If there’s one thing we learned from The Devil Wears Prada, it’s that sometimes quitting your job is absolutely necessary. Whether you’ve decided to pursue another avenue of success or you recognize that you’ve been mistreated at your current job, quitting your job is no easy task. We talked to career experts about what to do once you’ve decided to quit your job, how to approach the topic with your boss and what to expect throughout the experience.
When you are prepared to give two weeks notice
It’s important to let your boss know well ahead of time when you plan to resign from your position. Valerie Streif, senior advisor at thementat.com—an organization with decades of experience hiring, managing and mentoring hundreds of prospective job candidates—says, “Generally, at most jobs, I have given two weeks’ notice by setting aside a time to talk with my boss privately." Two weeks' notice is usually standard procedure; it's a good estimate because it allows your boss to prepare for your departure and you to tie up any loose ends.
Streif explains that this simple act of courtesy can go a long way, proving to your employers that you care about the work you’ve done at the company and that you value your professional relationships and reputation. The most important thing you can accomplish by giving your boss sufficient notice is ensuring that they don’t find out about your departure from someone else! Often, this can be interpreted as disrespectful, inconsiderate and unprofessional, and your former boss may be hesitant to recommend you to future employers. It’s never a good idea to burn your bridges, as the saying goes.
How to tell your boss
Speak with your boss to schedule a time to meet. Indicate that you would like to discuss something important and ask him or her to suggest a day and time that works best with their schedule. Although this initial request can be made via email, you definitely want to give your two weeks’ notice in person!
When meeting with your boss, keep things positive. Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, recommends highlighting all the things you’ve enjoyed about working for the company. Emphasize that you are grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the team and for the valuable professional experience you have gained. Next, take this opportunity to tell your boss that you will be leaving and explain why. You may be going back to school to further your education, moving on to another position or simply taking some time off. You are not obligated to provide a reason so it’s up to you to decide how much or how little detail you provide; a respectful boss will appreciate you taking the time to let them know. By the end of the meeting, you should both come to a mutual agreement on an end date.
After you’ve had this conversation with your boss, don’t forget to provide written notice of your resignation, both to him or her and to the appropriate HR personnel. Should anything go wrong (for example, if your boss tries to extend your time or, worse, tries to have you fired instead), you’ll be able to prove that you did your part!
When you are prepared to give more than two weeks notice
Of course, if you hold a more senior position or you have been with the company for a significant length of time, you may consider extending this time period accordingly. For Streif, if it was a job she enjoyed at a place she felt respected, she would always try to give further notice, especially if it was a very busy company and they would need to fill her position in order to meet customer demands. More than likely in this situation, you are not leaving as a result of any negative circumstances; perhaps, you have secured a more profitable or otherwise personally beneficial opportunity. Although sad to see a promising employee leave, your boss will most likely be happy for you.
How to tell your boss
Much like giving the standard two weeks’ notice, this should be done in person. Share your good news with your boss, emphasize why your new opportunity is the right move for you and explain how it will impact your future at the company. They will appreciate your honesty and willingness to leave on good terms.
For example, Streif had begun working part-time as an editor when she wasn’t at her day job. She explains, “When I had my annual performance review two months later, I told my boss I was taking a new job but I’d stay on as long as she needed me, within reason. We agreed I would finish up a few projects, and I worked there for another month.” A dedicated worker, Streif was again able to find a more lucrative opportunity in building her personal brand when she wasn’t busy editing. Over the course of a few months, she worked with her manager to gradually reduce her weekly hours until she was able to make the seamless transition to full-time entrepreneur.
Alternatively, you may be prepared to give more than two weeks’ notice as a compromise for breaking a previous agreement. In an earlier instance, Streif says that eight months into a 12-month contract, she acquired a new position. “I told the Director of Operations I couldn’t make it all 12 months because I’d accepted another job, but I was happy to work for another month and a half. She felt like that was a good compromise, and we left on great terms.” In the end, Streif's willingness to work with her boss to find an agreeable solution was a testament to her work ethic and good character.
