How to Resign Gracefully

how-to-resign-gracefullyReader J has a question about how to resign your job with grace…

Any chance you can do a post on how to gracefully resign? I have been interviewing for other jobs (attorney), and anticipate that one of those interviews with eventually turn into an offer. I have not disclosed to anyone at my current employer that I am looking elsewhere; it’s a small office, and I expect that news of my departure will be poorly received. Any thoughts on how to best navigate the tricky waters of transitioning from one job to another would be most appreciated!

Good luck to you in your search, J! I think we’ve all had daydreams/fantasies of screaming “I QUIT!” and rushing out the door, cardboard box in your hands, wind in your hair, as inspiring music plays. Amazingly, this isn’t the recommended route to leaving your job. For starters, when you go to clean out your office you will be absolutely gob-smacked by how much stuff you’ve managed to accumulate — so that whole “single-cardboard box” image will not work.  (Pictured: quitter, originally uploaded to Flickr by hellojenuine.)

In general, I think resigning your job is a balancing act — you need to assess your future employer’s needs, your current employer’s needs, and your own needs, with the hope of accommodating all three sets of needs, leaving on good terms, and making sure you get whatever benefits are coming to you. Obviously, these suggestions are just for once you have *accepted* the new job offer. Some things to consider to help you resign your job with grace:

- Attitude – have a good attitude when you resign, and do it with a smile — say how much you’ve enjoyed working there (or something that rings true to you — that you’ve learned a lot, or will never forget your time there) but that it’s sadly time for you to move on.  Tell them that you’ve accepted a job with ___ and can stay until ____.  That’s all you need to say.  It doesn’t matter how much your current job drove you away, or how your new job will be so much more awesome — leave on as high a note as you can.  Along these lines, try to finish your projects on a positive note with people, even those coworkers who annoy you. Sunshine! Happiness! You’re leaving soon! Similarly, if you have a going away party, try to avoid getting drunk — in many cases this will be people’s last impression of you, and you want to make sure that you leave a good one.  You may also want to check out our advice for people leaving an internship — a lot of the networking advice there is doubly true for resigning your job!

- Timing. Technically, I think only two weeks’ notice is required, but in a lot of jobs (I would include law/banking in the mix) I think 4 weeks is appreciated.  Timing is a tricky thing, though:  most employers will want you to start ASAP, which may not work if:

  • you have projects on your desk at your current job — you should leave enough time to either finish the projects, or get someone else up to speed to take your place.  This is one of the key things — don’t screw over your old employer when you leave.  Leaving on good terms is the goal here: you still want recommendations and the ability to network with your former colleagues and bosses.  Make sure that your employer sees whatever efforts you make to bring someone else up to speed — cc: them on the emails or memos, or send them updates along the lines of “I showed Y how to access and find the documents she might need for tasks A, B, and C.”
  • you have a bonus coming to you.  A lot of law firms are giving spring bonuses now (congratulations to everyone getting one!) and my advice to you, if possible, is to wait to resign until the money has cleared your checking account.  I’ve heard far too many stories of someone resigning after bonuses were announced but before they were actually paid out, and then not getting the bonus and kicking themselves.  If it’s just a spring bonus (which, from what I understand, is just in the low 4 figures), it may not be worth it if your new employer really needs you; you may also be able to negotiate with them to get a signing bonus or something comparable.  On the other hand, if it’s tens of thousands of dollars, think long and hard about resigning before you get that money.
  • you already know you need/have a vacation planned after your start date.  If you have a two-week trip planned, be up front with your new employer about this — they may want to delay the start date until after that time.

Finally, this is a very different question from what reader J asks about, but I’ll mention it also — if you’re pregnant, planning to quit when your maternity leave ends may not be a good idea.  Every office is a bit different, though — for example, I knew one woman who had a very intense first-half of the year, and then went on maternity leave — she came back to the firm for about a month, collected her bonus, and then quit, leaving on good terms.  On the other hand, I’ve heard of one friend who took her maternity leave, fully expecting to return to her job, and then realized she just couldn’t leave her baby at home, so she quit — her bosses were not happy.  I know one pregnant friend was directly told by her bosses that it was better to let them know in advance if she wasn’t planning on coming back, with the promise that the next time there was a job opening she would be the first person they called.

- Other details. Do not leave the cleaning of your office until the very end (see above).  Similarly, look at what benefits you have at your current job before you leave — do you have money in your flexible spending account?  have you talked to HR about what will happen to your accrued-but-not-used vacation days?  if your current job has certain perks that your future job does not (for example, free continuing legal education classes), do your make use of them before you leave.

Readers, what factors should one consider when quitting?  How do you resign your job with grace?

Comments

  1. My advice: start cleaning your office *before* you give notice, in some non-obvious way. Bring home personal stuff you want. Figure out what you’ll want as a writing sample (assuming not confidential), download your work Outlook contacts, etc. Basically, be prepared for the possibility of being asked nicely to leave immediately.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. If you work in a field where you deal with proprietary information and you’re leaving for a competitor (or perceived competitor), it’s not unlikely that you’ll be asked to leave immediately.

      I’d also add that you should tell your immediate supervisor in person, on the same day but before you submit your formal resignation. He or she should find out directly from you, not from anyone else. It’d be nice to also tell your immediate coworkers in person, but your direct supervisor should be the first one you tell.

    • Hairy says:

      Yes. While you may think you are giving two or four week’s notice, your employer can typically terminate you immediately if they so desire. I’ve see this happen in finance land.

  2. handlesgalore says:

    So very timely! I’m hoping to give notice in the next few weeks.

