Quitting is not what it used to be. When a job was the sign of security, quitting meant you had a self-destructive streak. And when long-term employment was the only acceptable format for a resume, a string of quit jobs was a sign of an inability to get along with other people. Not so today.
Now, people have a new job almost every year before they turn 32. And with all the management-training courses about how to retain young employees, you can bet those young people are not getting fired. They’re quitting.
Today quitting is part of the process of finding your dream job, finding synergy between your home and work lives, and finding where you fit in. Young people have different expectations for work than older generations. A job today should feed one’s soul, ego, and sooner than later, family. It’s no surprise that you have to quit a lot of jobs to find the one that meets such lofty goals.
Yet with all the advice about how to get your dream job, there is a dearth of information on how to quit a job first. In a world where people change jobs constantly, and their network is the key to success, you have to quit as well as you hunt. Here’s a list of ways to quit a job well:
1. Go before things get bad.
Lynn recently left her accounting job. “I’ve been really good about quitting jobs amicably,” she says. “I realized I was hitting a point where I was going to start acting out.” Like Lynn, you need to know yourself and be honest about how you’re feeling on the job so you don’t let your emotions get out of hand.
2. Make a good first step.
“The very first person that you should tell you’re leaving is your boss,” says Alexandra Levit, author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. “Your boss will be insulted to hear it from someone else.” Also, get your story right the first time and tell the same, optimistic plan to everyone. Lynn, for example, explained that she wanted to give freelancing a try, which shows positive vision for her career.
3. Leave the door open a crack.
If you’ve done good work, there is no reason you couldn’t come back later, when things for you and for the company might have changed. Especially as you begin to specialize in your career and lay down roots, the pool of possible companies gets smaller. So don’t close any doors definitively.
“It’s very tempting to spill your guts or rant about the people you work with, but be careful what you say because you never know when you’ll want to come back,” says Levit.
4. Beware of the exit interview.
“If you trash the company during an exit interview, it will follow you everywhere. In fact, don’t even bother to do one,” says David Perry, a recruiter and author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters. “Just leave on good terms and let them know you had a wonderful time.” Even if you didn’t.
5. Resignation letter.
Try to get out of it if you can. But if you really need to write one for legal reasons, make it short and gracious. You are not the president of the United States. The world does not need a public record of why you quit or what your aspirations are. Just a simple end date and a thank you will be fine.
6. Trust that the company can continue without you.
“People think the world is going to end if they quit their job,” says Lynn. “In my last job, everyone who quit thought everything would go wrong, but it’s easily fixed and everyone’s replaceable.”
7. Set yourself up for a good reference.
Perry is adamant that any negative parting will haunt your job hunts forever. “You want to be sure the trail you leave is a positive one,” he says. And although the law discourages past employers from dissing you to future employers, Perry says a recruiter can circumvent this hurdle. “I have never, in my 20 years of recruiting, had someone not answer questions about references.”
8. Manage the in-between time carefully.
“Burn no bridges,” warns Brendon Connelly, author of the popular blog Slacker Manager. Sometimes quitting a job is as loaded as dumping a lover. “I have quit a few jobs and there has been tension because it’s always been for something else,” says Connelly. “You need to lay the groundwork ahead of time for the transition.” Tie up loose ends at the old job and get your files organized to pass on to someone else. “You don’t want to give the old people the shaft.”
9. Be conscious of the shift in the balance of power.
The moment you quit is when you go from being your boss’s underling to your boss’s equal. After all, you are no longer beholden to your boss for a job. At the point of quitting, any more work you do for your boss is out of kindness and respect for the custom of giving notice.
This is one of those times we tend not to see ourselves clearly, writes Daniel Ames, professor at Columbia Business School. Hitting the right note of assertiveness — not too much and not too little — is hard to do. We notice poor balance in our colleagues but rarely notice it in ourselves. So keep in mind that the bottom line of quitting well is assertiveness. Have enough to leave when you need to, but tone down your assertiveness enough to keep your friends and colleagues on your side even as you’re walking out the door.