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Ready to Move On? A Complete Guide to Quitting Your Job

Guide to quitting your job
Credit: Yakobchuk Viacheslav/Shutterstock

Many of us reach a point in our careers that we know it's time to move on from a job. Whether it's to pursue a new career opportunity, improve your salary or leave a dissatisfying position, it's important to quit on as positive a note as possible.

"Leaving your job is one of the most critical points in your career [as you're trying] to build a solid reputation. You will be remembered by your departure," said Nicole Williams, founder and CEO of WORKS, a company that helps young women throughout their careers.

Williams said the norm used to be that people held on to the jobs they had, afraid to make a change. In recent years, though, there has been more optimism, combined with an expectation that people change jobs more frequently.

Leaving gracefully is important for several reasons. Even if you are unhappy with your job, the movie trope of storming out of a lousy job as you bad-mouth your boss and co-workers is not good.

"Burning that bridge and leaving on bad terms could come back to haunt you, especially if you want to continue doing work in the same industry. Everyone in industries are tight and talk," said Matt Weik, founder of Weik Fitness. "You don't want to be known as the employee who dumped water on their boss's head and pushed their computer off their desk in your exit tirade." 

You never know when you'll reconnect with your former boss or co-workers who may have a new opportunity for you, or if your new job doesn't work out and you'd like to return to your previous position. Not to mention, you always want to be growing your network of professional contacts and references who have nothing but good things to say about you.

From deciding whether it's the right time for a departure to exiting professionally and crafting your resignation letter, here's everything you need to know if you're moving on from your job (or career). 

In this article…

  1. Assess the situation
  2. Job hunt
  3. Resigning
  4. Transitioning
  5. More resources

Feeling ill will toward a job doesn't necessarily mean your job is worth quitting; sometimes you just have bad days. But other times, you may need to reflect on whether you're getting what you need professionally.

"One big mistake I have seen people make is failing to ask their current employer for what they want," said Kara Ramlogan, head of public relations recruitment at Madison Black, a recruiting website for creative professionals. "Maybe you would like additional training in a certain area, the ability to work remotely one day per week to alleviate a long commute or a raise in line with the market value for your role. Companies are often willing to make these adjustments to keep quality employees."

If you don't think you're getting what you should out of a job and your managers aren't willing to budge, even a little on your requests, then it could be time to move on. Ask yourself if you see things getting better at your current job, because when you conclude that you're ready to move on to something new, you need to be certain and not waiver from your decision.

Your company may try to keep you by offering a small pay raise or other concession, but it's not a good sign that it takes you threatening to quit to get a raise. It's also unprofessional to turn your back on the company that just offered you a new position.

If you are ready to quit and move on, you should prepare for the next phase of your career. It's important to strike a balance between your current role and making time to find a new job, Ramlogan said.

"I'd advise having another position already lined up to transition into," Ramlogan said. Keep your job search as quiet as possible, because telling co-workers you are on the job hunt might encourage office gossip, as would publicly posting your resume on open jobs boards (not including your LinkedIn profile) or your social media accounts. She also reminded job seekers not to search or apply for other roles while at work or on a company laptop.

When you are contacted for interviews, Ramlogan advised scheduling them early in the day or during your lunch break (if location permits) to avoid disruptions to your work schedule.

"The caveat is that though your schedule is busy, so is the hiring team. Booking an interview at 8 a.m. or 7 p.m. just isn't realistic," Ramlogan wrote. "If you truly want the position, sometimes you need to sacrifice a half day or a late start or an early leave."

For more tips on looking for a job while you're still employed, check out this Business News Daily guide.

Now that you've assessed your situation, concluded that it's not going to work out and secured a new position, it's time to break up with your current employer. The first person you should break the news to is your immediate supervisor. Do this by asking for a formal meeting to discuss your position. Along with giving them your resignation letter, thank them for opportunity and convey that your experience with them has been a positive one.

You don't have to fully explain your reasons for leaving. You can keep it vague and emphasize that this is a positive move for your career.

"I also recommend to candidates to let their boss know that resigning was a difficult decision that they did not come to lightly, but that they stand firm in their resolution to leave," Ramlogan said. "Sometimes, it helps to ask that the manager not make this any harder with counteroffers."

An important item to discuss in your meeting with your supervisor is your transition plan, which you should already come prepared with. Two weeks is the standard amount of time to give notice and prepare for your exit, but depending on your position, more time may be needed. If you're leaving a specialized position or if you're upper management, at least four weeks may be necessary so the company can find a good replacement. You'll need to balance the time needed by your old company with how soon your new job needs you to start with them.

It's always a disruption for a company when an employee leaves, so empathize with your supervisor.  Though you want to keep your boss's feelings in mind, you should prepare yourself mentally for the experience, Williams said.

"Leaving your first job can bring up emotions for a lot of people. There is generally a reason why you are leaving, and you want to depart as professionally as possible," Williams said. "I have counseled many people who have ended up crying. Practice the conversation and have a very clear idea of what you want to say."

Resignations letters may feel outdated, but it's the professional thing to do, and many times, it's necessary, Ramlogan said.

"Many HR departments like to have a formal letter on file," Ramlogan said. "That said, you should still have the resignation conversation in person with your manager [first]."  

If you've never written a resignation letter, it's important to keep in mind that it's a formal communication "generally indicating your expected date of departure, not an essay on all the reasons why you're leaving," Williams said.   

If you're unsure of what to write, seek out templates online and from a career center or check out our guide How to Write a Job Resignation Letter.

"If you'd like to create something more personal, a handwritten thank-you note [delivered] to your boss on your last day is a nice touch," Ramlogan added.

After you've had a conversation and formally resigned, there is generally a transition period to tie up loose ends.

"A lot of employees completely lose interest in the job on their way out and leave things a mess for their replacements. Don't do it," said Denise Dudley, professional trainer and business consultant. "Be the kind of person who leaves things in better shape than you found them."

Finish your projects or leave them in a manageable place where your co-workers or replacement can easily pick them back up. Gradually move out your personal things and clean up your workstation, making sure that any equipment or devices are in working order for your replacement.

Volunteer to help interview and select your replacement and, if time permits, help train your replacement to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. However, don't take it personally if your supervisors decline this offer, as your departure may prompt them to make changes to the position or the organization.

Some companies hold exit interviews, which usually entails an HR representative asking you questions about your overall experience with the company, so agree to participate if asked, Dudley said. Be honest in your answers, but make sure it's professional and that you give constructive criticism rather than just airing grievances and bashing the company.

There's virtually no downside to a graceful exit from your job, so take these tips to heart.

"Beyond ensuring that all your work is up-to-date and that you have paved the way for a smooth transition, you want to depart on the best terms possible, and that means not airing your dirty laundry," Williams said.

See these other Business News Daily articles for more information on how to quit your job:

Andreas Rivera

Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a B2B writer for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom's IT Pro. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.

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