It’s estimated that on average, most people will have 12 different jobs during their lives, meaning they either decide to quit or are let go from those positions. About one-third of working adults consider leaving their jobs each year for a new role or career change. One-third have quit a job at some point to completely change fields and start down another professional path.
According to Amy Gallo from Harvard Business Review, the “Great Resignation” following the COVID-19 pandemic has led many people to abandon their jobs. “It seems that the global pandemic has caused many of us to reconsider what we want from our careers (and our employers)—and the strong job market has granted us the freedom to make changes.”
We’ve all been in a place where we needed to quit a job but weren’t sure of the right way to go about it. There’s a chance you’re leaving a team or manager behind who you care about. Or on the other hand, you may be unhappy in your current situation but still don’t want to burn any bridges. Career experts tell us that in many ways, leaving a job is a lot like a romantic breakup. “It’s an interpersonal interaction related to a big decision that’s going to affect a number of individuals,” says Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor.
Whether your reason for leaving a job is because you want a higher salary, to work in a different location, or to have different responsibilities, how you exit a company is just as important as why. Regardless of how you feel when you decide to quit a job, it’s best to act as maturely as possible so your decisions don’t wind up coming back to haunt you. After all, there’s a good chance you want to leave with a solid referral and on good terms without any hard feelings or guilt.
In this article, find out the steps you can take to ensure you quit your job in a professional manner that won’t damage your reputation or negatively impact your future.
How to Quit a Job as Professionally as Possible
When leaving your job, it’s best to handle the situation politely, displaying emotional intelligence and maturity. Focus first and foremost on these steps:
- Make sure quitting is the best choice. Consider whether you’re actually prepared to take your next career step. If not, focus on building your skills more.
- Quit in person instead of over the phone or by email (if possible).
- Give your current employer at least two weeks’ notice.
- Don’t criticize your employer, gossip, or tell your co-workers before you quit.
- Consider writing a formal letter of resignation to make your decision “firm but polite.”
- Leave on a positive note by showing appreciation and leaving feedback.
- Maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Why is it important to quit a job without offending anyone? If you offend people when you resign from your job, such as by leaving at a difficult time or with a negative attitude, this will damage your relationships and possibly limit future opportunities. Staying on good terms with your employer and co-workers encourages them to give you recommendations for future jobs, to speak well on your behalf, and to remain within your professional network.
8 Steps to Resign From Your Job With Grace
“Employers recognize that sometimes employees want to pursue new ventures, and by acting professionally, you can stay on good terms and maintain a relationship that may lead to future opportunities.”Jennifer Herrity, career services professional
Let’s look in more detail about how to quit a job the right way:
1. Don’t Quit on a Whim—Think It Through First
Depending on how long you’ve been working for a company and which type of position you’re moving onto, resigning from a job can be a major life decision. Therefore, you want to be sure you’re really weighing the pros and cons of leaving versus staying. If you’re a millennial in the workplace, be especially careful about rushing to quit without good reason. Studies show younger adults tend to be more impulsive about switching jobs (which has both pros and cons).
Thinking through your decision to quit will increase your confidence and gives you the best chance of moving your career in the right direction. Plus, when you’ve nailed down your reasons for leaving you’ll have a concrete answer if an interviewer asks you why you left your job.
Here are tips for helping you decide if leaving your job is the right choice:
- Take a moment for reflection: Dig into the underlying reasons why you want to quit. If something specific is bothering you, there may be room for positive change. Therefore, you want to identify exactly what’s making you unhappy.
- Write out the main reasons why you’re thinking about leaving: Brainstorm possible solutions. Are you leaving because you want a job that aligns better with your career goals, a different schedule, or a higher salary? Is it because you naturally have an entrepreneurship mindset and want to start your own business? Figure out if there’s someone who you can speak to, such as your boss or HR, about possible changes that can be made, or if staying ultimately won’t address the root issue.
- Consider if your expectations are realistic and fair: For example, are you quitting because someone at work upset you during a meeting or insulted you? Did one project not go well because it felt overwhelming or rushed? Maybe you need to take a step back and practice conflict management before walking away.
- Ask yourself if you want to quit due to organizational reasons: According to research conducted by Gallup, more than half of workers in the U.S. said they left a job to improve their lives because of their manager’s poor people management skills. Are you not working well with a specific boss or co-worker? Would a new manager, team, location, or role help resolve this problem? If so, it might be worth staying at your job and trying a new arrangement.
