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:

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– 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?

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  1. This is about “notice” and I understand that expectations are very much related to employment setting. But as someone who runs a fairly intensive operation in academia (that is, I’m on the administrative side of things), I am appalled by the number of people who have given me 2 weeks, when they’re responsible for major projects or events that are taking place a month or two down the line….or when they have committed to other projects in the future. When I hire, I always tell the candidate that I would not want to be left in the lurch, and therefore I don’t want them to leave THEIR employer in the lurch. But I keep being left in the lurch…..I know it sounds like I must be some kind of witch to have so much turnover.

    • I don't get it :

      So you want them to push their new employer off for a month? Two weeks is perfectly acceptable

      • Kind of agree. It’s thoughtful of you to defer start dates to be fair to the current employers of your new hires, but that’s by no means universal.

        I think either you need to build something into the employment agreement that requires a longer notice period, or ensure that no one person is so key that their responsibilities can’t be transitioned in a two week period.

  2. I thought the day I quit my biglaw job would be the happiest of my life…just a big FU to the stress and the punishing lifestyle. It turns out that the partners I spoke with in my practice group were so complimentary about my work and (genuinely, I believe) surprised/ disappointed that I was leaving, that by the end of making the rounds I was in tears. Like I had heard my own eulogy or something. For the next two weeks I had to deal with people stopping by to ask if I was sure about what I was doing, and alluding to partnership decisions, etc. I really started second-guessing myself, since it was a hard decision to leave and take a job that was a big unknown.
    To this day I really regret not having that perfect “so long, suckers!” moment I had pictured.

    • Anonymous :

      I have experienced the same thing! If only partners were nice, supportive and complimentary on a regular basis how different would the world be!!! Driving people into the ground is just such an odd and uproductive business model!

    • Ditto. It was like they all suddenly became different people. If only they were so supportive all the time, they might not lose people so often…

    • I’m dealing with this now too. I am planning to leave my job – where I’ve been for less than a year and am generally unhappy – in the next couple of months. Coincidentally, rumors of layoffs are abounding at my company, and as a relatively new hire I would presumably be one of the first “layoffees.” However, my supervisor has assured me that I won’t be laid off because I’m too valuable. But I don’t think I can really count on that.

      I can’t figure out how to feel. On the one hand, I feel guilty for planning to leave when I’m considered so “valuable.” On the other hand, if they’re going to lay me off anyway, I shouldn’t feel bad at all about leaving of my own volition. I just want to straighten it out in my head!

    • Dammit Janet :

      Me too! I think this “obituary syndrome” even contributed to me being miserable at my new position.

  3. Primarily it’s important to envision the scenarios. What will you say when they try to retain you? My advice: Say as little as possible. Do not get drawn into discussions. Keep thanking them, “Yes, understood. I do believe this is the right choice for me now. I appreciate everything you have done here.” If they get belligerent, keep your cool. Burn as few bridges as possible.

    • Anonymous :

      Well, it can be worthwhile to listen to what they say when they try to retain you. If you’re not 100% committed to the new job, your old job very well may offer you things that make you want to stay. This was the case for me – a nice raise and a new office made me decide my current job was better than the new one, and so I stayed.

      • I’m glad it worked out for you, but I generally advise people never to reconsider a decision to resign when they are counteroffered, no matter what the counteroffer is. This article does a great job of explaining why.

        • Anonymous :

          I suppose it depends on the reasons why you are considering taking another job offer. In my case, a headhunter had contacted me, and the main reason I would have left was pay. I hadn’t formally accepted the offer yet, either. So the advice in that post didn’t apply to me.

        • Interesting, I just saw it work very differently for another coworker last month. He had been trying to get his responsibilities increased for a while and not finding anyone really willing to make it happen. He was headhunted by a competitor, accepted their offer, and handed in his resignation. After panicked calls from the president and CEO, he ended up getting a fair number of concessions and is staying on with us. I’m told he did something similar to be allowed to switch to our satellite office. Of course, his skill set is pretty much irreplaceable, so it might not work so well for others.

  4. Yes, some bosses act a fool when their employees quit.

    I had a boss who I never worked directly with, who was not a fan of me. She was my boss’s boss. When I quit – partly due to her loony behavior which would take too long to detail here (she told the office staff how much money I was making) – she was LIVID. She complained to everyone about “how much she had done for me”, and would not speak to me. I gave proper notice, so this wasn’t an issue. On my last day, she stood in the hallway “ignoring” me pack up and head out and did not speak.