  3. Ms. M says:

    I’m so glad you posted this – Brazen Careerist had a similar post recently (but of course much more irreverant and not as applicable to lawyers, etc.) I am an attorney who will be giving notice as soon as I work out some offer letter details with a new employer. As such, I just cannot motivate to bill. I mean, I’m billing like 3 hours a day, if that. If I’m going to leave in 3-4 weeks, should I pick up the pace as a matter of good karma? Or can I just fly under the radar? When I finally tell my department head next week that I am pursuing another opportunity, will he look at my low, low hours and make any judgments? I don’t want to burn any bridges here, obviously, but MAN it is difficult to motivate to bill my required 8.25 or whatever when I know that I’m not long for this world. Basically, if anyone has had anything like this come back to bite them let me know. Or should I live it up for my last four weeks (long lunches, manicures…)

    • Ms. M says:

      I should add that of course I’m doing all pressing work — I’m not leaving anyone hanging. I just can’t motivate to bill those extra hours I SHOULD technically be billing were I worrying about my 1900 requirement or whatever…

      • Anonymous says:

        I’d try to bill at least 5-6 hours a day so it doesn’t look like you’re a slacker. People will remember the last impression you leave on them. I don’t see any reason why you should kill yourself to meet 19oo hours, though.

    • Nowhere says:

      Hmm. Is there somewhere you could park your time e.g. pro bono projects, or administration, or something that looks kind of billable?

    • I just lateraled from one firm to another and gave two weeks’ notice. I was billing about 4 hours each day before I officially gave notice, and about 1-2 afterwards. I don’t think anyone noticed or cared. Basically, as long as you don’t leave anyone in the lurch and your clients’ interests are protected, enjoy having some part-time off.

      • Working less than half of the amount expected before you give notice is probably not a good idea, people do notice, and you never know when you are going to need a recommendation from someone you would never expect. Once you’ve given notice, it is a different story.

        I’ve left two private firm attorney jobs, always gave at least six weeks notice, and have great relationships with former colleagues at both places. In contrast, at my current job, several attorneys have given just two weeks notice and it has not been well received. It may be different in other industries, but because of the time involved in turning over matters, I really think more notice is always a better practice for attorneys. If you are very junior, it may not matter as much.

        In boom times, one attorney I worked with left to join a very successful local start-up. He left a f-you note for a partner that had given him a hard time. One year later, the economy had crashed, and he came back to the firm. I know corporettes would never behave so badly, but it very is true that you don’t know where the future will take you, and you may need help from the colleagues you’re desperate to escape now.

        • Maybe my situation was different because pretty much every associate at the firm was billing +/- 4 hours a day (being that slow was one of the primary reasons that I left). The rest of your advice is spot-on. It’s never worth it to leave on a less than graceful note.

  4. cbackson says:

    In my experience, shorter notices are common in the private firm world, at least in my city (for partners especially) – I can think of a couple of people who left on a week’s notice, and one who announced his departure on a Wednesday and left on a Friday. I know that for partners, the strategic considerations may be different (given that the process for hiring partners away is often more hush-hush than standard associate interviewing), but I’ve seen this at the associate level as well.

    The only people I’ve seen giving 4 weeks’ notice have been those who have left to teach or to go in-house or to a trade association – they’ve often announced their departures several months in advance. But those who move to other firms typically pull the trigger quickly.

  5. What are you supposed to do when your manager/boss takes it out on you for leaving? I assume the answer is nothing, but has anyone else experienced:

    -Giving notice and then being told the next day if you don’t “shape up” you should just leave and never mind your two weeks (yes, this really happened and no, it wasn’t a job where it’s the standard to leave right away when you quit like a partner/counsel would likley do).

    -Your manager refusing to speak to you for several days because he/she took your resignation personally.

    • Argie says:

      I had a job where I was set to give my 2 weeks notice in a couple weeks, but the boss beat me to it. Except, he was trying to use the threat of losing my job as a motivational tool, and was somewhat put out that I actually called his bluff and said “Ok, my last day will be two weeks from today”.

      He spent the next two weeks trying to scare me into staying (“You aren’t going to find anything better out there”), telling me why I wouldn’t succeed anywhere else, pleading with me to stay (“We can change your workload so you are only doing X”), and taking the leave personally (“Why are you leaving me?” Really – its like I was breaking up with him). Then the last 3 days were silence and I left as soon as I got my paycheck on Friday.

      Two weeks later the other two female attorneys in his office left, giving their notice the same day as they left because they were concerned about viciousness, since they were most of his family practice and took a lot of the clients with them.

    • anon for this one says:

      I had this situation at my first job out of college (prior to law school). My manager took it personally and reamed me out for giving notice (I gave 3 weeks incidentally, at a firm where people routinely gave 2), saying that I better do good work for the last three weeks. I was so shaken I just let her scream (no exaggeration here), even though she basically accused me of having a poor work ethic (after promoting me twice). Apparently, many people heard of the incident and it came up in her review at the end of the year.

      Then, kid you not, it happened to me again when I gave notice at an in-house job. For a variety of circumstances, I could only give exactly two weeks notice, but you would have thought I had give two days notice from the bullying that ensued. This time I had law school and several years of experience under my belt and pointed out very calmly that I had a strong work ethic (I had been promoted once already, but did not explicitly point that out) and that I would handle myself just as professionally in my last two weeks there as I had before. She tried to pressure me to give more than two week’s notice and I said I could not, at which point she implied she would call the state bar. I was so disgusted I just let her talk. Then I called an employment lawyer who assured me what I already knew, which was the state bar would laugh at her trying to say that two weeks notice was a sign of unprofessionalism and that she was just bullying me.

      I have no advice – my view is that if someone pulls that kind of stunt – they are never going to be a good networking contact for me, so I was civil, held your ground (ie I really could not give more than 2 weeks notice as I had exactly 20 days between the day of my offer and the day I was expected to start work and I had to move cities) and did good work right up until the very last day.

