Little-known fact: Winners do quit...because they get better job offers and want to advance in their careers. You’ll likely leave many jobs in your lifetime—one report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that baby boomers had an average of 12 different jobs by age 52, and millennials are even more likely to job-hop. Hopefully most of those departures will be on your own terms. But leaving gracefully can be just as important to your career as making a good first impression. Here’s what you should know about how to give your two weeks’ notice in the most professional way.
Tell Your Boss First
Some of your colleagues might have known you were interviewing, especially if they acted as references for you, but your boss should always be the first to hear the news that you’re leaving. The last thing you want is for them to find out from someone else. You should also refrain from posting any kind of announcement on social media before you have formally put in your two weeks’ notice.
Review Your Employee Handbook or Contract
Before approaching your manager or HR about your decision to quit, read up on company policies. If your contract describes you as an “at-will employee,” you may be asked to leave immediately—particularly if you’re heading to work for a competitor. Also take note of any non-compete clauses, and don’t be afraid to seek legal counsel to help you wade through the language, if you think it’s necessary.
If there is any chance your manager could react badly to you giving two weeks’ notice, or if your new job is with a direct competitor, be prepared to be walked out of the office. “Have your affairs in order,” says Melody Godfred, founder of Los Angeles–based resume firm Write in Color. “Give your notice with the understanding that your computer, email account, and more may vanish immediately.”
Do It in Person
It can be nerve-wracking to have this conversation with your boss, but a direct approach is best. Depending on your relationship with your manager, both your schedules, and whether you’re working remotely, you can schedule a meeting (face-to-face or over video)—or just shoot them a Slack or pop over to their desk and tell them you would like to speak in private today. “Simply knock on your manager’s door and ask if it’s a good time for a quick chat,” Godfred says. “If they’re unavailable, you can ask for a better time to come back.”
Keep It Simple
Many people are uncertain exactly what to say when giving two weeks’ notice, but something simple and to the point is best: “I’ve so enjoyed working with you here, but another opportunity has presented itself and I’ve made a decision to move on.” Keep your tone complimentary and professional. Your boss might ask if you are interested in a counter offer, so decide before the meeting whether that’s something you would entertain.
Once you’ve given your boss an official and professional two weeks’ notice, you can discuss next steps, including how to share the news with HR, the rest of your team, or clients. End the meeting by thanking your boss for their guidance and time.
Consider Crafting a Letter of Resignation
Most jobs in the private sector don’t require a formal written resignation, says Muse Master Coach Alex Durand, founder of Frable Consulting. “Have the conversations first, and if a written resignation is required, your HR rep will inform you.” That said, many public sector positions and those at the executive or board level do require a resignation letter; when in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to have one prepared and bring it to your meeting with your boss.
Even if a letter isn’t required, it can be helpful to put something in writing. “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,” Godfred says. “That way, there’s no confusion.” Keep the letter brief and professional. This customizable resignation letter template can get you started.
Have an End Date in Mind
Your boss is likely to ask you when your last day will be, so be ready. 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.”
Your boss may ask you to stay on longer to tie up loose ends or assist with training a replacement. Again, you’ll want to refer back to your contract to see what’s legally required of you—but 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.
Tell Close Coworkers and Mentors Personally
After you’ve submitted your formal two weeks’ notice, you’ll want to tell your work friends, close coworkers, and mentors yourself, ideally face-to-face (or if you can’t in person, via a goodbye email). You don’t want someone who has been influential or important in your growth to hear through the office grapevine that you’re leaving—these relationships will likely transcend your current employment, and you want to preserve them even as you move on to your next position. After that, you can tell other people as you see them, and share the news online (find more advice about how to make that announcement here).
Have a Story for Why You’re Leaving
As soon as you put in your two weeks’ notice, be prepared for everyone to ask why you’re leaving or where you’re going. So have a story prepared that positions your decision to leave in a positive light—something to the effect of, “I’ve really enjoyed my time here, but an opportunity presented itself that will allow me to grow my skills in a new way,” along with as much detail about your new gig as you’re comfortable sharing.
Make the Transition Smooth
Spend your final two weeks planning for your departure and tying up loose ends. Work on a transition plan that lays out your responsibilities and provides suggestions for others who could assume these tasks once you’re gone. This will help your current boss start the reassignment process, plus give you time to train others on your responsibilities. If it’s appropriate, offer to help find your replacement or write your job description. Basically, be as helpful as possible. You can also offer to be available for questions via email after you leave if anything comes up, giving your current team reassurance you won’t leave them in a bind.
Leave on a High Note
Now is not the time to share war stories of working at your current company or to loudly proclaim, “This is what I won't miss!” when something’s going wrong. While you are leaving, everyone else is staying, and these are people you’ll likely cross paths with again someday, especially if you work in a small industry.
Remember to tell everyone how much you enjoyed working with them and how you hope to keep in touch in the future. And then do! Make sure to add your colleagues on LinkedIn or save their contact info before you go, and on your last day, send out a goodbye email as a final farewell.
Even when quitting a job is a positive move for you, the process can be tricky to navigate. But you’ll never go wrong with staying professional and respectful. “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,” Godfred says. Make your employer’s last impression of you as good as the first.