After you decide to quit a job, then the real question hits you. How do you quit a job in a way that helps you move on — and keeps you from getting trashed when the references call comes? Plus, it can just messy and uncomfortable.
I’ve known people who quit a job with so much anger you could almost see the still-burning embers left behind. Sure it’s a tremendous release in the moment. But the moment soon turns into a serious need to move on to the next job. Not only are references at stake, but you carry with you the angry feelings. And both can affect your job search.
So what should you do when you’re ready to quit a job?
Don’t let your emotions take the lead
By the time you’re ready to tell off everyone you work with, you’ve built up LOTS of feelings. And while many of them are probably valid, they are not going to help when you’re ready to quit a job.
Hard as it may be, this is the time to take some deep breaths and play it smart. Lay the groundwork for leaving as smoothly as possible, as you plan your exit. And that includes doing your best to network and line up a job in advance, so you’re not left wondering what you just did to yourself!
Although sometimes, despite what’s ideal, we just have to move on. I know. I’ve been there myself. More than once. Still, if you can manage to control yourself long enough to find that next job, it can save you a long time of looking back at whether you did the right thing after all.
An extra benefit of careful planning toward a meaningful goal is that the positive action you’re taking for your future can (hopefully) help keep you from exploding in the meantime. And that can also buy you some extra time to look for a better job.
Leave without trashing the place — verbally or otherwise
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t burn your bridges behind you.” But when you’ve reached the “point of no return” where you’re ready to quit a job, sometimes the need to leave is so great it’s hard to think about anything else but leaving. I get that.
But what happens as you leave can have a life way beyond that limited time. First, you need to worry about your references. A bad reference can follow you not just to the next job, but many jobs down the line.
Also, people at your current job may turn up later on. And they can hurt your chances for a job or promotion you really want. That includes not only your boss, but you never know which coworker you might meet down the road. Even ones who just heard the legendary story of your leaving in a rage!
Give ample notice
Following up on the last section, part of leaving in good standing is to give enough notice. Of course, if you’ve reached the point where everyone is happy to part ways, then you may not need to stay all that long.
But this is something you should work out with your boss. Two weeks is usual, but each place has their own preferences. Best to try to find a length of time that fits their needs as well as yours.
Clean up loose ends as if you were staying
A lot of what I write about comes from my own real life experiences. And there was a time where I left a job really angry at the company. They wouldn’t let me transfer to an exciting marketing job I was offered in PARIS. Instead, I had to stay in the boring numbers tracking job I had in New York.
I was plenty upset. And I left unwilling to adequately train people on the things I was responsible for. One of them called me afterward. Someone I actually liked. But I was still steaming and left her to figure it out for herself.
I’m not proud of this. It was stupid and childish. And it cut off many great potential references and networking connections for the rest of my career. I tell you this so you can learn from my mistakes. (I eventually did.) Keep it civil and clean up loose ends as best you can.
You never know who you’ll meet one day. But also, it’s just good karma for you — and helps you shake off the anger faster. You can leave proud that you held your head high. Also, things like this often follow you into the job search process and beyond.
How exactly do you quit a job?
Once again, you do it with as much grace and professionalism you can muster. Keep your mind focused on the idea that you are doing something good for yourself. And leave the past in the past. Even those people who annoyed the heck out of you. Don’t carry them forward with you!
While I’ve known some people to phone in their resignation or send an email so they wouldn’t “lose it,” if at all possible ask to see your boss. Once in private, tell them you want to leave. And why.
Don’t blame. Or try to fix everything that’s wrong. And especially don’t spend the time showing them how sorry they’ll be to lose you. Just give the basics and leave it at that. (Good to make notes / talking points ahead of time.)
Be positive about the good things. And, if there is any part of you that still wishes it could work out, leave room for your boss to help make that possible. Stay open to ideas and be respectful.
What if you wind up staying after all?
Make sure you set some clear goals and feedback mechanisms that can help things work better this time. Where possible, look for new tasks / responsibilities that you would be excited to take on.
Just remember: Doing the same exact thing yet again won’t get you to a different place.
After you quit a job
Send a thank you note
What? Thank them for making you want to quit a job?
Sure. It doesn’t have to be gushing or phony. Just a short, pleasant note to your boss and perhaps anyone else who was there for you. Highlight some of the good memories. Avoid any sour notes. And wish them well.
If they think it’s stupid, that’s their problem. Nothing lost.
But if it leaves a positive lasting impression, maybe that can help you down the road one day. And again, it simply leaves you feeling better about yourself — and helps you move forward with positive energy.
Keep in touch now and then
If there is anyone you feel especially good about, see if you can stay in touch. A quick email or that thank you note to begin with. Or maybe just connect on LinkedIn to start.
This is not just a selfish thing in case you need them to help you one day. Good networking works both ways. And continued contact can lead to mutually beneficial lifelong relationships.
But first do a check-in with yourself!
Even though this is about how to QUIT a job, it always pays to check in with yourself when making a major move. Keep on top of how you’re feeling. And check in to see where emotions may be taking the lead ahead of other things that might matter more in the long run.
First and foremost, make sure you really need to quit at this time. Is it something good for you to do at this point? Or is it just a way to end your discomfort without a good alternative plan for your future.
Some posts to help you think: