9 tips for quitting a job gracefully

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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.


35 replies
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    All good points. Here’s another that will only apply occasionally — the issue of smoothing over hard feelings between your old employer and your new one.

    I recently quit one job I liked after another company in the same industry came knocking with an offer to good to pass up.

    Everyone in this industry in this city knows each other and at one time or another needs to work together or cooperate in some way.

    Part way through the announcing-I’m-leaving process it became apparent that I needed to take some of the “blame” for my leaving as the partnership at the old company was sounding really annoyed that this other company poached me — to the point of it damaging long term relationships.

    Hard feelings seemed to lessen when I reminded them that I still made the decision to go — that it was the right “business” decision for me professionally, and that I would have left the company soon anyway as I’d exhausted career advancement possibilities there.

    So that’s my other tip: strategize on not creating enemies for the new company if you quit for a new opportunity.

  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    Good points. A few things I have found in practice…

    1) Don’t just drop a letter on the boss’s desk. Tell the boss face to face that you are leaving and only write a letter if they require it. If you just walk in and drop the letter bomb, it may explode in your face. In my case, the boss read my short letter, then called me in to his office and said, “Well, you know my reaction when I read this is to say, ‘F— You!’ You can gather your belongings and get the hell out of my office.” But…it turned out that he was just telling me his initial reaction and from there we talked about it and in the end, it worked out amicably, if you can believe it. But it could have easily been otherwise. Give the boss the courtesy you expect for yourself.

    2) job hopping is still a negative issue that raises red flags in interviews. Despite statistics and anecdotal stories about Gen XY trying lots of things and that is all expected and such, the reality is that if you have a resume with 6 jobs in 10 years, interviewers want to know what is wrong with you. It was less an issue 5 years ago in Silicon Valley, but today, on the East Coast, at least, I know that any job lasting less than a year is suspicious. It takes at least 3 months for a new person to even start to contribute anything of value to a company, so if you are quitting after 9 months, then you wasted their time. On the other hand, if you go someplace and it is a living hell, then get out right away and you can explain it or leave it off the resume entirely. But 9-12 months at a job means you didn’t fit and they probably wasted a lot of time figuring that out.

    3) to add to the “get out before it gets bad” thread, get out before you start doing stupid stuff. Nothing is worse than hanging around, bored with the routine, until you start to fail to even get the easy stuff right. Then you find yourself on a divergent expectation path where you are bored and underchallenged and your boss thinks you are incompetent.

  3. Kenneth Wolman
    Kenneth Wolman says:

    Penelope, It All Depends. I left a job voluntarily in the middle of January. I left for money, to get back to writing, and because I was afraid of the man I worked for: he had a habit of losing his temper and going into near-incoherent rages.

    I walked into his office and handed him a two-sentence letter. He acted shocked. His main issue was that I gave him nine days notice instead of the “customary” two weeks–this even though there was nothing to do and even though 69 of my colleagues had just been terminated and 50 more would follow me.

    When I left he did not even wish me goodbye let alone well.

    Not exactly the guy I’d want for a reference, y’think?

    BTW, if you remember me, I am not one of those 20-something careerist types who leaves a job every year to advance myself. I am a 60-something type who a document from a subsequent employer proving age discrimination. I’m still doing this only to make the GD alimony.

  4. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    As I read this at work today, a friend looking over my shoulder noticed the title. He burst out laughing, knowing my dissatisfaction with the job recently. Then he asked that I forward it to him. So much for the boss being the first to know . . .

  5. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I see there are also examples here of leaving hated employers. No point in burning those bridges, either. Just becasue someone’s a jerk doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk back. And, you never know what someone will be like in another context. Maybe you’ll be friendly later on.

  6. Howard Wexler
    Howard Wexler says:

    When you give your two-week notice, be aware that you may get fired immediately. It has happened to me a few times, so much for being
    nice about it. The employers always said that it is best to cut the
    ties immediately, rather than having the old employee hang around.

    So one should not give notice unless their desk is neat and everything is spotless.

    I once had an ex-employer attempt to sue me. His charges were ridiculous and nothing ever came of them. But I did learn some lessons from it.

  7. Alex B
    Alex B says:

    My problem at work it not the boss but about 75% of the people that I work with have been trying to get me fired and they also put all the work on me. They come and tell me a bunch of ridiculous things that I said. They are all nice to you one moment and then the next you’re being complained about something that you supposedly did or didn’t do. I know many people who had this problem even my own parents. There is so much gossip there and they’re always talking about who got fired and who did this, I think you understand.

    You are right that your boss should know first what’s going on or that can cause a lot of problems. It’s always good to leave your job not angry but relieved that you don’t have to work there anymore if the environment isn’t healthy. The people you work with can’t be 100% trustworthy and I had to learn that the hard way.

