Name):
This is to inform you that today I am submitting my resignation of employment which will become effective as of (Last Day of Employment).
I appreciate all that (Company Name) has afforded me, but after careful consideration I have made an irreversible decision to accept a new position. I am confident that this move is in my best interest, as well as that of my family and my career. I know that you will respect my decision.
I wish all the best for (Company Name) in the future. I will use the remainder of my time with the company to have all my work in order by my last day of employment.
(Type and Sign Your Name)
The best time to give notice is on a Friday afternoon. That gives your boss less time to react, ask questions or to argue, and gives everyone the weekend to calm down, absorb and accept the news. Use the resignation letter shown above, address it to your immediate supervisor, sign it and make a copy for your records. In addition, prepare a list of projects and activities that you are currently working on, and their status. Hand the letter to your boss and tell him/her that you are submitting your resignation effective on the date indicated (typically 2 weeks from the day you give notice) and that you have prepared a list of your projects and activities and their status. Say that when they feel it is appropriate, you are prepared to discuss what you can complete in your final 2 weeks and who you should turn certain projects over to, etc. Your objective will be to make the transition as smooth as possible.
By the way … giving 2 weeks notice is a standard professional courtesy that is not actually required in many cases. In the United States¹, most people are employed “at will” – a legal term which means that they can quit any time for any reason (or no reason at all) with or without giving advanced notice. Of course, the reverse is also true: they can be fired at any time for any reason (or no reason at all) with or without advanced notice. I’ve seen cases where a person gave their 2-week notice, only to be told to clear out their desk and leave the premises that day! While not a very common response by a company, it’s not unheard of … and certainly within the company’s rights. They would then only have to pay that person up through the last day they actually worked. The much more common responses (especially if you were considered a valued employee) are what follows:
What may happen:
Do not expect your boss to be supportive. It is not in their best interest for you to leave and they probably don’t have a contingency plan for your departure. Be prepared for a wide range of emotions, from anger to remorse. Your boss may try to flatter you for the good job you’ve done, promise you things to get you to stay … and when all else fails try to make you feel guilty. (“We’ve done so much for you, and this is what we get in return?!”) The best thing you can do is talk as little as possible. Let them vent. Don’t get drawn into the emotion … that’s how you unintentionally burn bridges. Simply remain calm, and stick to your guns. As the resignation letter says, your decision is “irreversible.”
The Questions You’ll Get:
Your boss will probably ask you a lot of questions in an attempt to gather information that they can use to cast reasonable doubt on your decision, and possibly get you to change your mind. Remember that your objective is to not burn your bridge. Answer the questions professionally but in a general (vague) way, and without sharing any details. The more details you provide, the more likely it is that you will get into a debate. If you win that debate, you will not only have resigned but you will have rubbed their noses in it. Not a good idea! Here are the most typical questions you’re likely to get from your boss, and suggestions on how to handle them:
- Why do you want to leave the company? The best way to handle it is to say something like: “I appreciate all the opportunities you have afforded me however I have accepted an opportunity I cannot turn down and that I feel is good for my career.” Do not say anything negative about your current job, the company, or any of the people you worked with there! And this includes comments on Social Media. DO NOT post negative comments about your boss, your co-workers or your place of employment on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or anywhere else online! Such venting can potentially do irreparable damage to your reputation — both with your former associates and with your future employers. (Yes, your future boss will see those comments and wonder what you’ll be saying about him/her at some point down the road.) Keep your sour grapes to yourself!
- Where are you going to work? Never tell your current boss where you are going to work! There are many reasons for this rule, but they all boil down to this: nothing good can come from them knowing where you are going before you get there … and without spelling it out, I’ll just say that it’s entirely possible that bad things could happen from them finding out who your new employer will be. [See comment #30 below.] The bottom line is that they simply don’t need to know. All you have to say is: “While I appreciate your curiosity, I would like to keep where I am going confidential.” That may end the questioning. If they continue to ask, just say: “For my remaining time here I’d like to concentrate on my work and help make the transition as smooth as possible – and I know that if we get into all these side issues, we’ll be rehashing this for remainder of my stay.” And, no social media announcements or updates to your profiles until after you’ve started your new job.
- How much money did they offer? Simply say: “I appreciate your asking, but that is a confidential matter between me, my new employer and my family.” Do not allow money to become a bargaining point, or open yourself up to a possible counteroffer. That almost never ends well!
- How did you find this position? Whether you found it through answering an ad, through networking, through a recruiter, or they simply found you … again, it’s really none of their business. A good answer, which is generally truthful but vague, is: “I found it through a personal contact of mine.”
- What can we do to keep you? This is the biggest trap of a question! Your immediate response should be: “Although I appreciate your asking, there is nothing you can offer. I am committed to my decision.” If you hesitate when asked that question, it might be interpreted as an invitation to convince you to stay. Then they will keep hounding you relentlessly. Assuming that you ultimately turn them down anyway, you will have then probably burned your bridge. Conviction is important here. If you’re not sure about your decision, then you shouldn’t resign to begin with!
The most typical response by any boss who doesn’t want to lose an employee who is quitting is to come up with a counteroffer (more money, a promotion, etc.) That is a topic for another blog [“Counteroffers: Just Say No”] … but suffice it to say, accepting a counteroffer is almost always a REALLY BAD IDEA! 80% of all people who accept counteroffers are no longer with their company six months later.² It’s best to keep repeating that your decision to move on is final and irreversible. Remain firm, stay confident and move forward with a positive attitude. Leave in as professional a manner as possible, so as not to burn a bridge. You never know when or where the people from that former company will re-appear in your future!
¹ As many astute readers have pointed out, employment laws, the “at-will” status and requirements for giving notice may vary outside of the United States.
² As reported in the Wall Street Journal:
1) Business Week published a set of statistics revealing that nine out of ten candidates who accepted a counter offer were back on the streets looking within six months.
2) Statistics compiled by the National Employment Association confirm the fact that over 80% of those people who elect to accept a counter offer and stayed, are no longer with their company six months later.