    • LawyrChk says:

      What a mature approach to take. I certainly would avoid putting that person as a reference in the future, but yikes!

      • anon for this one says:

        thank you – I tried to be very professional about it, but it sure felt horrible – plus I was convinced there was something wrong with me that it happened a second time. Talking to an employment lawyer helped though – he said that type of unprofessionalism is not uncommon and to just give no one any reason to complain about you.

  6. Sydney Bristow says:

    When I left my career to go to law school, I took my boss to coffee to tell him. We were very close and I knew it was going to be a much longer conversation that I felt comfortable having in our small branch office.

    I gave 4 weeks notice because I was lucky enough to know that they would need me to train someone to take my place and I trusted my boss. Granted I was not leaving a job as an attorney, but I wrote up a sort of manual for the new person to refer to if she had issues after I left. I wrapped up my projects as best I could and passed them along to a variety of people at my office. I was lucky to have everyone support me, but I think doing everything you can to make the transition as easy as possible for your colleagues is important.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Any thoughts on whether it is ever appropriate to tell your employer some of the negative reasons you are leaving, when the work environment has become toxic, blatantly unfavorable for women with children, or otherwise unbearable?

    • Res Ipsa says:

      I could see if HR did an independent exit interview, that that would be the appropriate place to raise those issues.

      • Yep. The only time I have ever done this is in an HR exit interview. The interviewer thanked me for the info. From what I heard from former co-workers after I left, absolutely nothing ever changed. So don’t do it thinking you are going to be the crusader who changes the place for the better (because that almost certainly won’t happen) and especially do not burn bridges to do it, especially if some of the criticism you have is personal for someone.

        • GermanGirl says:

          I happened to become friends with my predecessor.
          She told me that she had a long talk with HR about how things went in our department and why she really quit. HR went straight to the department lead, not to discuss any issues but to give her an inside scoop of the exit interview. That resulted in a yell-fest. My predecessor was accused of throwing the department manager under the bus.
          Good to know, I won’t make the same mistake.

    • Ms. M says:

      These are largely the reasons I am leaving, but I have decided NOT to mention them; indeed, I am even going to avoid an exit interview as much as possible. Even though all of the above may be true, I can see how others could/would construe them as simply as the perceptions of one employee (me): I’ve knowingly chosen a field that is high stress, unfavorable for women, etc. Yes, of course there are things they could do to change, but I don’t think my leaving is going to make them change, and I’m quite sure I’ll only come across as bitter and angry (because, of course I am). As my mother says: you catch more flies with honey. I’m going to be as polite and straightforward as possible and will trust that leaving with goodwill and positivity will do more than negativity. This just my anticipated approach: I’m interested to hear what others say.

    • I did this at a position I left about 3 years ago – the position was coordinator of a non profit that was part of a larger financial incubator org – and it was my telling the HR dept of the financial incubator the weird demands that my boss was putting on me (i.e. asking me to babysit her kids in our office, pick up her kids at school, having me work out of her home when she wasn’t there but her husband was, fax personal paperwork to her mom – and I wasn’t an assistant or anything close to it). This was more of a “look – she’s kinda crazy – and whomever else she hires for my job – she’s going to treat them this kinda crazy too.” esp. because I had a lot of respect for the financial incubator group and my former boss was putting them in some questionable insurance areas by having employees work at her house/deal with her kids…

    • Laura #2 says:

      Brazen Careerist did a post on this at one point–something along the lines of “why you shouldn’t give an exit interview.” I don’t agree with all of her perspectives, and I’m still not sure where I come down on this one, but I found her thoughts interesting.

      She basically said that if you’re leaving b/c you don’t feel that people listen to you, what makes you think they’ll start listening when you’re about to leave? If they never exercised the behavior before, what makes you think they’ll start? Her thinking is that you risk harming burning bridges giving feedback to people who are unlikely to take it. If they had taken it, you probably wouldn’t be leaving.

    • When I left my job before law school everyone knew it was because I was going to law school. But, one of the primary motivators for me to really think about what I wanted to do was finding out that I made 30-40k less than several male peers. There were some mitigating factors (1 more year of experience, one person had an MBA), but nothing that could reasonably account for that kind of disparity.

      Frankly, I was angry, and I stewed about it for months. I never brought it up with my boss (my own fault), but I did tell HR in the exit interview that I was aware that there were significant salary differences, it was a primary motivator for me to seek other opportunities.

    • Nonny says:

      When I left my last job I took the position that my old employer might as well know why – if anything I say can possibly help the next person, that is a good thing. I was pretty direct. But then again, my exit interview was with HR in a giant BigLaw firm so who knows what happened with my comments.

      • microentrepreneur says:

        Just gotta say this about exist interviews–and I’ve done them as an employee and worked in HR, so I have the view from both sides of the fence. I was in a Fortune 100 company in manufacturing and there were so many issues, from the unethical to the actionable, that I wouldn’t know where to start. . .

        In my experience, exit interviews were pro forma. HR is rarely in a position to do anything to change the situation that made you crazy enough to leave. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to save yourself the aggravation and leave with a smile on your face and to avoid the exit interview altogether. It’s like dealing with any unjust situation–you have to choose whether to fight it or whether to move on. I strongly advise moving on.

    • anon. says:

      I just gave me notice last week (moving to an in-house position) and I am being “required” to write an exit memo to the partners in my pratice area listing all of the good things and bad things about my experience with my firm. I have been strongly instructed to be brutally honest since “what are we going to do? fire you?”, but I just can’t. My draft now is full of nothing but niceties.

      Does anyone else have experience with this? I just feel like I am being put between a rock and a hard place. I certainly don’t want to burn any bridges.

