One of the most overlooked skills in the workplace is figuring out when to leave. Of course, there are the obvious situations, like when a boss is losing his mind, or a company is about to go under. But most situations aren’t so black and white.

The best way to figure out what to do next is to envision what you’re trying to accomplish. Then you can see what the process of separation might look like and what you might end up with when you move to another job.

Here some tips on how to do just that:

1. Don’t quit to make yourself happy.
A job can’t make you happy. Happiness doesn’t come from making more money or creating the perfect design or being right about the marketplace. Happiness comes from the relationships you make with other people. So work doesn’t make you happy, but it can make you unhappy.

If your boss is setting goals you could never meet, or not setting goals at all, it could be so frustrating that you’ll be unhappy. Or if your commute is more than 45 minutes, you probably have so little control over it that the uncertainty is adding enough stress to your life to make you unhappy. These are reasons to change jobs.

But if you have a job where you have challenging goals that you’re able to meet, ask yourself if you should be changing your personal life and not your job. Because the connection between work and happiness is overstated.

2. Quit as a personal growth opportunity.
The days of stable jobs and corporate loyalty are over. Today, people change jobs constantly. So the best way to create stability in your career is to depend on your ability to get a new job when you need to. The people with the best skill sets have the most flexibility when it comes to changing jobs.

Which means that you need to be building your skill set constantly. If you’re in a job that has a flat learning curve, try to get a project that will challenge you. Or try to get your boss to pay for training. But if you can’t do that, it’s time to quit.

Personal growth isn’t just the key to getting a six-figure career. It’s also the key to keeping yourself engaged in your work and employable in the marketplace.

3. Use quitting as a networking opportunity.

The minute you quit, your relationship with your boss changes. Now you’re equals. Now you’re two people who work in the same industry and are part of each others’ network. When you tell your boss you just got a better job, you immediately become more appealing to him or her — as a networking opportunity. Manage this moment carefully, and you and your boss will be able to help each other for many years to come.

As I’ve written here before, forget things like exit interviews — those never help anyone. After all, if the company were really interested in what you have to say, they would’ve asked you while you were an employee. So stick to the positive stuff. Be gracious and grateful — even if you’re not feeling a lot of gratitude, you can find something positive to focus on.

Quitting is a great moment in your career to build new bridges for yourself, but you need to have a solid plan for how to manage the situation well.

4. Don’t feel guilty.

Even though today’s 20-something workers change jobs every 18 months, they typically feel guilty about giving notice. This strikes me as a new phenomenon. As a Gen-Xer who graduated into one of the worst job markets in history, I gave notice with glee, because the jobs I had in my 20s were mostly lousy.

Today, though, young people have unprecedented opportunity in the workplace, and often their bosses make a big effort to retain them. So it makes sense that quitting will be difficult. But people who quit don’t need to feel guilty.

If you’re quitting because of a new growth opportunity and your boss cares about you, he or she will congratulate you and ask you to keep in touch. And when it makes good sense for you to take a new job and you’ve been a good employee, quitting is likely to go smoothly.

43 replies
  1. GreatManagement
    GreatManagement says:

    Certainly, “Don't quit to make yourself happy”.

    I nearly did many, many years ago. I was working for a right bully of a boss. I was working my socks off, deliver everything, but he was never happy and expected more. He was very unreasonable, so I nearly left – in fact, I am getting angry now just thinking about it. No stop, do not let that happen. OK, I have changed me state – alright now. Phew!

    I am so pleased I did not leave. He did. The new boss was great, my career took off and so many new doors opened.

    Andrew

  2. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I also left a comment on the Yahoo! site. Unfortunately the site mangled my post and inserted weird random text wherever I had put inverted commas.

    I do not understand the vitriol directed against Penelope Trunk on Yahoo. I am 31 with a successful career and based on my experience and those of my peers I would say that 60-70% of what she says is true. In this column it’s more like 90%. I have not read all of the 98 comments on the site but the half dozen that I have seem to be uniformly condemning Penelope, calling her column “comical”, “absurd”, “bizarre” and “complete rubbish”. At no point do any of the comments that I have read actually argue with this particular post on its merits. Just saying something is wrong, doesn't wash; you have to actually say why, and you have to make sure you don't misrepresent your opponent's position in the process.

