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Career > Her20s

A Complete How-To on Quitting Your Job

After graduation, you landed the perfect job—or so it seemed. Maybe you have the boss from hell. Maybe you’re doing something totally different than what you signed on for. Or maybe you love your job but you’re looking for a new role that’s more challenging. Whatever the reason, it’s now time to move on and see what else is out there. Turning in your resignation isn’t easy, but that’s why you’ve got us to help you out! We checked in with the experts on how to resign from your job as gracefully and professionally as possible.

1. Make sure this is definitely what you want to do 

Before you do anything else, you need to decide if quitting your job is the best decision. There are a lot of variables that play into deciding to quit, so how do you know if your thoughts and feelings are legitimate reasons to leave or if you need to hang in there for just a little longer?

Anita Bruzzese, award-winning journalist, USA Today columnist, and author of 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy, says that physical ailments are an indisputable sign that it’s time to leave your job. “If you’re having physical symptoms such as inability to sleep, fatigue, or headaches, especially on Sunday nights or Monday mornings,” she says, “then that’s a sign that you should leave.”

Heather Wixson, Associate Director of the Hamilton College Career Center, thinks it’s important to think of future goals as opposed to what you’re leaving behind: “You should ask yourself some questions. Am I moving on to an environment where I will feel more challenged? Will I be doing work that is more interesting or a better fit for my skills? What is a good enough reason to leave a position is very individual—but I like to think about it in terms a moving toward something (more challenge, different field) than away from something (co-workers you dislike).”

Often times, an individual’s frustrations have built to the point that their thoughts turn to quitting. So if your feelings are new, give yourself a few weeks, and see if it passes because you don’t want to risk leaving your job on a whim.

2. Don’t leave too early

Sometimes it can be better for you in the long run to stay a bit longer in a job, so you don’t harm your ability to get jobs you want in the future. Future employers will worry that you’re a job-hopper—and that you’ll leave them quickly, too, especially if you have a previous history of leaving jobs after less than two years.

So when’s the best time to bail? Bruzzese recommends staying at least six months before jumping ship: “Six months is a good time to measure whether or not it’s working. You can’t contribute much in less than [six months]. If you can’t show anything from your job, that doesn’t look good [to employers]. Ask yourself, ‘Can I show something valuable to my next employer?’”

Chandra Turner, founder and president of Ed2010 and executive editor of Parents magazine says, “Barring mental anguish, I would say you should stay at least one year. It takes six months to even get in the swing of things and it might take another six to find another job… Plus, you’re not going to qualify for a next-level position so you might as well stay.”

However, if a job is simply not working out and you’re utterly miserable then it might be okay to leave a little earlier, as long as you handle the situation appropriately and professionally. Wixson advises, “It is more important to manage the transition effectively than to stress about staying for a certain amount of time, in my opinion.”

Overall, it’s important to consider all the factors that come into play when you leave one job and move onto (or start looking for) another. But regardless of when you leave, it’s important to make sure you do it right—keep reading to find out how!

3. Try to have something lined up before you quit

With the job market looking the way it does, it’s probably in your best interest to have another position lined up before you’re on your way out—the last thing you want is to be stuck in a cycle of unemployment for longer than you bargained for.

“If you’re leaving your job you either have another, you hate it so much you’re willing to leave without another and risk not being able to afford your rent, or you’re financially stable,” says Turner.

Beyond the question of how you’ll support yourself during a possible transition, it’s important to consider what a lengthy period of unemployment will look like to future employers. 

Bruzzese urges graduettes to “have a Plan B. Go back to school, volunteer, get an internship. Do something. Don’t go back home and sit on the couch and do nothing… the economy is tough and employers get that. But we want to know that you’re doing something with your time. Show that you’re being productive.”

4. Tell your boss in person

Now the hard part: talking to your boss. The number one rule? Tell your boss before you mention your departure to anybody else, because you want him or her to hear from you first, and not get the news from the office gossip chain. Set up a private metting with your supervisors—while it may feel awkward and uncomfortable, remember that you aren’t the first or last employee to quit a job! Especially given that you’re a recent college grad, your boss will totally understand that at some point, it’ll be time for you to move on to more challenging roles. Turner says, “employers recognize that a lot of young people need to move positions in order to move up. Your boss will be sad to see you go but happy for your new opportunity.”

If you’re at a total loss for words and are unsure how to tell your boss you’re leaving for a new position, Wixson suggests noting how your current position has helped you grow: “Tell [your boss] why you are excited to for the change and how your current position gave you the skills and confidence to land this new position.”

You don’t need to go into extreme detail on the reasons why you’re leaving your job, but it is good to be honest and transparent in order to leave on good terms.