      • Janie says:

        I was in a similar position leaving my job pre-law school. What I did was find something relatively neutral to “complain” about so that I wasn’t dodging the question but wasn’t burning bridges either. I talked about the lack of ergonomic workstations (the job involved a lot of writing) and how it contributed to me getting carpal tunnel and having to take time off from work for physical therapy, etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you don’t do it, they have no recourse either. Just an idea.

      • Wow, this sounds like a minefield, and it’s very unfair for them to put you in this position. They have nothing to lose – they can either take your advice or leave it – but if they don’t like what you say, they can hold it against you in future references, referrals, etc.

        If they are that interested in what is wrong with their company, why people are leaving, and what they can do to fix it, they can hire consultants to come in and do an organizational analysis with confidential employee interviews (I know, because I do that kind of work). This sounds to me almost like some kind of blackmail attempt, frankly – they can hold on to the letter long after you’re gone. I would stick to the niceties and leave it at that.

        • So true. My current draft is full of rainbows and unicorn dust. I think that’s how I will leave it. After all, as they said, what can they do? Fire me?

      • Hairy says:

        I think this is similar to asking someone their weaknesses in an interview. Give some, but they shouldn’t be that bad!

        I’d keep the positives and then “suggest improvements that could have made my experience ever better,” like the following -

        - additional opportunities to attend industry conferences
        - even more encouragement for doing pro bono work
        - expanded mentorship program (loved my mentor, two would have been twice as good!)

        BS like that. :-)

  8. I have a similar question. I worked for 1.5 years prior to beginning my clerkship, where I will be until December. I am going to apply for different jobs and will definitely NOT be going back to my former employer for many reasons. The problem is that I don’t want any potential employers to contact my old firm, if at all possible. How can I make this happen? Should I ask that the new firms keep it confidential in my cover letter, or is that crazy? Do firms know not to contact people’s old firms in case they don’t know the potential employee is looking for a new place?

    On a similar note, I am hoping to start a new job in January 2012. When should I start sending out my resume? I will be looking mostly at big firms.

    • You should talk with your judge before sending out resumes, but if it’s all right with the judge, you should start sending out resumes now. The job market is still really tough, and a clerkship isn’t as helpful as it used to be.

    • Bk foette says:

      My clerkship is ending in August and, *eeks, I have not sent out my resume yet. I feel very behind the times.
      In my defense, I have been having informal conversations with a few people in my field and have 2-3 firms I am going to submit to and the chapter 13 trustee as well.
      Definitely talk to your judge about it, my judge has allowed me to do these informal meetings/conversations, but when I submit my resume I will have to recuse myself from any cases those firms are in. Presumably, when I make a decision and chose one of the jobs, I will be able to again work on the other firms I elected not to join.
      Good luck on your search. So I am trying to time my submissions to when the Judge will be out on conferences so I can hopefully get the ball rolling and will be closer to making a decision without having to recuse from too much.
      As for not contacting your old firm, I am not sure how to word that. Usually confidential involves not informing your current job, but that would not really apply here. Maybe if you phrase it like your former employer is not aware you are not rejoining so discretion would be appreciated.

    • When I worked in headhunting business (on the office support side), we would frequently get resumes where the applicant was job-hunting without his/her employers knowing about it. It’s perfectly normal. I can’t recall the phrase they used, but something such as your search is confidential, or paraphrase this “please be advised that I have not informed my former work-place of my job search, and would prefer that you not contact them until this is in the bag, or a need for references apply, or whatever”

      Unless you state it in your application, they will not know about it.

  9. LinkedIn Question says:

    I read the internship post Kat linked to. One of the things it warns against is contacting superiors on LinkedIn whom you wouldn’t ask to write your recommendations. Is this really a no-no? My school’s career services has been advising me to use LinkedIn, and my current MO is to meet with alums, and then instead of writing thank-you emails, writing thank-you messages on LinkedIn. So far, no one has not connected with me as a result. It’s helped me build up a group of respectable looking professionals on LinkedIn, although I would never ask any of them to write a recommendation. (Personally, I think the recommendations are stupid — so many of them are friends recommending each other using the exact same phrasing.)

    • Valleygirl says:

      I use linkedin with alums, former profs who I actually know (most from grad school where I was in smaller classes), and co-workers. In my case, my bosses have added me on linkedin. I think it’s great for sending thank you’s – but I’ve never actually requested a recomendation – and other’s I know who have them (esp. good ones) got them because the person felt inclined to do so – not because they were asked to do so.

      • Good point. I think a) 2008 was a bit different — Linked In was still fairly new back then, and b) it’s different if you’re leaving an internship versus leaving a job. If you’ve actually worked with people, feel fine to “link in” with them. I’ve also started doing it more casually — certainly in the blogging world (met X at a cnference, will now link in) and in the legal world also (X, Y, and Z know my name from collaborations we’ve done for my non-profit job; while I wouldn’t turn to them for a recommendation I’d want to stay on their radar through the years if possible.) I should revise that post…

    • Janie says:

      This is clearly not what you are doing, but I was recently told by someone at a career fair table talk that she no longer gives out her business card because when she did so, tons of students would try to connect with her on LinkedIn. Weird. But I missed out on being able to send her a nice thank you email (we had a long, friendly chat) because I did not have her contact info (and couldn’t reasonably track it down online).

      LinkedIn is still weird for me.

  10. Hopeful says:

    So timely and great advice!

    I have interviews coming up at two firms and I really hope I need this information in coming weeks!

  11. Lyssa says:

    One note about the pregnancy/maternity leave issue: (and I know that this will be controversial)- I’ve heard a lot of people say that they will avoid hiring youngish women if they can because they have been burned too many times by women who leave for maternity and never come back or similar (while leading their employer to believe that they intend to return). I know that that’s not fair, illegal, etc., but ultimately, it is what it is. (And, while I certainly don’t support that, I understand their frustration if that has happened to them.)