    Everyone is not a level-headed professional, unfortunately.

  5. Ballerina girl :

    This could not be more perfectly timed for me. I posted a few months back about how completely miserable I was at my big law job and how despite my huge student loans, wanted to work for a non-profit organization. Well, I just got a job! Hurrah!

    The only catch is that they want to speak to my current employer before making the offer official. I’m fine with this in theory (all details will be ironed out before they speak and I’m positive I want the job) but in practice, my bonus will be paid out at the end of this month. If they contact him before this point, I fear they will withhold my bonus, even if I’m working here at the end of the month.

    How do I gracefully broach this subject with the new employer? Do I tell them that I’m about to lose a biggish bonus and since this is a huge pay cut, could really use that money for my loan payments in the coming year? Or do I do something less direct?

    • Anonymous :

      I think I’d be less direct – “Can you wait to contact him until after DATE? We have some human resources things coming up, and I’d prefer he doesn’t find out that I’m planning to leave until after that’s complete.”

    • No offense but havent you asked this question and gotten answers a bunch already?

      • Ballerina girl :

        Not about the bonus aspect of it–or about talking to the new employer. Just about giving the reference in the first place. Seemed like a more appropriate audience since this was work-related.

        • Anonymous :

          I don’t think there is anything wrong about being honest about the timing of the bonus if the person you are dealing with came from biglaw– he/she will understand the issue. If they don’t have a similar background, then probably best to couch the reasoning in more vague terms as Anonymous above suggested.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      No advice, but congratulations on the new job!

    • Haven’t ever done this, but before you start going into why, I would just state that it would be best if contact with your employer could be made on April 1st and ask if it would be possible to call on that date or the following week. See what they say. If they question it, then I think you can be frank with them.

    • I wouldn’t put it in terms of “I’m taking a pay cut to work for you, and I need the money,” since that’s none of their business and is unprofessional. You can and should explain that you have a bonus coming as of X date, and you would request that they refrain from contacting your employer until after that date. Then make sure you talk to your boss first, after the bonus but before they call your boss.

  6. I just dealt with this issue this week, with an employee who did not choose to leave gracefully. Some of her bad feelings were warranted – she had been switched to a different project that she didn’t want to work on, due to a development with one of our clients. However, we had tried the best we could to make “lemons out of lemonade” and keep her employed, even if it was doing something she wasn’t thrilled about, until we could find something better for her to do. Regardless, she was angry, got another job, gave notice, and left in such a way that I will be unlikely to ever recommend her to anyone who calls for a reference. My advice is:
    – Be nice. Even if you are exiting a bad situation, look at it this way – at least you got another job and are on to bigger and better things, which is something positive. Whatever problems you have at your current job are about to be problems no longer. Look forward, not back.
    – Give notice, and not three days, but a reasonable amount of time. You don’t have to stay on another six weeks just because they ask you to, but a couple of weeks would be nice.
    – Be a grown-up and even if you are mad, or it was a bad job experience, bite your tongue. It’s a small world and you very well might run into your old colleagues or bosses again, professionally or personally. “Don’t burn bridges” is always used in this circumstance, but I would say even singeing the bridge is not a good idea. Even if you have a new job, you will probably job-hunt at some point in the future, and you don’t need people in your past who wouldn’t hire you if their life depended on it. Because if someone asks them, they may very well say that, and it will kill your possible future opportunity.

    Bitter Old Boss Lady

    • another old lady here :

      Not my usual name but you’ll see why==Five years ago I left the firm I had been a partner in for almost twenty years. It was a small firm and the newer partners were driving me crazy, revisiting every financial issue we had worked out over twenty years. When I told my therapist I was going to leave, she asked me what I was going to say and I told her all my grievances. She said no, this is what you are going to say and it was the best advice anyone ever gave me. You are going to tell them every wonderful thing you learned there or that happened to you while you were at the firm. Then you say “But I’m afraid if I stay any longer I wont feel the same way, so I am opening my own office as of the first of the year (ninety days away). Not only did we part on great terms, but their going away present was to pay my first years malpractice premium for me. They still send me work (I’m in a specialty they don’t have) and I send them work. Never burn a bridge, cause you just don’t know what’s coming down the road. And the smaller a town you practice in, the truer it will be.

  7. Have any of you given notice only to be persuaded to stay by your current boss because of promotion, pay increase, more vacation, whatever? And what were the results of staying? Did you later wish you’d left? (Anonymous at 5:06 raises this point, and I wonder if any other Corporettes have had this happen.)

