How to Quit Your Job the Professional Way


By Staff Writer Published on August 21, 2017

It’s something we all do, at some point. For one reason or another, we leave our current job in favor of a new one. But whether it’s because you work for the world’s worst boss, or because you wanted a change of pace, there are certain protocols to keep in mind, if you want to protect yourself and ensure you have a good reference for future positions. The best way to quit your job is to do it professionally.

If you’re looking for a smooth and seamless transition, these tips will help you make it happen.

Taking Care of Your Needs

First and foremost, you should be taking care of your needs, as no one else is likely to do so. After leaving your current employer, the only person from the job you’re likely to see again is yourself, so be sure you’re treating yourself right and preparing for what comes next.

Have Somewhere to Go

Except in the most extreme cases, you should have your new source of income already lined up and ready to go before you give notice to your current employer. That doesn’t just mean a verbal agreement from a new job, but actual legal paperwork. The last thing you need is to leave a stable job that wasn’t that bad, just to have your new employer rescind their offer, stranding you without employment. Even signed offer letters aren’t guarantees that your new boss won’t renege on their decision, so tread carefully.

In the event you’re leaving a job for self-employment, be sure you have a rainy day fund saved up in the event things don’t take off right away.

Prepare for the Worst

While many jobs will want to keep you around to finish projects, train the new guy, and otherwise make the transition a smooth one, others take a more direct approach. Some industries (like IT) and some circumstances (like going to work for a competitor) will necessitate your immediate removal from the company. If you have any indication this may be the case for you, set your things in order.

Remove personal items from your desk (excepting visible ones, like family photos). Remove all personal information and files from work computers and phones. Be sure you’ve already collected things like commissions and bonuses. The goal is to limit the number of loose threads so that if they don’t want you coming back, you don’t have to.

Get Contact Information

In many cases, you may have cause to keep in contact with supervisors or colleagues, whether that be in a professional sense (as a LinkedIn contact, for example) or in a personal one (via Facebook, etc.). Be sure you have the information of those people you want to keep in touch with and keep in mind that you may find future job opportunities from those you have a good relationship with.

If you aren’t immediately escorted to the parking lot you may have a few weeks to do this, but once you walk out on the final day, odds are you’ve lost contact with everyone you didn’t already get a number for.

Get a Reference Letter

Remember that the whole point of being professional when quitting is so that you can have a good reference for future jobs. Getting a reference letter is a formal method of doing this and is in keeping with the previous piece of advice. Supervisors switch jobs, too, and you don’t want to find yourself unable to contact your previous boss when the time comes for a reference. So get one ahead of time.

Don’t Make Promises You Don’t Want to Keep

Lastly, don’t over-commit to your soon-to-be-previous employer. If the relationship has been good, you may feel a debt of gratitude. Even so, it’s not your responsibility to keep the business afloat. Don’t stay longer than the standard two weeks if you don’t need to. Don’t offer to answer questions after you’ve switched jobs. Don’t promise to your boss or colleagues that you can get them a spot in your new company. The idea is to walk away from the responsibilities of the old job before assuming the responsibilities of the new.

Taking Care of Your Employer’s Needs

Fulfilling responsibilities for the job you’re leaving, at a basic level, is just good form. That said, being a good person isn’t your only motive. You’re also trying to secure a good reference for future job applications. Even if the job you’re leaving is a sad excuse for employment or your boss is a neanderthal with an attitude problem, the last thing you want is to become an internet phenomenon for quitting in a grand conflagration. To avoid serious faux pas, here are a few of the basic protocols that reasonable people follow.

Notify Your Boss First

You don’t need the kind of catastrophe that might come from your boss finding out about your resignation second hand. Notify your boss first, preferably in person if at all possible. Not all bosses take it well, but they’re bound to take it worse if they hear it from your coworkers, or they read it on Twitter.

Give Written Notice

Most companies are going to ask for a written notice, but even if they don’t, giving one is good form. The standard time period is two weeks, but depending on your role in the company and the skill set involved, you may need to give them more time. Notices of as long as six months are not unheard of, and for senior technical positions it may take as long or more to find and onboard someone to replace you. So choose an appropriate amount of time for your situation. Just be sure you can start your new job on time.

Help With the Transition

Employee turnover costs businesses a lot of money. You have to find, onboard, and train a new employee to replace the old one, and even then, there’s an adjustment period as they learn all the nuances of the job. Projects and assignments can fall apart during that time, leaving the employer holding the bag. You don’t need to feel guilty about it, but you should do what you can to make the process easier on everyone involved. That includes everything from leaving instructions for those you leave behind, to training the replacement, to finishing work so it doesn’t need to be dealt with later.

Don't Slack Off

Your last impression is a very important part of your reference. You don’t want to have a good reputation with the boss, only to leave a sour taste in their mouth at the end by being a less than stellar employee. Do your job, and do it well, so that your boss will only have praise for you when future employers come calling.

Be Careful About What You Share

Last but certainly not least, keep a tight rein on your tongue. You may want to give coworkers or your boss a stern talking to about how they’ve treated you, but besides the momentary satisfaction, you won’t really profit from it. The same goes for exit interviews. There’s no need to tarnish your image by making yourself out to be a whiner who has nothing but complaints about the company and its employees. Keep your responses positive, and don’t share any information you don’t need to.

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