So you’ve just landed a great new position at a different company — now what? Resigning — whether it’s from a job you love or one that you are ready to move on from — requires finesse and diplomacy.
“Ideally, you don’t want to burn any bridges,” says Gaby Fisch, a career coach and consultant at Move Forward. “If it’s very toxic you need to get yourself out of there. If it isn’t, and this is just the logical conclusion to your career at that workplace, you need to maintain good relations and leave on a high note.” In fact, making a graceful exit can help you down the road, in terms of referrals, new opportunities or even a different position at your old company.
As Harvard Business School professor Len Schlesinger puts it, “The bookends — how you start and how you end — are the most important parts of any professional relationship.”
What’s the best time to quit a job? There’s no easy answer.
You don’t want to leave your teammates in the lurch and abandon them in the middle of a big project. But at the same time, there might never be an “ideal” time to quit.
“My experience of organizations is that it’s always crazy. There’s always some big thing, there’s always a crisis brewing,” says Fisch. “So there’s never really an ideal time to quit. Sure, you don’t want to quit right in the lead up to a big project. But at the end of the day, the timing is often not up to us.”
What we can control, however, is the timing of our search for another job — so focus on that. Spend your energy on finding a new job, and try not to start the resignation process before securing a written offer of employment from someone else.
How much notice is enough notice? Different industries and employers operate on different work schedules, and if you’re in a bad situation, you should obviously leave sooner than later. At the same time, your priority here is to make this transition as painless as possible for your employer.
“Give your employer more than two weeks — if possible,” says Fisch. “A longer transition period is always appreciated. Then there’s an opportunity to have some overlap with your successor, it lets you transition in an orderly fashion, and prevents things from falling through the cracks.”
That goes double if you’re in a management position that might require more winding down and headhunting. The Harvard Business Review’s Rebecca Knight suggests that you may want to give up to a month’s notice if that’s the case.
Give more notice than that, however, and you might be overdoing it. As Walker warns, “when workers give too much notice, it’s often because they overestimate their own indispensability, and underestimate how unpleasant a drawn-out goodbye can be.”
“Let go and move on.”
As soon as you’ve made the decision to quit, tell your boss — and make sure to tell them before anyone else. The last thing you want in this situation is for your boss to hear the news from anyone else.
Ideally, you should tell your boss that you want to quit in person. If you work remotely, have an itinerant boss, or otherwise have trouble arranging an in-person meeting, tell them over the phone at the very least — never over text or email.
When telling your boss you don’t want to work for them anymore, it’s important to remove the element of surprise. “The parallel here is when you’re a boss and you have to let someone go. The same rules apply,” says Fisch. “You don’t want it to be a huge shock that you’re firing that person. If it’s performance related, you’re going to be having lots of ongoing, frank conversations about where things are going.”
Don’t let this be the first time your boss is hearing about these issues. You’d expect some warning from your boss before they fired you — the same rules apply when you’re firing your boss.
Telling your boss why you’re quitting without ruining your relationship is probably the trickiest part of this whole process. Depending on how unhappy you are with your job, it might be tempting to hold back certain details for the sake of diplomacy. So should you?
Dr. Sarah Kaine, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney business school, cautions that being too diplomatic could also get in the way of a healthy, authentic conversation that could benefit you in the long run.
“Be prepared to be politely honest if there were organizational reasons that prompted your decision — without burning any bridges,” she tells the Sydney Morning Herald. “This will seem much more authentic than trying the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ line.”
End on a positive note
So you’ve handed in your two weeks and had a meeting with your boss that ended amicably. That means you’re in the clear, right? Not quite.
As personal development consultant Marvin Marcano points out in an article on Medium, those last few weeks are a great opportunity to leave a positive lasting impression on your employer.
“I’d argue that you should work harder than before to maintain your reputation.,” suggests Marcano. “Close out projects if time allows and always take the high road.”
Fisch says that the best thing you can do during these last few weeks — and in the first few weeks after you leave — is to make sure the transition between you and your successor is as smooth as possible.
“Make yourself available. After you leave, offer to be available to answer any questions,” says Fisch. “It might take up to two to four weeks for your successor to arrive. Offer to have a call with them so they can download any important knowledge when they do.”
This article was originally published in February 2020 and was updated January 2022.
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