    • AnonAnswers :

      Yes! I am an associate at a small litigation firm in California, and I work for a handful of male partners. I left a large plaintiffs’ class action practice to learn how to be a trial lawyer. It was one of the motivating factors for taking this job and rearranging my life. Three years in, I just wasn’t getting courtroom experience. I kept advocating for experience, and they kept promising, but nothing changed. The final straw was when I prepped for a hearing, including precious weekend hours away from my kids, and when oral argument actually happened, the partner in court with me stood up and argued my motion (without preperation and somewhat nonsensically). I figured I could get treated just as poorly, get as little trial experience and make far more money at a bigger firm, and I gave notice. The powers were shocked. They promised that *this time* they’d change. That was a little over a year ago. I’ve now got four trials under my belt, and it turns out that I really enjoy the work I finally get to do. And, I’ve just recently been offered a partnership.

    • Yep. The firm pulled out all the stops when I gave notice. They promised me the work I wanted, gave me a nice sum of money, and told me I was poised to make partner. I stayed (and used the cash for a down payment on a house). For better or for worse, the firm did not give me the work that I wanted, and two years later, I gave notice for the second time. I made clear that I could not be wooed.

      My feelings about my decision to stay are mixed. On one hand, staying was an enabler. I made a ton of money, I bought a house, and I developed some new skills. On the other hand, I was really unhappy for two years because I was never staffed on the types of cases that I wanted to work on and I felt like I was misled.

      I’d be curious about the experience of others as well.

  8. I had a boss refuse to talk to me once. He was known as a jerk by all so didn’t take it personally. He wouldn’t meet with me to discuss who would take over my many many assignments, so it was tricky to prepare the others well in time. I kept gently coming by and expressing the importance of needing to know who would do what, and made proposals and packages ready to transfer quickly. In the final meeting, he let loose accusing me unfairly of stuff. I thought about responding or calling HR, but I just listened and left and never looked back. Months later, he sent me weird long sappy emails with updates and fond-type language. I responded with a curt, short but polite 2 line email. He was mad and a jerk, and realized it later. Looking back I sort of wish I’d stood up to him in person, but it would have been tiring- he wouldn’t have taken well to other viewpoints at the time. And I didn’t want to create a scene- I was leaving, period. He imagined and accused me of planning my move months in advance, which wasn’t true- I had been laying groundwork to leave someday, but gave notice within days of finalizing the details. Anyway- do what feels fine to you at the time, with a jerk there’s no perfect solution. Everyone else will know if the person is the problem anyway not you; while it might feel good to say your piece, I don’t know, it is risky. It was hard to listen to unfair accusations though; I have wondered how it’d have gone had I voiced my feelings. But can’t rethink the past much, no point. On and upward!

  9. FGfromtheUK :

    This is a really interesting discussion. In the UK, in my sector, I have been contracually obliged to give no less than 2 months notice at the start of my career, and currently have to give 3 months notice.

  10. by the way I gave 3 weeks’ notice.

  11. In another job- I did the classic graceful thing. Made the call, wrote the letter, smiled and kept it all general, both to those who were fabulous to me, and those who were not (understatement). To the ones who were bad to you, doing the classic thing actually feels good, because you have the upper smug hand. Especially if you are going to a better job, they know it- there’s just nothing left to say. Prep your old projects for others, smile, walk out the door.

  12. Anon for this :

    I’ve been struggling with this as well, although I’ve only just moved into serious job search mode so don’t have any prospects at the moment. I’m in a small (3-attorney) firm where it has shrunk from a handful of associates to just me over the past few years. Periodically the partners hire contract/temporary attorneys on the theory that it could become permanent but for one reason or another they never seem to work out or mesh with the personalities in the firm. I know it will take more than two weeks for the partners to even decide who to interview, much less hire and get someone up to speed. There’s no-one currently to take over my cases.

    Over the past year, I’ve taken a few opportunities to speak with the partners about my concerns about the compatibility of my position here with what I would like to do with my life (i.e. have children, buy an apartment, live up to my earning potential so I can one day pay off my student loans) but they have not really taken my concerns to heart, even when I’ve said point blank I’m not sure I can stay. I’ve tried to get them to hire more associates, but they never make a serious effort to do so. I plan to give them as much notice as possible, but given that they primarily hire new associates rather than experienced ones, there’s no way I’ll be able to get someone up to speed fast enough to take over my entire caseload. I care about and respect both partners, and feel tremendous guilt that I will be leaving them in the lurch, but at the same time I feel like I’ve done all I can to give them the opportunity to make back-up plans, even at the risk of their deciding to just replace me before I found an alternative.