    So, if you’re thinking of being less than upfront with your employer about your intentions regarding maternity leave, please consider how that might impact not only your coworkers, but your fellow corporettes who might be job hunting out there.

    • Note: this happened to me, and I am sure it happened to other people too. I was fired (from an Am100 firm) when I was pregnant. It was ostensibly performance-related, but I had never had any prior bad reviews. I got a lawyer and argued with them, and ended up getting a settlement of approximately 3 months’ pay, in addition to the regularly-scheduled maternity leave. I also signed a confidentiality agreement. So if you think that your colleague suddenly decided not to come back from maternity leave, think again – she may have been fired and can’t talk about it. I am still really PO’d at the firm and how this probably contributes to people’s poor perceptions of child-bearing females.

    • This whole attitude really irks me, and in my experience, the idea that tons of professional women stop working after they have a kid is not even true. I cannot think of a single female attorney (or staff member, for that matter) at my firm who has left in the last 10 years or so for this reason. Meanwhile, a number of associates, both male and female, have left to go in house go to another firm, or otherwise pursue other opportunities. So whenever some jackass mentions this ridiculous line of reasoning for not hiring women in their childbearing years, I ask them to name an attorney who hasn’t returned to work after maternity leave. Usually they can’t. There is always a risk that when you hire someone, they will leave sooner than you want. It is not specific to women.

      • Anon for this says:

        I know quite a number of women who have. Of course not everyone does, and it’s not good (in fact, quite bad) to assume most women will, but I will note that leaving after one or more maternity leaves in a short period of time is in a bit of a different category than another employee leaving “sooner than you want.” Paid maternity leave at many big firms is a generous, expensive perk and while of course it’s offered with the knowledge that some people will use it in this way, I don’t think it’s surprising to find that no one likes it when people do. I understand you haven’t seen it in ten years at your firm, but in several years, I’ve seen it 4 times. The male associate who is burnt out and leaves after two years and 4400 hours billed is different from the female associate who leaves after two years and 3670 hours, having been paid the same.

        • This – seen way too many woman attorneys take the leave, and then work for less than three months after. I understand why they decide to come back, but doesn’t help the women who come after.

      • I don’t know. This is a tough issue for me. When I had my son, I was one of those women who was dead set on coming back to work and did let everyone know that. Then, I got to the end of my maternity leave and didn’t really want to go back, but did it anyway because I felt like I had made a commitment and wanted to honor it. As it turned out, going back to work after maternity leave was a huge mistake for me, and one of the only things in my life I would go back and change if I could. The company I worked for back then was a truly toxic environment for working moms, but more than that, my head was not in the game. I was miserable, I made my husband miserable, I screwed up at work several times, and it was just a huge mistake. I could have saved everyone a lot of time and energy if I had just not gone back.

        But. Now, I have been on the other side of it. I had a great employee go out on maternity leave this summer, promising us she was going to return. We got an email from her TWO DAYS before she was supposed to come back to work, basically just saying “I’m not coming back, sorry. See ya!” We were in a scramble to replace her. I don’t think I would have felt as bad about it if she had said two weeks before we expected her back that she wasn’t coming back, because then we would have had some notice. But as it was, she left uncompleted projects and we had had some projects on hold waiting for her, and had to hire someone quickly to work on them. I know she wanted to max out her leave benefit before quitting, but we were left with a bad taste in our mouths. I would still give her a positive reference if asked, but would probably be less than effusive with my praise.

        So I would say to women having babies, do think the decision through. I totally understand not wanting to go back, and believe me, it is impossible to know what you really want to do until that baby is born and you are sitting there looking at him/her. However, is it worth getting an extra week of benefits to potentially burn a bridge with an employer who might otherwise love you, recommend you, hire you back? About 85% of the women I know who have quit to stay home at one point, went back to work within 3 or 4 years. Don’t be so shortsighted that you create a negative-reference situation that will haunt you.

        • Lyssa says:

          I know this is veering off topic, but I’m curious- how was the work environment toxic for moms, but not for dads (or was it for both)? The reason that I ask is that you hear that a lot, specific to working moms, and it seems like it implicitely assumes that the mom is carrying the childcare weight and dads are not. Which is not an assumption that I think is fair.

          • “it seems like it implicitely assumes that the mom is carrying the childcare weight and dads are not. Which is not an assumption that I think is fair.”

            Uh, I’m sorry, but in 99.99 percent of the parenting marriages/relationships I know about – including my own – the mother does the majority of the childcare. I consider myself to be lucky because my husband does quite a bit compared to other dads I know – but I still do the majority, meaning 60-70 percent. I understand that a lot of women feel that “when I have kids, my husband is going to do 50 percent of the childcare because we have a 50-50 marriage.” All I can say to those gals is – yeah, good luck with that. I don’t know anyone, anywhere where it works that way. I don’t have a good explanation for why it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily that women have a greater attachment to their kids than dads or kids make more demands for their mom’s time vs. their dad’s. I think there is almost always just one person in the relationship who does the majority of the childrearing – and I say this because I know gay male and lesbian couples where the imbalance still exists (including one lesbian couple where they say they have a “traditional marriage” because one woman stays home with the kids, and the other goes out to work). All I know is my husband is one of four dads – for 85 kids – who is at my son’s daycare on a near-daily basis (he does the morning drop-off most days). I know this because my daycare director told me. If you live someplace where this is not the case – awesome, tell me where it is, because I’ll move there and tell all my working mom friends to do the same. But I have never seen it, and the sociological research doesn’t seem to support a widespread occurence of situations where parents split parenting 50-50, and there is not a greater expectation placed on the mother to leave work when a child is sick, for example.