    I do regret applying for that job in the first place. I called up my mother and my friends and they said that it wasn’t right for me. I should of just taken their advice in the first place and now I regret it.

  8. JP
    JP says:

    Note: my first time ever posting a message

    Everywhere I read, I am told "never tell the boss you are looking for another job!" But, I feel I do need to tell him before the traditional 2 weeks, maybe before the 30 day mark..

    I love my job and I am loyal to my boss. That is why it is important that I give my boss ample notice that I am planning on leaving. There will be a lot to prepare for when I'm gone.

    Please tell me your thoughts on my situation. My goal in this post is to find out "how" to tell her, when and what exactly to say.

    These are the reasons I want to let my boss know I am going to be leavening soon.

    *It would be very difficult for the whole institute if I was to leave with only 2 weeks notice. I help keep things running smoothly and a lot of clients emotionally depend on me.

    *I want to help my workplace prepare for when I'm gone because it will be hard for them to find a replacement with the (low) salary offered (the very reason I am leaving).

    *My boss has been my mentor and has always taken me under-her-wing. I would not feel right, just "up-and-leaving" with giving her mental preparation.

    When I was promoted to this position, I accepted a salary that was less than I wanted. I did this because I wanted the management title and experience. In conversations with my boss, I expressed that I was unsatisfied with my salary and my limited prospects to get it to a higher level In these conversation, I have said (maybe twice) "I won't be here forever. At some point, I will move on – .". We both knew, at that time I wasn't looking for another job.

    But now, that "move-on" point has come. I am presently preparing my resume and researching, how I am going to find my "dream job" with a reasonable salary. This job was my first professional / management position. I want bigger and better now.

    I believe my problem is I am worried about leaving my mentor scrambling to keep things together once I go.

    My biggest mistake – €“ I admit- has been that I have said in passing to some of my friend / subordinates and co-workers in other departments, that I am "now on the job market" and " if you know of any openings let me know – " (Breaking rule #1: don't tell anyone you work with you are going to quit) Have I already sunk the ship by telling these people?

    In hind-sight this was very stupid and I am concerned that my boss may get wind of it. I don't want my boss to find out from anyone but me. She knows I am stressed and underpaid. She has shown concern about my stress level.

    Should I tell her in one of our conversations that I am preparing my resume and preparing to going on interviews?

    I really want to maintain a good relationship with her after I leave. I feel her mentorship would be very useful and I want to stay in contact. Plus, I could really use a outstanding professional letter of reference from her.

    I already know that I must immediately stop letting people know that I am looking for another job. But what do I do now? Should I tell her? How? And when? How do I ask for a letter of reference under these circumstances?

    Please give me your thoughts – .

    * * * * * * *

    Here are really important rules for quitting:

    1. If you are paid a low salary then the office is not going to be disabled if you leave. If you are so important and so difficult to replace then they can pay more and hire someone quickly. The office can take care of itself when you leave. Really.

    2. Most people under 30 are job hunting — at least passively — all the time. It should not be news to your boss that you are in an entry level job and would quit if someone offered you a beter job. And if you are entry level then most jobs are better than what you have, so the odds of you leaving are huge.

    3. If your company laid you off, they’d give you two weeks notice. That’s how the work world works. Play by the rules. Give two weeks notice. If your boss is so desperate without you she can double your salary to keep you there, right? And she probaby won’t do that.

    4. If someone has been a good mentor to you then you owe it to them not to screw them. This means, don’t let them go to bat for you to, say, get you a raise, if you’re quitting the next day. But if someone has been a good mentor and you have been a good mentee, the you don’t owe the person more than telling him or her when you have a new job. Two weeks is fine.

    5. It does’t matter that you told people in the office you’re looking for a job. If your boss has any sense she already knew. How could you NOT be looking for a job? You don’t need to come out and tell her. There is nothign she can do in response to that. She can’t hire someone new because you’re not gone and you have no idea when you’ll actually get another job. So telling her doens’t help anyone.

    Good luck in your job hunt :)


    • Sammi
      Sammi says:

      I made the mistake of telling my boss and co workers when I was job hunting. The day before my second interview for a new position, I walked into a going away party for me. I had expressed a desire to stay part time if needed and was told it would be fine by my boss. Following my going away party, I confronted the office manager, whom threw the party. I was told that my replacement started in four days and my boss “can’t pay two people”. So much for being up front with some people! Thankfully I kept my cool, got a new job, and still am in touch with the entire office staff and kind Dr.