Sometimes, a slow and deliberate transition out of one job to another is more practical and respectful than an abrupt resignation. You may feel more at peace with yourself for having done your part to help out. But, of course, you are not required to give more than two weeks’ notice (or even two weeks’ notice, but more on that later) even if your new job allows you to do so. You may decide you need the extra time to get ready for your new position or to take a much-needed vacation, and that’s perfectly acceptable as well. Your ultimate goal should be to leave on the best possible terms with your boss and your coworkers. Caroline Beaton, millennial career expert at kununu, recommends trying to complete as many ongoing projects as possible while organizing any materials you’ll be leaving behind for someone else to work on in the weeks prior to your departure. This way, your colleagues will remember you and your contributions more positively and you will have a more seamless transition.
When you give no notice (walking out and/or never showing up again)
Although not advisable, there are extreme circumstances in which you may decide to resign, effective immediately. Indeed, some work environments are truly toxic (emotionally, mentally and even physically) and sometimes the safest thing to do is remove yourself from a potentially harmful situation. Extreme circumstances that may warrant such a strong response include excessive verbal abuse, unreasonable demands to perform unethical or immoral tasks or prolonged, repeated or otherwise unregulated discrimination, which may include racism, sexism, ageism or ableism. Remember that, as long as you are an at-will employee, you can legally quit a job at any time. In all states except Montana, you are considered to be an at-will employee unless you have signed an employment agreement stating otherwise. Although strongly recommended in most situations, giving notice is simply a professional courtesy.
How to tell your boss
If possible, compose an official letter of resignation and deliver it to your boss either on your way out or, if you leave in a hurry, via email. Your letter can be short and to the point. Simply state that your resignation will take effect immediately and that you appreciate the opportunity to have worked there (even if the last part isn’t true). If you foresee your employers or yourself taking legal action in the future, include your reason for leaving in the letter. Although it won’t change what happened, you will at least have documented the unfortunate ordeal. Remember that failure to inform your employers about your resignation can result in your termination, which is much worse for your professional reputation.
In this situation, Britton also strongly suggests participating in an exit interview if there is an opportunity to do so. You may personally contact your HR department to find out if this is a requirement and, if not, to request that one is conducted. An exit interview usually takes place independently of your immediate manager, providing you with a safe space to air any grievances. Britton says, “Be honest with your feedback but keep it constructive. The comments you provide could incite changes at the company.” Even though it didn’t work out well for you, maybe there’s hope for reformation so that future employees are better off. Also, like written proof of your resignation, an exit interview will protect you from false accusations made against you by your employer. This is your opportunity to explain exactly what went wrong and why you thought it was best to leave the company. If future employers inquire formally about this experience, official documentation of the incidents that occurred can be shared with them, further absolving you of any unfair judgments.
Jodi Adler, author of “How Dare You? Helpful Hints for Staying Sane in an Insane World,” has quit quite a few jobs in the past, but never without a backup plan. “Even if that backup plan was hastily put together as I drove away from a job from hell,” she says. Adler recalls, “I did walk out on a job once—a crazy radio station where some misdirected anger was continuously sent my way. On my way out that last night, I said my goodbyes to the people I liked, and since my boss wasn’t in, I left a letter of resignation and never returned. It was one of the best moments of my life. I knew I would find something better.” Like Adler, you should know that your job neither defines you nor determines your self-worth. Strive to be secure enough in your abilities to recognize when you are being severely mistreated or disrespected.
As someone who has had to walk out on jobs in the past, Adler emphasizes the importance of what she calls “rainy day” funds. “I always make sure I have enough money saved to live on, just in case,” she explains. It’s always a good idea (even if you don’t plan on quitting your job anytime soon) to have about two to three months’ worth of living expenses (rent, utilities, food) saved in case of emergencies. If you recognize early on that your employment situation is potentially short-term, start increasing your monthly contributions to your savings while simultaneously looking for new employment opportunities. The current job market is especially volatile, and you may spend several weeks searching for an alternative source of income.
No one ever said the working world would be easy. And although we would all love to avoid the awkwardness of quitting a job, think of how awful the alternative—getting fired—could be. If you’ve decided that quitting is the right choice for you and that the timing is convenient, remember to remain professional. Review your company’s resignation policies and, as best as possible, follow them accordingly. Britton warns, “How you leave a job can be just as important, if not more important, as what you did while you were there.” In fact, she reveals that nine out ten HR managers say the way an employee quits their job will affect their future career opportunities. “As tempting as it may be to leave in a blaze of glory, you don’t want the last impression people have of you to be a negative one,” she says. Think carefully about your decision and the likely outcomes.