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How to Quit Your Job (While Burning the Fewest Bridges)

woman turning in her resignation letter

Dramatic exits make for great television. But when it comes to quitting your job in real life, few situations are bad enough to merit flouncing out and forever ruining your reputation with a former employer.

After all, word spreads quickly in the social media age. Angering an employer (even if it’s justified) can hurt your chances of getting other jobs in the same industry—or in the same town. Meanwhile, leaving on good terms can open up future doors for your career.

Luckily, quitting your job gracefully and professionally isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here’s how to make an exit that you won’t regret later.

Time It Right

Sometimes, you can’t help the timing of when you need to quit: Maybe you’re moving, or received an offer letter for your dream job at another company. But if you can, try to plan ahead and time your exit right.

For example, if your industry has a busy season, avoid quitting in the middle of it. Try to finish up any big projects you’re a part of before you go. And don’t forget to give plenty of notice before your last day. Two weeks’ notice is standard, but many employers appreciate having more time to find your replacement.

Tell Your Boss First

It’s tempting to tell your favorite coworkers that you plan to quit before you let your boss know. However, this method risks your boss finding out you’re quitting from someone who isn’t you. That’s sure to look unprofessional and hurt your chances of getting a future reference.

Instead, schedule an in-person conversation with your boss and give them the news as soon as you’ve made up your mind. Don’t feel pressured to give details about your reasons for leaving, and don’t complain about the job or company during the meeting. Keep the conversation simple and positive. Ask how you can help in the transition period, such as by training your replacement before your last day.

If you’re a remote worker, you can give this notice in a polite email to your boss instead. And depending on how formal your industry is, you might consider writing a resignation letter for HR as well as speaking with your boss.

Consider a Negotiation

If you don’t have your next job lined up for sure, you can also try negotiating a bit before you go. Is there something that would convince you to stay, like a raise or a new title? If so, now is the time to ask for it.

As long as you’re a good employee, your boss would likely rather have you stay than quit. Before you give your notice, decide what (if anything) would make you willing to stay. Then, set up a meeting and make that request. If it’s denied, you can set up another meeting to give your notice—your boss just might take that last chance to work things out so you’ll stay.

Prepare to Leave Immediately

Even though you’re giving notice, your boss might decide to cut the cord early and let you go before your proposed last day. Make sure you’re prepared to face this possibility, with enough savings to get you through a break between jobs. Otherwise, you could find yourself scrambling to make ends meet.

Don’t Keep Secrets

While you shouldn’t tell your boss all the negative things that pushed you to quit, it’s also not wise to be secretive about what you plan to do next.

People will be able to find out where your next job is, so be open about it—even if it’s at a rival company. It’s better to be honest than to let your boss and former coworkers speculate about your next move.

Say Thank You

Even if your time at this job mostly sucked, your exit will look better if you can find a way to show gratitude. Maybe you learned a valuable new skill, or met a great mentor in spite of a toxic work culture.

Figure out what you can be grateful for, and then mention these positive details to your boss and in your letter of resignation. Even if you don’t really feel thankful, this positivity will help your reputation long after you’re gone.

You might also want to schedule a separate get-together with your work friends or mentors to thank them, too. Show extra gratitude to the people you hope to stay connected with after you leave this company.

Keep Doing Your Job

man leaning back in his chair at work, fingers laced behind his head

In the time between giving your resignation and your last day, you might feel tempted to dial back your effort to the bare minimum. This doesn’t reflect well on you as a worker, however, and will make it difficult to get the future reference you might need. (Keep in mind that new employers might contact anyone you’ve worked for before, even people you don’t list as a reference.)

Make sure to keep putting in your best effort right up until the last minute of your last day. Delegate as appropriate, but don’t try to hand off too many of your responsibilities to other people. If you have any tips or strategies that could help your replacement do your job, make sure to pass them on before you go.

Don’t Vent Online

As mentioned earlier, word travels fast on social media. If you wouldn’t want a screenshot of a post sent to your boss, don’t post it. Vent to your (non-work) friends in person or over the phone, if you must, but avoid putting those negative conversations in writing.

Take Care with the Exit Interview

You might be tempted to dish everything you think is wrong with the company in your exit interview. However, this is not likely to spark change at the company—and is likely to paint you in a bad light if word gets out about what you said. Keep the conversation simple and positive, just like when you gave notice to your manager.

Quitting your job and moving onto something new can be scary and stressful. But like all things, it gets better with practice, so don’t hesitate to quit when you know the time is right.

These steps will keep your former employer happy, while getting you out the door as smoothly as possible. A few weeks of cautious professionalism now can pay off in good recommendations for years to come, so following these tips is well worth your effort.

Don’t have the next gig lined up yet? Check out these interview tips to get prepared!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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