  9. juliette
    juliette says:

    Here’s my tip to avoiding the dreaded (and tricky waters) of the exit interview. I write a thank you note instead of a resignation. There’s no need to do an exit interview with someone who is so grateful, now is there? Then in “the talk,” if there is an issue the boss wants to confront (say, “You’re getting more money, aren’t you?) it’s much easier to be polite and courteous when you’ve just vibed some good thankin’.

  10. mari
    mari says:

    all good points!

    i have quit jobs in the past and made it a point not to burn bridges. i need references and the possibility of going back to a previous employer is always open.

  11. toure llola
    toure llola says:

    i recently gave my notice to the boss that am quitting. my notice period is 3 months!!! anyway, am just tying really hard to be prim and proper because 3 months is such a long time that he could find something seriously wrong with my work or attitude may not be good.am planning on being vague in my exit interview about where i’m going.any different suggestions? actually, my work has improved now because i’m just so happy to be leaving.my boss is a very hard person to work with.just in the last 7 months, out of 9 junior staff, we’ve lost 3, am 4th, and two collegues are also leaving in 2 months.that leaves 2 of the original 9.anyway, his loss.I’ve got no regrets.anyway, no one is irreplaceable, especially junior staff, so i guess he doesnt think he loses much so he keeps up his insane attitude.

  12. Kyra
    Kyra says:

    Thanks so much for this advice! I have been contemplating quitting my job for almost the entire year I’ve worked there and I think I’m finally at the point where I can do it and survive financially. I don’t have a job lined up yet, but I feel like I am only hurting myself by staying in this unhealthy work environment.

    While I’ve worked in my current job, we have lost 6 out of 7 of “my generation”. I’m the only one left! I was on the verge of quitting after three months due to the constant chaos/disorganization/poor management, my verbally abusive boss, the incessant overtime and my low salary. But then I was offered a lateral move to a more appealing position which has been less stressful. However, I have seen no positive changes in the way the business is run, and the turnover remains abnormally high. The thing is that the owners of this small company have questionable ethic standards and I have been made to do some things with which I was not comfortable.

    I have made the decision to quit, but I am waiting for the right time to put in my notice. My problem right now is that my tyrant boss just assigned me a project which makes me very uncomfortable and I would really like to quit before I have to turn it in on Friday of this week. This is something that could be done by another person, so it is not really essential that I complete it. I am fairly certain they will escort me from the building immediately after I quit, but if they don’t, what would be a good way to get out of it without harming my reputation? Is it alright to quit without notice at that time?

  13. Tjkay
    Tjkay says:

    Yayeeee! I got a new job. I’m at the end of my first week of my two weeks notice. Almost one down, two to go. I’m very proud of how I have handled my resignation. I wrote a very polite, short and firm letter and left it on my boss’ desk. He called me in and asked if they could offer me anything to make me stay and if there was anything in particular that made me want to quit. I simply said, “I don’t think you are prepared to compete with (my new employer) as far as pay and benefits go, and I’ve felt underpaid for several months now.” He nodded and agreed and was very disappointed. He said that he feels the company doesn’t offer their employees enough and my position will be reviewed. I don’t think he has told anyone, and I really appreciate that. I think that is the best way to do it, and I recommend that anyone quitting their job to request that their boss allow them inform their co-workers when they are ready. I will tell everyone my last few days. That way, I can get things done and won’t be distracted by visiting co-workers and all that. Wish me luck! tj

  14. sal
    sal says:


    I have just got a new offer and i am just 7 months old in my present company. Actually within 3 months itself i wanted to quit the job due to lack of job satisfcation(though salary was fine. In my new place , I am sure its teh kind of team & work i want to be with and the money is 35% hike. However, i want to quit amicably? But i just dont know how to present it?

    Please give me your thoughts

  15. Beth Bourgeois
    Beth Bourgeois says:

    What is protocol when resigning from a position where you are the only paid employee, and you are resigning to an Executive Board of Directors

  16. Option 1
    Option 1 says:

    I did that recently. I find the best thing is just use the company for a refrence but use a friend who works there as the contact , use there cell phone, Or just dont put a phone number down when you use the company you left as a refrence.

  17. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    “3. If your company laid you off, they’d give you two weeks notice. That’s how the work world works. Play by the rules. Give two weeks notice”

    That is the dumbest statement I have ever heard. Rarely will a company give you notice before a layoff unless it is a union environment. They want you gone.

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      Any decent employer will do this. I’m in senior management of a public, non-union company and while I have not personally laid-off an employee, I’ve had to separate with employees. We always give a minimum of two weeks severance, even if we initiate the separation. It’s the right thing to do. For employees that have been with the org several years, severance has been up to a month to help ease the separation.