            In any case – the reason why my former employer was “toxic for working moms” is because regardless of your childcare situation (which they did not ask or care about) or how much you were/weren’t there – as soon as mothers returned from maternity leave, they were almost always shunted into less-important, less-critical, less-high-profile positions and steered away from important projects. Men did not experience the same “mommy-tracking,” at all. The assumption, from the time I got pregnant, was either that I would not come back, or if I came back, I wouldn’t stay – and actually one person told me “you might as well not come back, because if you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t.” She was right, and the reason she knew it was because she had seen it, over and over for 20 years. To the point that they are now trying to recruit me into a class-action lawsuit about “mommy discrimination” against this company.

          • Lyssa says:

            I hate when people begin posts with statements like “um, I’m sorry”. I never know if they mean to sound as rude as it hits my ears (or eyes).

            Look, the thing is, if I assumed that a woman I was going to hire was going to have primary childcare responsibility, I wouldn’t want to hire her either, if it were a demanding job that required full attention. As long as women are claiming that it is assumed that they will take almost full responsibilty for childcare, we can’t possibly be on equal footing with men in demanding jobs.

          • Lyssa, I’m with you on the part about responsibilities of working parents – it’s a juggle to have a young kid at home regardless of your gender. Does more responsibility often fall on women? Yes, but not always and employers shouldn’t assume that’s always going to be the case.

            But in terms of your original question to Ann – why a workplace could be a toxic environment for moms but not for dads, I think Ann’s explanation is 100% right. It’s not necessarily that the workplace isn’t understanding of the need to leave early periodically (or any other flexibility a mom OR dad with childcare responsibilities might require, per se) – it’s that you can be treated differently by those around you. Assigned worse work, have people assume that anytime you’re out of the office, even for a work meeting, it’s because of your child, etc. I’ve seen as much happen to a fairly senior woman in my workplace, and it’s disheartening. My office is FANTASTIC about treating us like professionals and I’ve seen dads on the calendar as “in late, parent teacher conference,” but I’d still describe the environment as toxic for moms (or something similar) because of the way certain powers that be ratchet back responsibilities and assignments for moms with young kids — and not dads.

          • Anne Shirley says:

            This seems deliberately obtuse. You know full well it is toxic to moms, not dads, because moms still bear more of a burden. Snaps to you if you don’t, but it is a fair assumption. Moms also are usually the ones busy “making up for” taking “time off” for maternity leave.

          • “Look, the thing is, if I assumed that a woman I was going to hire was going to have primary childcare responsibility, I wouldn’t want to hire her either, if it were a demanding job that required full attention.”

            Oh. So then you’re officially part of the problem, vs. being part of the solution. Congrats.

          • Seventh Sister says:

            Move here, Ann! I live in Southern California, and easily 40% of the pick-up and drop-offs at my daycare are the dads. (There are other reasons not to move here, but still….)

            I suspect there are a few reasons for this – my kid’s daycare center is in a residential neighborhood (so many people do live close) but also close to a major employment center (so many people do work close).

            Also, many of the daycare kids “graduate” to a private school in the area, so the idea of a mom doing drop off and pick up twice in one day is not really feasible for most of the families since nearly all of the parents work either full or part-time outside the home .

          • Anonymous says:

            I work with an attorney whose husband works as an attorney at another agency. She takes off all the time when the baby is sick. Frankly, I think less of her husband AND his employer because of the situation. It is not fair of him or his boss to ASSUME that she has to do all the childcare.

          • Biglaw midlevel associate, billed over 2000 in a year where I missed a slight bit of time on maternity leave here.

            The attitude towards men and women having kids in my office is staggering. Guys who leave to go to their kids events are hailed as great dads – by the male and female partners alike. Women, on the other hand, are not committed for engaging in the same behavior. I missed every one of the class parties in my son’s daycare, despite trying to schedule them, and often for no reason. I missed dinner with my son on his first birthday, but made it for cake. I’m careful to avoid any mention of my kid in front of certain people — and I never was an effusive mother.

            I hate to say it, but I’ve committed to always being among the top 10 highest billers out of the hundreds of associates, and to pretty much always leave last. It sucks, but its what it took to get my “cred” back after maternity leave — and I also nearly got fired when I got back.

          • Midori says:

            Book recommendation: I Don’t Know How She Does It (http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Know-How-She-Does/dp/0375414053) by Allison Pearson. There’s a lot of truth in that book re: the working mom in a high-commitment job.

        • I was planning to come right back after maternity leave but then, towards the end, realised I wanted to spend a few mths more with baby. Plus I was drained and I didn’t think I could give 100% at work.

          I spoke to bosses + HR and agreed that I’d come back for 3 mths (1st Q of year) to do a smooth transition and take the rest of the year off before transitioning back to look for my next role. It worked because:

          - i gave enought time for a smooth transition
          - i made sure they knew they could call me if needed
          i was anyway due for a move into my next assignment and boss had already lined up my replacement

        • I was lucky enough to start an in house job at 7 months pregnant. When I was interviewing in the early stages ( I spent 2 months at my old job because I had to finish up work for my clients), I made sure to tell everyone that I was pregnant and would be taking maternity leave. When I got to the Senior VP I would be working for, he thought it was great. Turns out he has 8 kids and he told me he is expected home by 6:30 at night!

          Just wanted to tell you all that there is some hope for good employers out there. Plus my husband is great- he does “daddy daycare” 2-3 days a week and we have a nanny the other days. This has made leaving every morning much easier and made traveling much easier. I just try to do as much for my son when I am home to spend time with him and give my husband a break. But you wouldn’t believe how much attention he gets at the mall or library on Wednesday afternoon. You would think he is the first man to ever hold a baby the way people go on and on.

          • Anonymous says:

            It is not daycare or babysitting when the father is home with the baby. It is called parenting. He is not doing you a favor, or helping; he is being a dad.

