How to Tell Your Beloved Mentor You’re Quitting

How to Quit When Your Mentor Is Your Boss | CorporetteYou’ve been offered a new job — but how do you tell your beloved mentor and boss that? Reader L wonders how to quit your job when your mentor is your boss.

I am a fifth year associate and have been at my current firm for just over a year. Recently, an unexpected job opportunity presented itself and over the course of the past two months I have quietly been going through the interview process. Simultaneously, a mentor at work offered me a few great opportunities. For example, I tried and won my first jury trial! I’ve now been offered this new job and am going to take it. My question is how best to handle my resignation when my mentor has so recently invested in my development. I feel like I am somehow betraying him! Help, please.

We’ve talked about how to quit your job with style and grace, as well as how to conduct an exit interview, but we haven’t talked about the often emotional side of leaving, including the tough job of telling your beloved mentor or boss that you’ve taken a new job. I have a few thoughts up front:

Before you quit, remind yourself:

  • It’s business.  Not to get all Godfather on you (or in my parlance, You’ve Got Mail on you), but it isn’t personal — it’s business.  Good bosses understand that personnel changeups are to be expected.  Admittedly, Reader L has only been there a year, which is a bit on the soon side for leaving, but it’s still an acceptable time to start looking for new jobs.
  • It isn’t final.  You’re not dying or moving to Mars — you’re just moving to a new company.  You and your mentor should obviously keep in touch for networking purposes.  Besides, it’s always possible that your boss will come back with a great counteroffer.
  • Any time invested in you wasn’t wasted.  You may end up back at the mentor’s company, or your mentor may end up at your company — you never know.  Besides, mentoring is not usually a quid pro quo kind of thing.

In the actual meeting itself:

  • Emphasize the new opportunities.  If there were other reasons that made this job too good to pass up (“I’ve always wanted to work for Company X!”) then say them, so long as you can say them honestly.
  • Be grateful and appreciate for the opportunities and experience you got during your current job.
  • Personally thank the mentor for the time he or she invested in you.

Keep in mind that depending on your industry, the mentoring relationship doesn’t have to end.  I think it would be in poor taste to email your mentor with simple requests such as “How do I do Task X again?” — but bigger scale questions, like big professional moves (to a new industry or a new market), big work/life juggle questions (particularly if your mentor is a woman who is in a similar situation in terms of life/family) are absolutely fair game for a breakfast or lunch catch-up session (maybe 1-3 times a year).

Here’s an older article that has some more great advice, particularly if you’ve been at the company for a long time…

Readers, have you ever told a beloved mentor/boss that you were quitting?  Have you ever mentored anyone who told you they were quitting?  What have you found to be the best way to conduct the meeting and to continue the mentoring relationship?

(Pictured above: Greener Pastures, originally uploaded to Flickr by deherman1145.)how to quit when your mentor is your boss - image of greener pastures

While we've given advice on how to quit before, this one was a bit different: a reader wrote to us wondering how to tell her beloved mentor and favorite boss that she'd been offered a new job. Is it just business -- or will her career take a hit if she loses this mentor? Great discussion with the readers.


  1. Yes! In my case, the head of the office knew, but not my immediate supervisor (whose behavior was a large part of my reason for leaving). I picked a good day and asked to talk to the boss in private. I told him That I had decided it was time for me to look for other opportunities. I emphasized that I had been in my then-current position for three years but there was no opportunity for advancement. I thanked him for the time i spent in that office and then let him know that he would be the first to know of my final decision. I believe he appreciated knowing first, and he understood the reasons I was leaving.

    • Vintage Lawyer :

      After you leave your job, immediately send your mentor a hand-written note on beautiful stationery . Your note should thank the mentor for the advice he or she has provided to you over the years and state that your career and your life have been enhanced by knowing the mentor. I guarantee that sending this note will create karma that will come back to you again and again.

