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How to Quit a Job (The Right Way)

image for Pressmaster/Shutterstock
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

There are many reasons why you might want to leave a job, whether you're ready to take the next step in your career, planning on starting a new business or are unhappy in your current position.

Once you realize you're ready to move on, though, it's important to prepare to leave and resign from your role in the right way. Not only do you want to set yourself up for a smooth transition, but you should avoid burning any bridges on the way out the door.

How exactly do you quit the right way? These steps will ensure your transition is stable and your relationships are preserved when you leave your job.

Before you even consider how to leave a job, you'll want to take some time to think things through. Weigh the pros and cons of staying in your current job versus quitting. Consider factors, such as compensation, work-life balance, work environment, long-term goals and the overall trajectory of your career. Critically analyze the reasons you think you want to make a career change and whether those reasons are best served by your resignation.

"Put your head down and deeply assess your current and future conditions to make sure you are making the right decision at the right time," said Sophie Miles, CEO and co-founder of elMejorTrato. "Remember that there is no hurry if you still need time to mature your idea or your new business."

If you're uncertain about furnishing your resignation, sleep on it. There's no harm spending a few more weeks mulling it over before settling on a decision. Once you've chosen to quit your job, though, it's important to develop a concrete plan that best serves your future.

Once you've decided that you do, in fact, want to quit your job, you need to develop a plan that helps ensure your own stability and clarifies your next moves. Everyone's situation will be different when making a career change: Some people will begin a job search, while others have already secured full-time employment. Some people will strike out on their own as entrepreneurs or independent contractors; others will look to develop a new skill set altogether. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but regardless of your situation, you should have a plan in place.

"Never leave a job without a plan. Make sure you have your next step sorted, and, ideally, build in a buffer so you have some time off between gigs to reboot," said Tim Toterhi, a business coach at Plotline Leadership. "If that's not possible, do the math.  Make sure you have enough to cover expenses and healthcare during the transition."  

Ideally, you've already got something lined up whether that's a new job or a business plan. Quitting your job without a new job offer, at the very least, is a risky move. If you're still in the midst of a job search, consider staying in your current position until you secure full-time employment or even part-time work.

If you're leaving to work on your small business full time, you should already have a comprehensive business plan that will guide the growth of your company well into the future.

If you're engaged in a job search or have attended an interview or two, it's not necessary to inform your boss. However, once you've decided to leave and put a specific transition plan in place, you should have an informal conversation about your intentions. Once job hunting turns into job-hopping, letting your boss know becomes imperative.

Most people know to furnish your resignation along with two weeks' notice, but having an informal conversation with your boss is a good way to prepare them for the formal process. It also shows that you respect them enough to give them an advanced heads up, which can go a long way to preserving relationships. After all, you never know what will happen down the road. Old co-workers are often a source of new opportunity, so it's best to be kind and respectful.

"Talk with your current boss and explain how much you enjoyed working with them and how much you have grown at the position/company," said Brittany Kline, personal finance expert for The Savvy Couple. "You also want to express [that] you want to help make the transition for the next hire … as easy as possible and what you can do to help."

Once you've broached the subject with your boss, you can draft your formal resignation letter.

You've thought it over and decided that it's the right time to move on. You've put a concrete transition plan in place and discussed your intentions with your boss. The next step, submitting a formal resignation letter and two weeks' notice, makes things official. In addition to sending a formal resignation letter, you should double-check to see if your company has any additional guidelines on how to leave a position.

"The professional way [to leave] would be to follow the protocol," Kline said. "Make sure you do everything properly if your company has a set of guidelines. Contacting human resources and making sure you know what the steps look like to leave your current position are huge."

What is the best way to go about delivering your resignation, though? Should you just fire off an email and be done with it? Generally, the best option is to set up a face-to-face meeting, even if you already had an informal discussion with your boss. Again, professionalism and respect are key here. A face-to-face meeting shows that you appreciate the gravity of the situation and gives you another opportunity to offer your assistance in preparation for the upcoming transition.

"Ask your boss for a meeting and have a typed resignation letter in hand," said Helen Godfrey, a career counselor and founder of The Authentic Path. "Be gracious. Focus on how you appreciated the opportunity to work at the company and how you have grown from your job." 