5. Give sufficient notice!

We can’t reiterate how important this is—especially if you want to leave without any hard feelings. Allow your supervisor and the company time to plan for your departure and replacement by providing adequate notice.

Wixson says, “It really depends on company policy, but I would suggest offering two weeks notice or more if you are in a higher-level management position.”

Be sure you’re aware of the requirements in your office (which can likely be found in an employee handbook or the paperwork you were given when you started the job). Though two weeks is fairly standard, your boss will appreciate the extra time if you already know you’ll be moving on in advance. Especially if you’re on a small team where you know that your resignation will leave a much heavier workload on your team, it’s courteous to give as much time as possible.

6. Avoid burning any bridges

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to burn bridges with your boss and/or colleagues after you leave a job. Every industry, no matter how seemingly big, is so connected. It’s very likely to see the people you’ve worked with again, especially if you remain in the same industry or city, so it’s important to leave on good terms.

The best way to ensure you leave on a positive note is to offer to make your transition as smooth as possible (such as offering to stay on board long enough to train the new hire, if you’re available).

Joan Snyder Kuhl, founder of the Gen Y speaking and consulting company Why Millennials Matter, says, “You have to do everything possible to ensure you depart gracefully which really means avoiding a project dump on peers or your team members. If you are really fond of your employer then offer more time and to be available via phone (for a specific time period) to discuss onboarding with your successor… You have to negotiate on both ends because everyone will always want more of your time.”

And if you really want to go above and beyond for your supervisor, create a summary or report of your accomplishments and responsibilities. Kuhl encourages you to “create bullets around the key activities that you believe were the true foundation for your role and the specific types of skills and knowledge needed to perform, successfully, the role. List the different corporate functions that you interacted with in your role to demonstrate the visibility and dynamic nature of the work. This is ultimately helping your boss and HR build an authentic job positing to fill your vacant position.”

You never know if you’ll need a favor, such as a letter of recommendation, from your previous boss or colleagues so always be sure to leave on a good note.

7. Definitely do not post anything online

This one goes with out saying, but don’t post anything negative (or ideally, just don’t post anything at all) about your job, boss, or co-workers online after you quit—even if your profile is private, because you never know who might pass your message along.

Bruzzese says, “One of the biggest mistakes millenials make is posting stuff online. It looks bad to future and past employers. Your bosses are always Googling you… Someone will always find [what you posted].”

It might feel really good to get out a good rant—but our only advice is, don’t. If you’re feeling frustrated, talk to your friends or engage in other stress-reducing activities. Just avoid all social media platforms. Your future self will thank you for it.

8. Think before you accept a counteroffer

In a moment of panic or genuine concern that you’re leaving, your boss might offer you a better package to convince you stay—such as more money or a promotion. As enticing as this sounds, err on the side of caution.

Bruzzese says, “Always remember that it will almost never work out. There’s a high percentage of people who take the offer and end up leaving anyway and here’s why: For one, your boss doesn’t see you as loyal anymore. He/she now knows you wanted to leave and you might miss out on future promotions because of it. Secondly, you’ve checked out mentally. It will be difficult to reengage [in your work] like you once did before.”

While there are definitely instances in which accepting the counteroffer works out, always be wary. If more money or a new promotion were motivating factors for your decision to leave in the first place, then considering a counteroffer might be a good idea. However, be aware that you might put yourself in a situation where your boss no longer values or trusts you as an employee, thereby jeopardizing future advancement at the company.

9. Don’t slack off

It’s important to work as hard as you can, all the way up until the final moment on your last day because “it’s your final impression that makes the greatest impression,” says Bruzzese. As mentioned earlier, leaving on a high note is the best (and only) way to leave your job, so don’t risk that by slacking off now. Complete your projects as best you can and work hard at your job until the moment you’re walking out the door.

10. Express gratitude

Even if you’re really excited about leaving your job, be thankful about what you learned and openly express gratitude to your colleagues and boss.

Turner says, “Express gratitude for the opportunities you had there. Write thank you notes [to the people you’ve worked with]… I knew someone who baked cookies for her last day and that was really sweet. You always want to leave on a high note!“

A thank you note to your supervisor can go a long way, especially if you want a letter of recommendation somewhere down the line.

The process of quitting your job can be stressful and scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If done correctly and professionally, quitting your job can be a smooth and simple process. Remember that taking this step is symbolic of your fresh start! You’re embarking on a new path that will (hopefully) bring you one step closer to your dream job—and the possibility of reaching that goal makes it all worth it.

Alice is the Senior Associate Editor at Her Campus. She graduated from Emory University in 2012 as an English major and a Dance minor. Before joining Her Campus, she was an associate editor at Lucky Magazine. She is currently located in Salt Lake City, UT, where she spends her free time rescuing orphaned kittens, whose lives are documented on Instagram at @thekittensquad! You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @alicefchen.