  2. I’ have thought about this alot, b/c I have to think about ALL of my option’s –1) goeing IN HOUSE; 2) becomeing a JUDGE and 3) becomeing a LAW Professor.

    In each of the alternative’s I would HAVE to tell the manageing partner that I was leaveing, and that will be difficult, b/c I do NOT think I could get a clotheing allowance that even come’s close to what I have here.

    On the other hand, I would have to consider QUALITY OF LIFE issue’s. If I went in house, I could work regular hours, and have outside counsel do all the work. Also, as a judge, I could boss everyone around and peeople would have to laugh at my joke’s even if they are not funny. And fineally, as a professor, I would be abel to teach whatever I wanted, and could work mabye 8 hours a week and have the rest of my time for my own thing!

    But for now, I am here workeing away on my cases, b/c I am goieng to be a partner and make alot of money! YAY!!!!!!

  3. Foley & Corinna :

    Reposting in hopes of more responses:

    Can anyone comment on quality of F&C bags? I am considering getting one of their bags but want to make sure I am not wasting my money. It’s about $162 on sale. Assuming the quality is comp. to Cole Haan, I would be very happy with that. But I’ve gotten burnt on similar brands before so would love personal experiences.

    • They’ve been featured on this site a few times, usually with positive comments – try searching “foley corinna” (without the quotation marks) on Google.

    • Whoops, I’m in moderation for using the name of this site… but basically try searching for the brand plus the name of this site and you’ll see they’ve been featured a few times here over the past few years.

    • steppin' out :

      I’d say F&C isn’t comparable to cole haan. Leather seemed cheaper, so back it went.

  4. I just did this–left a job where I’d recently been offered some really unprecedented opportunities. I was very, very anxious about giving my notice, but here’s the thing: if your mentor is truly invested in *you* as a person, then he or she will be genuinely happy for you and your new adventure. Yes, they’ll be sorry to see you go–just as they’d be sorry to see any competent, high-achieving person go–but they won’t begrudge you the opportunity, nor should they see you as a wasted investment.

    That said, although my mentors were very supportive and happy for me when I left, I found out shortly afterward that the director had decreed that I *had* been a wasted investment and that the opportunities I’d been given would never again be extended to someone in my situation. Sigh. Yet another reason I’m glad I’m gone . . .

  5. Emma Peel :

    Looking forward to seeing responses – this is spookily well timed as I will soon be doing the exact same thing. It will be hard but its time to move on.

    • I feel that if an employer was that invested with a mentoring program, then they might want to have a longevity agreement, or an official “x-year mentorship program”. All is fair in business. I’m looking at the same issue, being the only employee at my firm, and being there less than a year. Fortunately, there are many things that will make it easy to say goodbye. Still, we have grown close, and the parting of ways will be difficult. I am poised to go the “my position here is unsustainable and I need to take care of my family first” route. Money talks!

  6. I’ve done this – I left a firm where I’d had a wonderful mentor, whom I viewed almost as an uncle. It was extremely hard to tell him that I was leaving. I agree that emphasizing the new opportunity is key. In my case, I was able to sell it primarily as a desire to relocate back to my hometown. That was true, but it was only about half of the answer – he didn’t need to hear that I didn’t think I was going to be able to get the quality of work that I wanted. I left on very good terms, and still have an extremely positive relationship with my former firm.

  7. Yes — I actually just left a job where my boss was wonderful. Put a lot of trust in me and gave me so many good opportunities. Maybe what made it easier was that I didn’t leave my position for another job; I left it to get my MBA.

    I think if your relationship is as great as it is, your boss will absolutely understand the need for personal growth. But yes, emphasize all the good things. Throwing in what you love about your current job and what you’ll miss helps, too!