          • Wow, that is so true Anon.

    • Bk foette says:

      Oh man. This is a concern of mine as my husband and I are hoping to have more children.
      I try to make it clear that I am the primary earner in my family and my husband does contract work and takes on the primary caretaker role. This way my employer won’t be freaked out if I indeed get pregnant, everyone knows I will be returning.

    • NE Attorney says:

      A thought from a different perspective: Not returning to my firm is the exact position that I find myself in. I have worked at my big law firm for nearly three years and am deeply questioning whether I will return to THAT firm after my maternity leave ends. During my pregnancy, the stress of the job placed my health and that of my child in jeopardy. I spoke with my practice manager about the the complications with my pregnancy and nothing changed. The fact that the firm and numerous partners made negative comments about my pregnancy (“she can’t handle oral argument at seven months pregnant”) made me seriously question how the firm and partners will handle me being a new mother. Also, my baby is now my top priority and that includes not subjecting him to a miserable mother who works 100 hours a week. In short: sometimes a woman’s perspective and priorities change after she has a baby, and sometimes she works in a caustic environment that becomes unacceptable after she has a child. (sorry for any typos. Getting by on nay three hour chunks of sleep has it’s effects.)

    • River says:

      I’m one of those people that doesn’t really want kids. I accidently mentioned this in an interview and ended up getting the job. I always feel bad that I am now the token woman they felt safe hiring b/c of that slip up. The other woman is a very out lesbian – not that she can’t have babies, but the chance is much slimmer for the employer.

      It accidently came out because the interviewer was talking about the travel he does for work and how he uses the ff miles to take his kids to Disney, etc – and I think I said I don’t have kids and am not planning on having any but I’d love to use the miles to ski out west… OH well.

      • Honestly I wish I could find ways to mention that in interviews. I don’t really like kids and don’t ever plan on having any, and I’d love for potential employers to know that because, fair or not, I do think they assume young women aren’t as likely to stick around.

        • Anonymous says:

          My husband is the primary caretaker: he usually works at home and he has always done most of the cooking and he supervises homework. He never “helped” with the baby; rather, he took care of his son. That said, he had a job working out of town for three months and I had to go out of town for a few days for work. He did not want to tell his boss (a woman with three children) that he had a childcare conflict. Once he did, she was more than accomodating. Men need to step it up!

        • Anonymous says:

          KZ: do you have elderly parents? Siblings? While you would like to get a leg up in an interview, life throws curve balls, and babies are not the only humans who need constant care. Many adults must work and care for severely disabled adults. I would be turned off if a woman suggested she would be a better employee in that situation.

      • Maybe not in River’s case, but women do change their minds. I never thought I’d have kids, but I did. I never mentioned my earlier view in any interviews, but just saying that employers are smart enough to know that there’s no ironclad guarantee, so I’m sure you got hired because you were better than the rest!

        • I recently read a quote that said something to the effect of “women who parent full time from home are called ‘moms’, men who parent full time from home are called ‘saints’”

          As someone whose husband has been the stay at home parent over the last several months, I would have to agree.

          And even before that, he and I clearly split 50/50 the work. I made it clear to him while we were still dating that this was not just a “hopefully” but a must…

        • Thanks, AN!

          • This discussion has been playing over and over in my head for the past several weeks/months. I am a mid-level associate at a mid-size NY firm, and I’m 6 months pregnant with my first. On track to bill my required 2000 this year, were I not taking leave for three months. I’m planning to take my three months of maternity leave (unpaid) and then come back part-time, if they’ll let me…or maybe not at all. I just don’t know how I am going to feel until I’m home with the baby. I might love it and not be able to leave. I might say, “Get me out of here!” :) I have no doubt that the loss of my income would require some serious budgeting, and some creativity, but we could swing it.

            If I do decide to stay home, I don’t want to burn any bridges, and I want to handle it in the best way possible. But I just don’t see how I can tell them anything other than I’m coming back, because I may very well come back. And, I don’t want to screw up my entire career. I would anticipate returning to work in 3-4 years, not for this firm, but likely for something in the same practice area, where I would see these people all the time. I just can’t know until it comes and being a type-A planner, that is very hard for me to accept.

            I’ve already noticed the quality of my work assignments changing, which does not give me a good feeling for when/if I come back. And the mommy/baby/belly comments are endless. No one has gotten pregnant here in several years…and apparently the last few women who did either did not come back, or left soon after coming back. I’ve only been here about a year myself.

            Anyway, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there stressing over this. I have also seen the same differences here between how the young daddies are treated (As I mentioned, there are no mommies of young ones). Daddies are heroes for leaving early for the soccer games, to help with a sick child, etc.

      • GovtMom says:

        River, how do you *know* this is the reason you got the job?

  12. Slight threadjack –

    Saw this article on Forbes about a site that lets people ask law-related questions and then vetted lawyers give answers. Kind of like Yahoo! answers, only for legal advice. http://blogs.forbes.com/quentinhardy/2011/03/03/social-media-flips-the-lawyer-system/

    The site says it’s a new way for lawyers to get business…. interesting, and I’m not quite sure how it would work, since law has way more dire ramifications if you give out “bad” advice.

  13. Aha, this is my question! Thank you for taking it – it’s invaluable to get this sort of feedback from people who are similarly situated

  14. Aspiring Writer says:

    Any advice for jobs with built in expiration dates (i.e. fellowships)? I think there it’s a lot easier, but also unclear when the last day should be. If it’s a particularly long fellowship and you want to start a new job earlier, then what? Also, how secret to keep the job search, especially if you want to switch states so you have to take a few days off to interview.