- Consider if your next role will solve your problems: Will the flexibility, salary, benefits, or responsibilities be enough to make you happy? Ideally, your next position should contribute to your ikigai, a Japanese word for purpose and mission.
- Leave if your mental health is in danger: Quitting is likely the best move if something illegal or unethical is going on at work. Additionally, it’s a good idea to quit if your current job is significantly and negatively affecting your health and happiness.
2. Consider the Timing
To leave on a positive note, you don’t want to quit when it puts your boss, team, or employer in a bind. Of course, the timing may be out of your control and you may need to accept another offer at a time that isn’t ideal. If this is the case, explain this to your manager and discuss how you can help with the transition, such as training someone new or hiring a temporary replacement. Otherwise, you risk making your current employer upset and resentful since they may feel like your decision came out of nowhere and wasn’t considerate.
Another major factor to consider is whether you have another job lined up. It can take 3–6 months to find a new job, meaning you’ll want to think carefully about your finances before pulling the plug on your current position.
When deciding when to quit, keep these things in mind:
- Be transparent: Tell your company about your motivation to leave, including why you’re leaving at this exact time. Communication is key, so explain if you’re leaving to start a new position immediately.
- Wait longer if it makes sense: If you know the timing isn’t good and your new start date is flexible, consider staying until it’s better timing. Let’s say your company is going through a very busy period for the next several months. Can you help see things through and then quit your job when things cool down?
- Speak to your boss directly: Avoid telling anyone else first that you’re leaving. This prevents your boss from feeling slighted.
3. Give Proper Notice
Giving proper notice is another example of how you can be considerate and courteous when quitting a job. Again, you want to be a good communicator and a team player, even when you’re leaving your current team. This way you don’t leave your employer high and dry.
Keep these points in mind when giving your notice:
- Stay for at least two more weeks: When giving notice about quitting a job, the common practice is to stay at the job for at least two weeks to help your team adjust. Whenever possible, give at least two weeks’ notice—and in some cases, you may even want to stay for longer, depending on the situation. This helps your employer deal with the transition more easily without scrambling to fill your shoes.
- Remember to stay valuable: Work hard right up to the end. Don’t simply show up while distracted or uninterested; spend your time wisely by helping to get things in order for your departure.
If you quit your current position on a Monday, the 1st of the month, stay for two work weeks or until Friday the 12th. This means you would work for ten work days, assuming you work Monday through Friday and have the weekends off. Your exact schedule will depend on which days you normally work, but overall, aim to work about ten more work days before leaving work for good.
4. Talk to Your Boss Directly About Your Resignation
When you’re quitting a job, hurting your manager’s or employer’s feelings may be a big concern for you. If so, don’t go about your resignation in a cold, robotic way. Instead, communicate clearly and openly about why you’re leaving and when you plan to be gone for good. Be courteous and have empathy for your boss and team members. Furthermore, think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and try to act with the highest integrity.
To communicate with your manager effectively, keep these tips in mind:
- Do it in person: Tell your boss directly during a one-to-one talk that you have some news to share. For the best results, don’t do this over a phone call, email, or text.
- Make sure you speak with your boss first: This is the most courteous approach and shows you care about their feelings and want to have an adult conversation.
- Try the classic “compliment sandwich”: First share something you’re thankful for, then provide real feedback if there’s something you’re unhappy about, then offer a compliment again.
- Offer praise: Let them know how great it’s been working with them and what you’ve learned from them as a boss. Be candid and sincere.
- Mention why you’re leaving so the company can improve: You’re not required to do this, but it can be helpful. “If you don’t explain why you’re leaving your job, your boss may invent [a reason] that has nothing to do with the truth. If you’re comfortable with them, just be honest,” says career advice writer Dominique Rodgers.
- Only disclose what’s necessary: Discuss that you’ve received a new opportunity or that it’s time to move on, but don’t brag or boast. Only give them the information you want them to receive.
5. Send Your Employer a Formal Resignation Letter
Once you’ve discussed your resignation with your manager in person (or via video call if you work remotely) and given your two weeks’ notice, it’s recommended that you send a resignation letter. A letter can be sent via email and serves the purpose of making your decision final. By sending a resignation letter, you’re showing that your decision to leave your job is firm, even if you do it in a very polite way.
When writing a resignation letter, keep these tips in mind:
- Follow this structure: Open by stating why you’re resigning, give the date of your last day, include something positive about the company or job, and end the letter by offering to help however you can.
- Don’t be overly critical: Avoid going into a lot of detail on why you didn’t enjoy your job. You can give feedback during an exit interview, but it’s best not to write a long letter complaining and being negative.