    • I think you’re right – you’ve already gone above and beyond. Try not to feel guilty. Find yourself a better job, give 2 weeks notice (or more if you’d really like to and the new firm is fine with a later start date) and then just go. They have their heads in the sand and I don’t think there’s anything more you can or should be doing at this point.

  13. Any thoughts about not telling your current employer where you’re going next? I had a colleague leave and essentially refuse to mention the name of the company he’s going to. Is this common practice?
    I think the idea was he didn’t want anyone to call up the new company and jeopardize his offer… or just wanted to keep it quiet until he actually started working there.

    • Super duper anon :

      I worked for a while at a place where there was a time commitment and when someone broke the commitment, the uber-boss would find out where they were going, call their new employer and tried to get their offer rescinded. She even tried to do this when someone was leaving to go back to school (without taking any vacation in between) and was breaking her commitment by only two weeks – it’s not like she could push back the start date for school!

      Long after the uber-boss left the culture of not revealing where you were going remained…

    • I’d be interested to know this, too. I recently had a coworker leave and do the same thing. He’d only say the other company wasn’t one of our competitors. It seemed a little odd to me, really.

    • Just had two coworkers leave who did this. Said they’d let us know/have it on LinkedIn once they started, but not say until then. Some sort of trend the ‘rettes must not be in on!!

      • This is very common in Asia. In rare cases you do find out, otherwise the rule is “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

    • Also saw a boss do this to a co-worker who left once. I always try to err on the side of not saying (or if it’s a subsidiary, use the head company’s name instead of the specific subsidiary or job department).

  14. I JUST gave notice at my current job too. I’ve got another potential job in the works, but I have planned to leave for a while now anyway due to family health issues and a desire to move back closer to them (I’m on the opposite coast now). I gave about 3-4 weeks notice, and so far there’s been some awkwardness, but everyone has been basically understanding. It’s a stressful process no matter what, but if you dwell on the positive and do everything you can to put them in a position them to be in a good place in your absence, that’s the best you can do.

  15. I actually did a post on this same topic awhile back, to the extent anyone’s interested/cares!

  16. Anonymous :

    I really want to just flip my “resignation” and storm out…

  17. I’m in a bit of an awkward situation. I have been offered a judicial clerkship, which I intend to accept, that doesn’t start until June. The problem is, I have to accept (or not) by November because the judge would want to begin searching for a different clerk then if I were to decline the offer.

    The judge is sitting in one of my firm’s cases, which I have been working on (lightly), so he will have to disclose the employment relationship to the parties as soon as I accept. Of course, the firm needs to hear this from me first, so I will have to tell my firm eight months in advance that I’m leaving.

    This is all kinds of awkward. I’ve only been at the firm eight months. I worry that no one will want to staff me on their cases because I’m leaving. I’m also worried about my bonus for this year. Not to mention it will just be generally strange around the office, because I think people will start to see me as temporary.

    I know it’s relatively common for attorneys to return to the same firm after a clerkship, and I would be interested in coming back, but of course these things are by no means certain.

    Any advice on how to minimize the fallout/awkwardnes of announcing my departure eight months in advance?

  18. momentsofabsurdity :

    Thoughts on how to handle unused vacation days? My employer does not have a “buy back” program, and I get 26 per year. I may leave in the fall for a graduate program (so no threat of stealing company info/move to a competitor) and have never once used it all (most I’ve used in one year I think is 13, probably closer to 5-6 if you could the vacations I’ve spent actually working – spent my whole European Alps weekend sitting in an internet pub and on calls!).

    There is no formal approval process for vacation time, or, I think, anyone keeping track of how much vacation I have/haven’t used. I would hate to have it all go to waste if I choose to go to grad school (as I believe I am entitled to it). However, I don’t want to “screw my company over” either. How do people typically handle this?

  19. Good post. With the job market being the way it is, it’s definitely a good idea to make sure you have a pretty good amount of employment options available before you jump ship. There was another article I read that’s a good companion with this one. It actually goes so far as to insinuate that a job you hate is a whole lot like a prison. Here’s a link to it:

    This one is all about how to quit your job the smartest way possible.

  20. Excellent web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find excellent writing like yours these days.
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