    In regards to this post: It’s absolutely true that people should leave jobs where they are unhappy (as long as they have something else to move to or money to fall back on). I also whole-heartedly endorse the view that the best reason to leave is when you are moving to a job that will deliver greater opportunities for growth.

    It’s also quite true that former bosses can be really good contacts to cultivate. If you don't find that to be true it might reflect more on you and your ability to manage that relationship than it does on "the way the world is". Some of my best referees and mentors are my former bosses and this is true of both large and small companies. Now that I am freelance, they are also clients.

    The final point is not to feel guilty. I think this is good advice in one respect as corporate loyalty is only valid if it is a two-way loyalty and companies are no longer loyal to their workers. However, it's easier said than done, because it's natural to feel personal loyalty to your colleagues and bosses even if you don't' feel loyalty to the company. I actually disagree with Penelope that this is a new phenomenon. I am Gen X but I have always felt uncomfortable handing in my notice.

  3. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Good post and yes, I am trying to figure out that Yahoo thing too, like Caitlin.

    On point 2, I would say it is important to recognise that there is only so much growth an organisation can deliver for a person at a given time. Knowing clearly the limits of the organisation is also key to point 4, not feeling guilty.

    As suggested in point 1, it is possible some happiness in a job may have come from positive relationships forged at the workplace. For some, it may get difficult to see even those, whom they genuinely considered friends. That is life! Seven years after quitting my longest – and first post-MBA – corporate gig, I am invited to the 50th birthday party of the man who hired me.

    This article by Times-London writer, Satnam Sanghera, dealt with the issue interestingly last weekend:
    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/columnists/article2886500.ece

    Thanks.

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  5. Phil
    Phil says:

    Quitting a job can be fraught? Is that english? Perhaps the vitriol on Yahoo can be attributed to the fact the Ms. Trunk writes like 5th grader…and not a very smart one.

  6. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    This article is quite timely for me. I just resigned from my job to take advantage of a career opportunity for me. It puts me in a direction that I want to go and will help me hone the skills I need for where I want to end up. My boss and I both agreed that there just wasn’t enough work for me to do and that was fine. That brings up Penelope’s point about interesting work…some people would do fine sitting there not doing anything…but I couldn’t. And as always, keep it positive…Never bash your boss at the exit interview and NEVER bash the company. When they asked me if I would return given the opportunity I said without a doubt. Never close a door, just walk through it and leave it open.

  7. gdc
    gdc says:

    “Quitting a job can be fraught, especially if it’s one you generally like.”
    What does that mean exactly? Fraught with what?
    You write for a living and this is the sentence structure you use?
    hahahaha
    Also, you are just wrong. Work can make one happy, as can making alot of money. Work by itself can give one great joy. People and relationships can give one pain and suffering. So, what you say isn’t true to begin with. Sorry you’ve never done any work that was interesting enough to give you great pleasure.
    I’d say if writing is your profession, you picked the wrong one.
    Maybe that’s why you’re unhappy. lol
    Maybe you should go grow some tomatoes….

  8. Joe Mcnamick
    Joe Mcnamick says:

    Let me pose a more interesting scenario for you…You don’t like your job or your manager. You might be quitting in the next few months and so you will need your manager as a reference. Except, right now, you want to be brazenly honest with them and explain to them the areas they are not managing properly and why. You want to be honest with them and spell out the issues facing them. Question is..will you suck it up and do your work? Or, will you be honest with them, and take your chances come reference time.

  9. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    gdc, there’s an old saying about the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps you should look it up? There are plenty of grammatical errors in your own post, not to mention the repeated use of the anal and out-dated third-person impersonal pronoun.

    According to my dictionary, fraught is perfectly permissible on its own. Sure, things can be fraught _with_ something (tension, danger, take your pick…) if you prefer. But it’s equally correct just to say fraught, in which case it means “causing or affected by great anxiety or stress”. Two examples of correct usage, according to the dictionary, are “there was a fraught silence” and “she sounded a bit fraught”.

  10. LM
    LM says:

    As a 20-something, I have a hard time getting to that 18-month point before quitting. I’m 2.5 years out of college and am on job #3 — I was at my first job for one miserable year, at my second for 10 months, and am now approaching month 9 at the third. I’m not satisfied with my current job, but I’m terrified of being labeled as a job-hopper and being stuck in a job because of a scrambled resume. Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid the stigma of being a job hopper while desperately wanting to hop into a better job/fit?