  18. Keri
    Keri says:

    I was wondering what the proper procedure is when you want a good reference from your boss, but you have not got a new job offer yet. There is a sticky time when you are getting interviews, and taking time off to go to them. What do you do to make sure you can give your boss as a reference? Do you tell them you are going to quit sometime in the near future and please give a reference?
    Do you use somebody else as a reference? I feel loyal to my boss, and don’t want to just up and quit. I don’t want to lie about taking time off. Most of all, I want a paycheck until I get a concrete job offer. I have an interview I really want, but am nervous about providing a reference before I actually quit.

  19. Emily
    Emily says:


    You rock. You and I are on the same team. We have the same idea. I work with alot of people on the opposing team and I think what the whole debate boils down to are 1) people who believe the purpose of a business is to make a profit and 2) people who believe the purpose of a business is to create jobs.

    I tell people this every once in a while – that the reason businesses exist in the first place are so that people and communities can be gainful, and they literally scoff as if my comment were rubbish.

    Do people really believe that a corporations bottom line matters more that their careers? It seems so and that’s just sad to me.

    Me – I put myself FIRST in my career.

  20. Gaby Kunstler
    Gaby Kunstler says:

    We MUST be changing the way we look at resigning and what we say as we part ways. Encouraging people to put up and shut up is only helping bad employers stay comfortable in their bad practices and most importantly exposing new and more gullible, enthusiastic employees, to bad working environment that stunts their growth. Why keep fostering hypocrisy? Why not expose bad employers for what they are without fear of being blacklisted, perceived as unable to get along, and so on? If every employee who left because of bad management, no chances for personal growth, no opportunities to learn, or lack of appreciation, was open and comfortable saying it out loud then we’d have a lot healthier corporate culture. Therefore, although these tips seem right there are effectively wrong.

  21. Jane
    Jane says:

    Dito on Gaby Kunstler’s June 20, 2010 reply!!!!! Why do some Corporations keep Management Employees that make life miserable! The companies loose wonderful employees because they can’t take it anymore… Why not “get rid of the real problem”? They say everyone is replaceable, than why not management? The work place would be happier, healthier, and a lot more productive in the long run!!!

  22. J A.
    J A. says:

    Hi, thank you SO MUCH for this article. I’ve been wavering on whether to tell my boss that I’m thinking about leaving and this helped me put things in perspective. 

  23. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    It is more and more common for employers to dismiss you on the spot when you try to give them a two week notice. Plus if you are laid off from lack of work, you will almost NEVER get two weeks to prepare. My point is, always prepare for immediate dismissal. No employer, at least in my industry, is obligated to give you two weeks. You should still make sure not to leave any projects unfinished and even leave written instructions in some cases to make it a smooth transition for your replacement. This will ultimately protect your reputation which in this economy is sometimes all we have.

  24. Bob
    Bob says:

    I love my job. It’s creative and fun, but I haven’t had a raise in four years and my new employer will up my pay by more than 50%. I asked for a raise five weeks ago and haven’t heard back. Nor did I get the formal review I asked for. The new position is somewhat less creative and fun. However my rental is being sold out from under me — creating a bit of a housing crisis for us — and I live in an area where my wife, my child, and I struggle to make ends meet. Accepting this new job means those ends meet comfortably. I will just miss the work I did in my old role terribly. But how secure can I be in that job if I haven’t had a raise in four years? I’ve been pursuing freelance work, but the income from that is uncertain and I’m already living above my meagre means. Any advice?

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  26. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    I’m wanting to quit my job, because with being a college student with art and music degrees, I don’t have the time to work for the hours they’d like, not to mention being in a traveling choir. My permanent address is also out of state, and they won’t let me have the holidays there. It costs more to stay in the dorms during those breaks.

    They hired me for the holidays. Is it wrong to quit before I fulfilled what I was hired for? I don’t think I could handle it, though, with finals and the like coming up. And how do you find out their leaving policies?

  27. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    All good advice, although I definitely fell into the trap for #6 when I recently left my job. I spent a month before I told anyone laying the ground work for my quitting so there would be an easy transition. But once I actually quit I spent my two weeks are being told by management and customers that they didn’t know what they were going to do without me. I assured them everything would be fine, but it’s an uncomfortable way to spend two weeks.

  28. Jaron
    Jaron says:

    Hi my situation is this. I was laid off by a company after 7 years. My new company took me on ive now been here 4.5 years. My salary has gone up but im actually doing a much lower level of work than previous which is making me bored and feel like im getting nowhere. Ive been offered a new job more prospects money etc. but my curremt boss is a really nice guy. We have a small office 6 people and the problem isnt the team its the work there is no challenge and i spend half my time twiddling my thumbs. I know my boss will take it personally if i leave and i dont want to cause any hastle but the reality is im paid quite well but dont really get any decent work so thats why im leaving how do you say that with out offending him.?

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