Quitting your job can be a tempting lunch-break fantasy, especially if you've just received an impossible deadline or a passive-aggressive email. Or maybe you found your dream job and know you have to take the offer on the table. Across the length of your career you might have more jobs than exes, but like breakups, quitting can take an emotional toll.
I know the feeling. In April of this year, desperate for a serious break, I decided it was in my best interest to resign—and I'm not alone. According to the Labor Department, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April of 2021.
If you need to put in your two weeks notice, we asked career experts how to quit your job the right way—tactfully and without excess stress—so you can continue your career journey smoothly.
First create a career strategy.
If you don't already have a five-year plan in place, don't worry. The goal of a career strategy is to take the angst out of leaving your job—not make you more stressed. A soul search is intimidating, so start with what you know. Ask a friend, "Where do you think I shine?" This is all in order to appreciate your unique package because you are a person, not just a scope of work.
Maggie Mistal, a certified life purpose and career coach, suggests making a wish list to gain clarity quickly. Reflect on past experiences where you loved what you were doing, even if it wasn't in a professional setting. This could be the joy you feel in volunteering or other ways you spend your free time.
"I think of our jobs as a vehicle to express our talents and skills and ultimately have an impact on the world," says Donna Fowler, an executive leadership coach. "Beyond survival needs, what work gives you meaning and an expressive outlet?"
All this prep work gives you something to say when people ask, "Why are you leaving?" You can stay positive and focus on the things you do want. For example, "I want to work somewhere where I have a direct impact." This homework also ensures that once you quit, you can transition to a new role that really is a good fit.
Resign with a sense of closure and on good terms.
Whether you're leaving for a new job, you're going back to school, or you need to step away due to personal reasons, you still want to maintain your relationships and leave on a positive note. You don't want to start dropping the ball on responsibilities, meetings, and deadlines the moment you hand in your notice.
"When you turn in your letter of resignation, the first thing your employer will want to know is what your end date is and if you're available to help with the transition," Mistal says. "This could look like staying for a month rather than the traditional two weeks notice to help with training your replacement." Staying on for an entire month might not work for you, but perhaps there's a compromise you can make (say, giving two and a half or three weeks notice), or a way you can prepare thoroughly to ensure the transition isn't too rocky in your absence. But the bottom line is that you should give your employer a solid two weeks' notice (unless it's an exceptional or emergency situation, coming into the room saying "tomorrow will be my last day," isn't a good plan).
In addition to communicating the timeline of your departure, you'll need to get your files in order. Gather samples you may want to show in your portfolio, save your performance reviews, update all your contact information. Speaking of contacts, don't forget to inform pertinent people of your new gig, save their contacts for future use, and share your new contact with them.
Once you've collected what you need, organize your work—unfinished projects (if you can't help it), contacts, reports, and so on—so it's easy to hand over to whoever will be taking over responsibility. Think about how you'd appreciate someone else doing that if they were the one leaving. The more seamless you make things for your colleagues to pick up the slack when you're gone, the less likely you'll burn any bridges.
Fowler likes to say, "leave the way that you lead." Whether you're an executive or a junior staff member, you influence the people who rely on you. It's a final demonstration of your leadership to acknowledge the opportunities you had while with the company, and you can do that in a variety of ways.
"Whatever your normal form of communication is, continue with that," Fowler said. "If you typically write notes by hand, send them personalized thank you notes. If you're a big supporter of your staff then make the announcement in-person [or virtually] rather than through an email."
At the end of the day, while you may have leftover frustrations, express your gratitude and say goodbye to those who supported you. It's the classy thing to do, and you'll end on a high note.
Exit interview dos and don'ts
Complaining is a moot point (and can be harmful). However, if you do have feedback, you can offer constructive criticism here and make the role and the company better for the person who comes next. Mistal is all about career karma and paying it forward.
"Simply put, [the person conducting your exit interview will] want to know what was wrong with the job," Mistal said. "You don't want to speak unedited. The safer and smarter way is to position it as, 'This is what you should do for the next person.'" It helps immensely to write down what you want to say and prepare for your exit interview. If you wing it, you run the risk of speaking inappropriately, going off on a tangent, or not actually getting your point across, which does everyone a disservice (including you).
For example, if they ask why you're leaving, rather than saying you were overworked, you can say, "Give the next person more resources." This not only makes the industry you work in a little better, but also helps you stay professional, even when all you want to do is air every little grievance. Save the venting for your therapist, not in the exit interview with HR.
If you can, take time off between jobs
Both Mistal and Fowler emphasized this many times: Once you've done the hard part of resigning, give yourself a break before starting the new job. Your new company will always say, "We want you right away." Of course, they do! Mistal says to tell them when you can start at your best. If that's after two weeks off, it's after two weeks off. "It gives you time to let go of the old and embrace the new," she adds. "We're not machines. I've studied attention residue and you need time to transition. Plus it puts you in a good mood when you start your next adventure."