    * * * * * * *

    If you did something great at each job before you left, then it doesn’t matter that you hopped, becuase you made a big contribution wherever you went. When this is not the case, leave the job off your resume and in interviews when people ask you what you did during that time, talk about stuff you did that lead to personal growth.

    Remember: Your resume is not a history of how you spent every second of your life. It’s a marketing document. In an era where people have eight jobs before they are thirty-two (yes, this is the national average) it makes no sense to list every job you’ve ever done. Have your resume and your interviews focus on personal gorwth and the contributions you’ve made to the people you work for/with.

    Penelope

  11. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    To follow up on Penelope’s last comment to LM:

    It’s perfectly fine to just have the years that you’ve worked at a place on your resume, You really don’t need to have months or, god forbid, months and days. It just doesn’t need to be that specific.

    This approach gives the interviewer enough information to base an interview around but has two advantages for the job hunter.

    Firstly, it can make short stints appear longer – 2004 to 2006 could mean Dec 2004 to Jan 2006, which is really only just over a year. I’m not suggestion deception – if you are asked for more specific dates, you should give them. But there’s no need to draw attention to something if you feel it’s a potential weakness.

    Secondly, it means you don’t have to waste time in the interview accounting for short gaps, which is a distraction from the task of trying to sell yourself.

    My resume just has years. It’s not because I job-hop but just because after 11 years’ experience it simply doesn’t seem necessary to drill down to so much detail unless I asked. And I am never asked so I can only presume that recruiters and/or hiring managers feel the same way.

    I don’t know if I would go so far as Penelope and advocating leaving jobs off my resume. However, jobs can drop off the bottom. I no longer list the the non-career jobs I did at or soon after university.

  12. S
    S says:

    Great post.. I am moving for both the reasons & a personal one. Rather trivial, but was over looked for promotion. I know it is stupid, but left a scar deep down.. will move to a global role, with challenging technology. :)

  13. bill martinea
    bill martinea says:

    As a professional recruiter I have a couple things to add about the inclusion of all jobs and correct dates on resumes. Personally I’m a stickler for all the details as I work for my client companies trying to present them with their “ideal” candidate not just the ones that are close. So I disagree with the premise of leaving information off of the resume. However, even if you are presenting your resume directly to a company you must understand your target market (since this is a marketing documet). Do the HR people you know want all the details? YES. Will they think you are in fact trying to deceive them if they find information contray to your resume? YES. and will your candidacy suffer when they find out all the details? YES.

    So ask yourself if your covering things up (lying) or dressing things up (marketing) and make sure your comfortable answering all the questions during the interview or you will find your reputation tarnished.

  14. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    This is a great post – lots of times, people just quit without thinking ahead. It’s great to hear someone encourage foresight. If at all possible, have multiple options before quitting a job. I recommend interviewing often, if only to keep your interviewing skills up and options open!

  15. Joshua
    Joshua says:

    I’ve submitted my resume both with month / year and only year included. For the resumes with only the year showing, no one ever asked for more information, or indicated I was leaving something out. I got my past two jobs with year-only resumes

    Just my own experience talking, but if you’re a good candidate, I doubt that companies will reject you simply for leaving off month of employment.

  16. perde
    perde says:

    [ – ] The Boomer Chronicles wrote an interesting post today!.Here's a quick excerpt One of the most overlooked skills in the workplace is figuring out when to leave. Of course, there are the obvious situations, like when a boss is losing his mind, or a company is about to go under. But most situations aren't so black and white. The best way to figure out what to do next is to envision what you're trying to accomplish. Then you can see what the process of separation might look like and what you might end up with when you move to another job. Here some tips on how to do just t [ – ]

  17. perde city
    perde city says:

    It’s perfectly fine to just have the years that you’ve worked at a place on your resume, You really don’t need to have months or, god forbid, months and days. It just doesn’t need to be that specific.

  18. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    I always wanted to quit my current job because I thought I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t growing but maybe it’s more about changing my personal perspective of things.

  19. Robert
    Robert says:

    I have found several of your posts to be interesting.
    I am not a twenty-someone looking for a job, but,thank you anyway!
    I was also glad to read of your son’s progress!

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