  8. SoCalAtty :

    Sigh. Pardon my venting…Wells Fargo just denied our renovation loan. After being in the process for almost 12 months, having to involve the west coast regional HUD director because WF’s underwriters don’t know HUD’s guidlines, they denied me because I had 1 overdraft fee in April and didn’t show enough evidence of paying down credit lines over the time they had my file…funny thing….they don’t me not to pay more than the minimum payments and to save my cash at the beginning, because the underwriter might have had conditions that she wanted some credit lines paid off. So here I sit, extra $20,000 in the savings account, sitting there while I pay high interest rates, waiting to pay off what the underwriter wants….and she just denies it.

    In the meantime, I’m out $8000 in architectural and engineering fees. Nice guys, really.

    So…we’re going to go ahead and do a cash out refinance into a 15 year. I’ll get about $30k to pay toward the high interest credit, our credit scores will bounce back up to 750 or so, and we’ll spend the next 6 months paying off the last few credit lines. In 6 months the only debt I will have left is my mortgage and student loans, and we can apply for a conventional construction loan through another bank that I have spoken with. Instead of doing the project in 2 phases, we can do the house and the garage at the same time – we just have to wait 1.5-2 years to pay off everything but the student loans and we need to have about $50k in savings to do the loan.

    I’m probably better off in the long run. Mortgage will be a 15 year fixed at 3.75, and I’ll be paying it down much more quickly. I’m just angry Wells Fargo strung me along for 12 months, because I could have done all of this 12 months ago and been debt free now!

    • Gurl, I hear you. My husband and I worked for over a year to have a construction loan. It eventually was approved, but the process is so so frustrating. Every 6 weeks they asked for additional documents, and then in that process other documents expired and had to be resubmitted. It was incredibly stressful and we both privately had come to peace that we wouldn’t get approved.

      Credit is so tight these days which can be so frustrating. It sounds like you have a good solution. I feel for you though.

      • SoCalAtty :

        Glad it’s not just me! Part of the reason they denied us was because our credit scores dropped during the process – well – DUH – you’ve been hard pulling my credit every 30 days for 6 months! Makes the credit companies think I’m desparate for credit. Morons. I’ve heard that US Bank, that does real, conventional construction loans, is actually not at all bad to deal with, so that’s my plan B after all the “stuff” is paid off.

        If my horse would sell that would be great, but she is just now ready for people to try, so it may take a few months.

        • Suze Orman :

          Is there a possibility that you are, legitimately, overextended? It seems like you’d want to pay off all your outstanding debts before you took on more. I’m just curious, what’s the rush on getting this done, rather than getting all your ducks in a row, financially? Especially paying off those student loans…

          • SoCalAtty :

            Not really overextended, but certainly not really working super hard to pay down the debt, either. The renovation loan we were getting was adding some to my mortgage balance, but reducing my actual mortgage payment by about 10%. It was also going to allow me to replace my detached garage (which leaks and can’t store anything). We were also adding an office to the garage, so that my husband doesn’t have to rent any commercial space offsite (savings of about $400/month).

            So it was going to be a piece of getting the financial ducks in a row. The rush is that I am currently paying 6.875 on my mortgage rate, and they were going to do all of this with a 3.8. So that would have been nice.

            But that’s ok, I just got off the phone with the loan officer that is helping with the refi, and it sounds like they can get me a 3.75 and into a 15 year for about $100/more a month than what I’m paying now, with cash out to pay off about 55% of my outstanding credit lines. Then I’ll be able to “snowball” those old payments into paying off the rest.

            I’m not really in a hurry to pay off my student loans, because most of them are fixed at 4.5%.

          • Anonymous :

            +1. Every time you have posted about this it sounds like WAY too much for you to do at once with the $$ you have. Why not pay off all of your debt other than the mortgage, sell the horse, then think about renovating the house?

          • SoCalAtty :

            Because, at the time, I would have been cutting my interest rate in half, and providing a (non-leaky) place for my husband to run his business out of? It would have saved me about $1000 a month – which I planned to use to pay off my other debt.

            We were phasing the project – just doing the garage + office now, and the rest in a few years when the debt was paid off.

            Anyway, I’m just going to do a straight refi and move my 6.8% mortgage into a 3.75% mortgage and save myself some money.