- Highlight a few things you enjoyed about the job: You might include that you learned a lot, loved working with certain clients, or met many great people. Mention anyone specifically who you appreciated and admired.
- Point out the main reason(s) why you’re leaving: Do this matter-of-factly without being too emotional or longwinded. Keep it straightforward by saying, “Another schedule will be better for my work-life balance,” or “I have been given a great opportunity elsewhere that I’m excited about.”
6. Prepare for Your Departure
If you’ve followed the steps above, then you should feel prepared to move on to the next opportunity with a clear head. “After the notice has been officially made, all that remains is to deliver on what you agreed to do in your discussions with your boss and what you stated in your letter,” explains the team at the Corporate Finance Institute.
To gain the most from the position you’re leaving, experts recommend that you do certain things prior to leaving your job, some of which will help to maintain your connections with coworkers.
Before leaving your job for good, complete these tasks if possible:
- Get a letter of recommendation from your boss: This will help with your job search if you haven’t yet secured a new position.
- Train a new employee to take your role: Consider writing a formal onboarding letter or packet with tips for completing certain tasks. Your aim is to make the transition as smooth as possible and leave with your boss seeing you in a positive light.
- Hand over any important documents to your manager or team: Organize files first so they are easy to understand for your replacement.
- Return any equipment that belongs to the company: This might include your work computer, passwords, or files.
- Remain reachable: To keep good rapport, offer to be in touch with your manager or whoever is replacing you so that you can answer important questions. You can do this by giving out your personal email address or cell phone number.
- Get organized: Look over documents regarding your health insurance, other benefits, and 401K. Get clear on any steps you need to take to secure yourself and your assets. Discuss questions you have with HR so you aren’t left in an emergency without a backup plan.
7. Participate in an Exit Interview With HR
More than likely, the company you’re leaving will want more insight into why you’re choosing to quit. This is an opportunity to give the company feedback. However, you want to avoid being very dismissive or critical and instead balance honest feedback with appreciation.
During an exit interview, you can expect to be asked about your experience and opinions regarding certain people or topics, plus things like the company’s policies, culture, training, and benefits. If you’re quitting your job to receive a higher salary elsewhere, you might also receive a counteroffer or be asked about your desired salary in order to stay.
Here’s how to handle exit interview questions and conversations:
- Be open about your point of view and opinions: If there’s a specific reason for leaving, such as one individual’s actions, now is the time to share that. However, only say what is valuable and helpful for the company to know.
- Be prepared to discuss an offer for a higher salary: If you plan on possibly staying at the company, have a certain number in mind so it’s easy for you to make a decision or talk about salaries on the spot.
- Keep some information to yourself: If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing where you’ll be working in the future or your new salary, it’s okay not to share this information.
8. Leave on a Positive Note
Now is the time to say some friendly goodbyes to your boss and co-workers. Let them know how much it meant working with them. Exchange contact information and keep interactions positive and friendly.
When you’re finally ready to move on, do this:
- Avoid gossiping: Don’t create a bigger problem by sharing with many people why you’re leaving or complaining about the company in general. You don’t want to plant negative seeds and doubts in people’s minds, even if you feel resentful about anything that happened.
- Never encourage other employees to quit: Don’t solicit others to join you at a new company. This reflects poorly on you and is unprofessional.
- Take the higher road: Overall, don’t indulge in toxic work behavior. It’s not worth it and could come back to haunt you later on.
Preparing for a New Role
“Have a better offer in hand before you quit. You’ll save 3–6 months of unemployment and job search stress.”Tom Gerencer, Career Expert
Are you moving on right away to a new job, or preparing to search for your next opportunity? Ideally, plan your exit so you have your next position lined up. If this isn’t possible, do whatever you can to plan financially, such as making a budget and staying organized, this way you limit stress in your life while unemployed.
Here’s what you can do to prepare yourself to start a new job with the right mindset:
- During the in-between phase of two jobs, find ways to relax and unwind. This way you begin your new role feeling refreshed. This can take the form of a “staycation” during which you do things like rest, exercise, and read.
- Do some research on your upcoming role and new company. Ask yourself why you’re interested in this role. Find out about your company’s mission, your team, your managers, and specifics about your responsibilities.
- Prepare the little things that will boost your confidence. This includes things like your wardrobe, buying the right equipment, and planning for your commute. Do what you can so you’re not frazzled on your first day.
Searching for a new job and want to become better prepared for interviews? Check out this article on handling common interview questions well: “The Top Job Interview Questions That Matter Most.”
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