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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

Moving On: How to Quit Your Job With Grace

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You’ve finally decided to quit your job—congratulations!

Maybe you landed a great new gig and you’re moving on to greener pastures. Or, maybe you hate your boss and—let’s be honest—can’t wait to stick it to him with your two weeks’ notice.

But whatever the situation, quitting your job can be awkward and uncomfortable—and if you don’t have a clear plan of action, you might end up burning bridges and sacrificing valuable references down the road.

So whatever’s pushing you out the door, exit the right way: with grace, class, and preparedness.

If you’re not sure how to make the big announcement or navigate your last two weeks, don’t worry—I’ve created an easy three-step plan to guide you through it.

Step #1: The Set-Up

First, set a firm date for your last day of work. Make sure to give yourself enough time to tie up any loose ends and train your replacement, if necessary. In most states, you’re not required to give two full weeks’ notice—but as a professional courtesy to your co-workers and boss, it’s a good rule of thumb.

Once you’ve decided on your last day, compose your official resignation letter. In my experience, I’ve found that less information is better—and no matter how casual your company is, err on the side of formality. (Even the most laid-back company won’t appreciate a “BTW, August 1 is going to be my last day” email.)

Here’s a sample template I’ve used:

Dear Sam,

This letter is to inform you of my resignation from my position as account executive for The Evans Company, effective May 29, 2013.

I truly appreciate the opportunities you’ve provided during my time here. Thank you for your continued support and guidance. I am happy to assist in the transition process to make it as smooth as possible.

Allison Smith

Finally, schedule a time and date for the face-to-face meeting with your boss to break the news. If you’re pressed to reveal why you're calling a meeting, you can say it’s just a general check-in—feel free to keep it vague.

Then, make sure you have a printed, signed copy of your letter to hand over to make it official.

Step #2: The “I Quit” Meeting

Up until this point, the quitting process has been pretty easy: You settle on a date, whip out a formal notice, and mentally picture yourself crossing that finish line.

But when it comes to actually telling your boss that you’re out of there, it gets a little more intimidating.

When I decided to quit my first job, I was unbelievably nervous, so naturally, I took my quandary to Google. But when I searched for “what to say when you quit your job,” nothing brilliant came up—because the truth is, there is no script. Until you’re actually in that conversation, you’ll have no idea what direction the conversation will take, how much your boss will beg you to stay, and whether he’ll grill you on what you’re doing next.

But no matter how the conversation goes, it’s important that you don’t feel guilty about moving on or feel like you need to over-explain. In fact, my mantra for my “I quit” meeting was simple: It’s not personal; it’s business. No matter how close you are to your boss or how irreplaceable you think you are—your boss will find a new “you” to fill your role. Keeping this in mind will help create some distance between you and your job, making the conversation just a little easier.

But to take it a step further, write down (and practice!) a few talking points to start the conversation. Begin with a reason that you feel comfortable sharing, like, “I’ve been offered an opportunity I want to pursue,” or, “I’m finally making the switch to full-time freelance work.” And as you did in your resignation letter, pepper the conversation with gratitude (e.g., “Thank you so much for all the opportunities you’ve given me here” or “I’ve learned so much about the ins and outs of technical recruiting”).

After you say your piece, wait for your boss to respond. Of course, every situation will be different: Your boss may press you about your new job, ask if there’s anything he or she can do to keep you there, or ask you why you didn’t mention anything about this before. Unfortunately, there’s no script for these situations, either (believe me, I checked!)—but if you feel pressured to respond, you can’t go wrong with a genuine “Thank you so much for this opportunity.” Your employer isn’t entitled to know where or why you’re moving on—simply when.

The more professional and respectful you keep the conversation, the easier it will be to leave your boss with a great impression—so he or she will remember the great work you did; not just how you left. And down the road, if a potential employer calls your boss or you want to request a reference, you’ll be in the clear.

Your employer isn’t entitled to know where or why you’re moving on—simply when.

Step #3: The Last Words

After this meeting, as easy as it would be to check out, it’s important to be as helpful as possible as you finish your last few weeks.

Distribute your unfinished projects to colleagues, along with sufficient descriptions of your progress so they can pick up right where you left off. If they’ll need background information on certain clients or projects, forward important emails and e-introduce folks who haven’t worked together before. And, if you have specialized knowledge or a unique responsibility (e.g., running reports in SalesForce), create a how-to guide for whoever’s taking over for you.

Then, and as you prepare to leave the office for the last time (after your resignation has been officially announced), send a goodbye email to your co-workers. A short, sincere note (e.g., “It’s been great working with all of you! I’d love to stay in touch—feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or via my personal email address”) will help you avoid any bridge-burning—and will keep your network strong.

When it comes to leaving a job (especially a terrible one), you may be tempted to go out with a bang. But quitting with grace and professionalism—and a well-thought out plan—will help you infinitely more in the long run.