  9. the mentor :

    related topic but different question – how do you tell your mentees/direct reports that you’re leaving?

    • This is best done in consultation with your boss who may well prefer a single standard text for direct reports, colleagues, external/ internal clients and counterparties, particularly if there is a simultaneous update on how your responsibilities will be handled going forward.

      Once the blast communication is out, you can have a private word with specific people, but I would still be careful to stick to the standard line if you don’t care to risk water-cooler talk about ‘well, I heard the REAL reason she left was …’

  10. I’ve done this twice. In both cases, I started the conversation out by thanking my mentor/manager for the opportunity & telling them how I’ve appreciated working with them. Next I segued into saying how I’ve decided to transition to a new opportunity, so I’m giving my notice. I also share that I would like to keep in touch & briefly outline what I plan to do to wrap up outstanding work & transition my projects. So far it’s gone over well. The key is to do it in person, with a smile & be sincere.

  11. I did this, and it was hard. I was so fortunate to have worked with my mentor from the time I was a summer student, right through to when I was a 5-year call. I even changed firms with him. We were basically joined at the hip – he taught me everything I know about being a lawyer. But I decided to go overseas for a few years to take advantage of a learning experience that I couldn’t get at home. When I told him I was leaving, I thought he was going to start crying – no joke. But he completely understood my motivation and supported my decision, as a good mentor will do. I am now back in my original city, but not working at my old firm, and I meet with my mentor about twice a year. I’ve consulted him on job moves, networking questions, and even the occasional practice point. As far as I’m concerned, the mentoring relationship still exists and I still refer to him as my mentor.

  12. I think it makes a difference why you’re leaving. For instance, joining a competitor – bad; moving back to your hometown or because of your spouse’s work – understandable.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed! I went to the shop down the street for a better opportunity. I was so stressed about putting in my notice and disappointing my mentor, that I cried in my mentor’s office when I told him I was leaving. Not exactly professional, but he was very gracious and remains a friend.

      As an aside, when you move to a competing firm, I’ve found that people (non-mentors) at the old firm will re-write your history. (“She wasn’t cutting it…she wasn’t going to make partner…she wanted a lighter work load.”) You have to keep your chin up and not look back.

  13. On the flip side of this, I have recently developed a great relationship with my CEO, who has taken me on as a mentee. He is very well respected and I am truly honored by the time he has invested in me and my career. We actually just finished a conversation (where I was offered a promotion and a raise!!) and I thanked him for taking such an interest in me. Is it appropriate to write him a handwritten note?

    • I would wait until a little time post-promotion to write the note – a raise and a promotion is an awesome professional achievement, but writing a thank you note is something you would do for a personal favor. If it were me, I would wait until you are settled into the new role and then write a note thanking him for all the support and guidance he has given you. Spacing it out a little bit makes it less like you’re saying “thank you for the promotion”.

    • No. A thank-you note implies he has done something above and beyond his job in recognizing and promoting talent at his company.

    • Personally I write those types of thank yous in birthday cards or holiday/new years cards. Basically a “thanks for being an awesome boss” note.

  14. Good timing – I may need to do this in the next few months depending on how things 100% out of my control (possible sale of my division) shake out. I do think my mentors would be happy for me though especially since they a) may be in the same boat and b) do understand everyone’s constraints outside of the office.

  15. Stephanie :

    I worked for one of my mentors for 10 years and followed him through a few organizations. However, I finally felt I needed to grow beyond him. I had a heart to heart and he understood amazingly well. I left on great terms and still get advice when I need it. The opportunities he gave me also just helped me land my dream job. A true mentor understands and will guide you regardless in my opinion.

  16. Vancity Lawyer :

    When I left my first law job at a very small firm, quitting felt like I was breaking up with my mentor. It was just like that scene with Peggy Olson and Don Draper on Mad Men. I looked up to him but it was time to move on. Very bitter sweet. We have barely communicated since.

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