If you want to leave on good terms, work to make the transition smooth for the company as well. Prepare training materials that will help your replacement hit the ground running. Any notes, instructions or tips you can leave for your replacement are helpful to get them up to speed. You can also offer to schedule a one-on-one meeting with your replacement prior to your last day.

"Offer to help interview and train someone new. Essentially, if you want to leave on the best terms, offer to make the transition as seamless as possible," said Stephanie Dennis, career coach and host of the podcast Career Talk: Learn – Grow – Thrive.

Just as you took the time to create a transition plan of your own, it's important to offer to be an integral part of your company's transition plan. There is no better training resource than the person who has done the job, so availing yourself to your company to prepare your own replacement is an invaluable offer.

Work hard until your resignation is official. It could be tempting to kick back and take it easy; after all, you're leaving the company, so what's the big deal? But your reputation is on the line, which is one of the most valuable assets you have. Keep doing great work through your final day, and your colleagues will remember you for it. That could be valuable in the future.

"Don't think of your last days on the job as biding time. Focus on what you can contribute that goes beyond expectations," Toterhi said. "Refresh old relationships, lend a hand to that junior associate, and pull one last rabbit out of the hat for your boss. Think of yourself as a rock star. Go out on a high note and leave them wanting more."

Completing all your pending projects and delivering high-quality work ensures that you'll leave a good impression on your boss and co-workers. In the modern business world, your network is more accessible than ever, so keeping your contacts pleased is key to future success. Moreover, it's the ethical thing to do.

Finally, you should review your employee handbook to ensure you understand everything you can about your benefits and other job perks as you leave. For example, how long does your insurance last once you resign? Do you get paid for unused paid time off and, if so, how much? These types of logistical considerations have a way of falling through the cracks, but doing your due diligence could make your life easier after you've left the company.

"Check in with your insurance carrier, seeing when your insurance ends, double-checking your employee handbook on PTO paid out when you leave," said Lisa Fedrizzi, managing director, team lead of HR & talent at Cheer Partners. "Have all your information handy, or, if you are unsure, write all these questions down and be prepared to ask in your exit interview with HR. If HR does not do an exit interview, request one to confirm all your information."

There are several common mistakes people make when leaving a job. These mistakes can ruin your reputation or plague your ability to successfully grow in your new role. Avoid these missteps in the final days of your job, and your transition should continue smoothly:

  • Your boss should be the first to know. Don't tell your co-workers about your plan to quit your job before letting your boss know. Not only does it open the possibility of the rumor mill working against you, it's simply bad form. Letting your boss know prior to announcing it to co-workers shows respect and tact.
  • Never bad-mouth your former employer. No matter how unhappy you are in a position you should never bad-mouth your employer to anyone. It only reflects poorly on you, both to new employers and former colleagues. If you were unhappy in the job you've left behind, simply leave it in the past and focus on a brighter future.
  • Finish out strong. Work hard right up until quitting time on your last day. Don't leave half-finished work for a new hire to complete. You never know what's going to happen in the future or whom you might work with again. Be sure everyone in the company knows you are responsible, professional and helpful.
  • Be confident in your decision to move on. Once you have decided to leave, don't second-guess yourself. It can be easy to grow comfortable in a job, especially when it's been a long-term position. However, if you've decided to go through the necessary steps to leave your job, it means you are ready. Follow your gut instinct and pursue your long-term goals with confidence!

Whether your job is good, bad or ugly, leaving with grace and professionalism will serve you well. Planning ahead ensures you won't find yourself in an unstable position after leaving. Giving your boss advanced notice prior to your formal resignation shows respect and consideration. Working hard up until your final day and offering to help train your replacement also goes a long way to leaving on good terms.

Burning bridges is never wise, especially in business. You never know where you might end up in the future, or who you might end up working with.

If you're striking out on your own and launching your own business, your old company might even end up becoming a partner or a client.

Even if you never benefit from leaving your company on good terms, you get the benefit of having an impeccable character, maintaining a positive reputation and taking the ethical approach to growing your career.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam C. Uzialko, a New Jersey native, graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 with a degree in political science and journalism and media studies. He reviews healthcare information technology, call centers, document management software and employee monitoring software. In addition to his full-time position at Business News Daily and Business.com, Adam freelances for several outlets. An indispensable ally of the feline race, Adam is owned by four lovely cats.