    • Anonymous says:

      My first job was a fellowship. The end date was established in writing, so that wasn’t a concern for me, but during the last six months I felt totally comfortable asking for time off to do interviews, asking for references, etc. I think it’s reasonable to expect that a job search will take 6 months and to ask your fellowship to accommodate your search accordingly, with the understanding that you won’t leave the fellowship before the set end date.

  15. Hairy says:

    Small note – I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think law firm spring bonuses, at least in biglaw land, are in the low 4 figures as the post suggests. My significant other is a 4th year at a V5 firm and getting $15k (I know there is a range, but high-4 to low-5 figure depending on firm and class year is closer to reality, from what I’ve heard).

  16. AnonymousJobSeeker says:

    Threadjack (that is somewhat on point):

    I am a 3rd year associate considering leaving my current position for a different firm. I have been working on putting my resume together, but I am unsure as to how much detail I should add with regard to my job description. Should I simply list the practice area(s) I worked in and assume that most interviewers know what type of legal work that entailed, or should I put a detailed description (and if so, what types of things would I list)?

    It is possible that I would be switching practice areas.

    • Res Ipsa says:

      I’m sure other people have better ideas, but if I were hiring you, I would want to know what your skills were just as much as your subject matter expertise: negotiated multi-million dollar settlement, handled all aspects of discovery, defended depositions of high-profile clients, successfully prosecuted 15 summary judgment motions, etc., etc.

    • I would discuss exactly what my work entailed and, if I had autonomy at a young age, I’d tout that. There is wide variation in the level of autonomy and courtroom/direct client experience firms give their young associates. If you were lucky to be one of those associates not stuck in a library for 2 years, spell that out on your resume. Mention the areas of law you’ve worked in, but be detailed when you can.. talk about any big wins you’ve had. Were you allowed to witness prep on bet-the-firm litigation? Argued a summary judgment motion on $2MM case? Include those details. Include dollars where you can. Those are differentiators that tell potential employers the size/complexity of the work you handled – it lets them know just how much confidence your employer had in you. While you don’t want to turn your resume into a novel or oversell yourself, the more details you can include to differentiate your experience from other 3rd year associates, the better!

      • AnonymousJobSeeker says:

        Great. Thanks. I was lucky to have handled some fairly important matters with some autonomy, so I will include those, as well as detail about other work I’ve done.

        Thanks for the replies.

  17. Do employers really take it personally when someone moves on to another job? I’m really having a hard time believing people are that unprofessional. And if they are, well, there isn’t really anything you can do, I guess. Quitting, to me, seems akin to going on vacation. It happens, and the person leaving should do their best to make their absence as easy on their (former) coworkers as possible. A good employer would obviously have a practice of doing exit interviews to make sure that there wasn’t something fixable that was causing employees to look elsewhere. But taking it personally? I have never encountered that and would have zero respect for that kind of employer.

    • Sally says:

      Ding! Yes, I had that happened (though I work in science/medicine, not law). He said almost nothing at the first meeting when I told him about my new position, asked me the next day to just think about leaving right now, and then said almost nothing to me for the remainder of my time there. He also turned weirdly passive-aggressive and communicated with me almost exclusively through e-mails to HR. We were OK by the end, but those 4 wks between my telling him I was leaving and when I actually left were dreadful.

      No one offered an exit interview, but I had already talked numerous times with our program director about what I perceived as the shortcomings of the job, my boss’s overall weirdness, and the cutthroat culture/environment. (Not that it helped – she was very defensive.)

    • houda says:

      At my company XYZ we have a saying: You join XYZ (as a new hire) but you quit a manager.
      Meaning that most likely if you leave, then your manager felt to retain you.. a bit extreme..

    • anon. says:

      Yes–my job did! Then again, they also take the fact that I have dared to utilize vacation time as a personal offense, as well. One more week!

    • Yes! At my first position after law school, my supervising attorney just sat there when I told him and his eyes started watering. He came into my office the next day, threw a folder at the wall next to my chair and screamed at me for the formatting of a brief I’d researched and dictated (but not typed, formatted, or received back from staff yet). Then didn’t talk to me for 5 days. Then told one company that called for references that they’d laid me off. My second firm involved a partner whose eyes also watered, and then who walked around the office talking about the lack of employee loyalty and how everyone there was using him, even though he hadn’t given anyone in the office raises or Christmas bonuses for 3 years (despite taking a ski trip and 2 additional trips to Europe every year and building a new house worth over five mil – in the midwest). A small firm that I clerked with very briefly changed all of the locks everytime someone left just in case they’d copied their keys, even though most people were so ready to leave they wouldn’t even stay the full 8 hours every day.

      To be fair, I worked in the corporate world for a few years between undergrad and law school and everyone there was far more professional and accepting of the reality of people leaving/staying. I think it’s more of a medium-sized firm issue (or small, perhaps?).

    • ADB_BWG says:

      My boss takes any departure (other than retirement) as a personal insult.

  18. telly says:

    What are everyone’s thoughts on leaving your contact information with your old colleagues? I struggled with this one when I left my last job as certain managers had a habit of calling former employees to ask the questions on projects they had worked on.

    • Hairy says:

      I think it’s common to do so in order for people to stay in touch, but I would certainly not volunteer to be contacted for work related reasons.

      In terms of answering questions once you’re gone, I think if there’s a quick answer to something (“oh, Sally in accounting maintains that list”) go ahead and give it, but if you’re being called upon to assist in a major way with a transition or essentially being asked to help train someone after you’re gone, I think you just say that the duties of your new job prevent you from being able to offer that level of support.

  19. telly says:

    What are your thoughts on leaving your contact information with your old colleagues? I struggled with this one when I left my last job as certain managers had a habit of calling former employees to ask the questions on projects they had worked on.

  20. telly says:

    apologies for the multiple posts. i am posting from my phone and did not think the first one was posted

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