Truth time: The day that I quit my first ever full-time job, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had scraped together a hodgepodge of all of the random advice I had gotten from people ranging from my mom to my friends and just did the best I could.
The result? I majorly chickened out, sent my boss an email to flat-out let her know I wanted to talk to her about quitting, and then threw a poorly written resignation letter at her while choking back tears and avoiding eye contact. Super smooth, right?
Putting in your two weeks’ notice can be nerve-wracking. And, it’s also an experience that brings up a lot of uncertainty about the exact right way to go about it. You have questions that you desperately want answered, but are too afraid to ask (hey, I’ve been there, done that).
Luckily, I’m going to save you the trouble. I talked to a couple of experts to get the answers to those burning questions you have about putting in your two weeks’ notice. Now, you’ll have everything you need to quit your job with poise and professionalism—no crying or resignation letter tossing required.
1. How Do I Set Up the Meeting?
One of my biggest concerns was that I’d totally blindside my boss—hence my approach of sending a “heads up” email.
But, I’m not surprised that my strategy was the wrong one. “Rather than scheduling a time to give notice, simply knock on your manager’s door and ask if it’s a good time for a quick chat,” explains Melody Godfred, Muse Master Coach and Founder of Write in Color, Los Angeles’ leading resume firm, “If he or she is unavailable, you can ask for a better time to come back.”
If you’re wondering whether you should tell HR or your boss first? Well, that depends on your specific situation. “If you are in good standing with your HR rep, I would schedule a ‘check-in’ meeting with them first,” says Alex Durand, Muse Master Coach and Founder of Frable Consulting. After explaining that you’re planning to leave the company, make sure you share that—while you’re coming to HR first—you’d still like to tell your boss personally.
2. Do I Really Need a Resignation Letter?
“In most cases today, you do not need to write up a resignation letter prior to putting in your notice,” shares Durand, “Particularly in the private sector, have the conversations first—and if a written resignation is required, your HR rep will inform you.”
Of course, there are some exceptions to this—particularly in public sector positions, or at executive or board levels in organizations.
However, you can strike a balance by just sending an email. “After you give your verbal notice, it’s a good idea to follow up with your manager and your HR representative—if you have one—with an email memorializing your notice. That way, there’s no confusion,” adds Godfred.
3. Is Two Weeks’ Notice Required?
Before approaching your manager or HR about your decision to quit, take a moment to review your contract and any clauses related to leaving to make sure you’re aware of the specifics. Also, be aware that if your contract describes you as an “at-will employee”, your employer might ask you to leave immediately—particularly if you’re heading to work for a competitor.
While the idea of putting in two weeks’ notice has become a pretty widely accepted standard, there typically isn’t a rule that demands that timeframe. Instead, it’s more of a professional courtesy than anything else.
“It’s important to leave your current job with your relationship and reputation intact,” Godfred says, “By giving your employer notice, you maintain the goodwill you’ve cultivated while working there and can facilitate a smooth transition.”
If your boss asks you to stay on for longer than two weeks to tie up loose ends or assist with training? Again, you’ll want to refer back to your contract to see what’s legally required of you. However, agreeing to stay an extra week or two (as long as you’re able to negotiate a later start date with your new employer!) can be a great way to leave your job on the right note.
4. What Should I Do if I’m Going to Work for a Competitor?
This is another time when you’ll want to take a good, hard look at your employment contract or handbook. “In particular, you want to look for and read your non-compete clause, if you have one,” explains Durand. Don’t be afraid to seek legal counsel to help you wade through the language, if you think it’s necessary. It’ll cost you some money, but it can be incredibly helpful to ensure you understand everything correctly.
If after reading that clause you determine that you’ll be telling your employer about your next step to a competitor, be prepared to be walked out of the office. “Have your affairs in order,” warns Godfred, “Give your notice with the understanding that your computer, email account, and more may vanish immediately.”
And, the most important thing you need to remember is this: Always protect your company’s confidentiality, particularly when accepting a job with a competitor.
5. Can I Talk to Anyone About My Plans to Leave the Company?
There are two people who should be the first to know about your plans to leave the company: your boss and your HR rep. “You want to keep your cards close to the chest, so don’t tell your peers or close friends at the company that you’ve already decided to leave,” states Durand.
The last thing you want is for your boss to find out from someone else that you’ll soon be leaving. And, in addition, you don’t want to be the one to spread negativity around the office. “When employees start talking to each other about quitting, it pollutes the company culture,” Godfred says.
Quitting a job will always be nerve-wracking. But, anxiety aside, you still want to provide your notice in a way that’s professional and respectful of your current employer and offers a fitting end to the time you’ve spent with that company.
“Giving notice is hard, but both you and your employer will survive it,” Godfred concludes, “By having integrity and giving notice the right way, you not only preserve your relationship with your employer, you open the door for him or her to celebrate your next step.”