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8 Tips on How to Quit a Job Like a Real Professional

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Quitting your job can be an awkward process even in the most cordial of circumstances. It can be even tougher if you’re leaving a job you weren’t crazy about to begin with, when the temptation to go full Jerry Maguire is almost too strong to resist. Still, it’s always best to leave a job (yep, even an absolutely awful one) with as little drama as possible. Just as you’re acting in your own best interests with your career move, you should always act in your own best interests when you quit a gig, too — and that means staying professional from the time you turn in your notice to the day you walk out the door for the last time. Whether you’re leaving, bright-eyed for greener pastures, or you just can’t take it anymore, here are our top tips for quitting your job like a total pro.

Quit in Person and In Writing

Even in the age of text and email, you should always give your resignation in person. Ask your boss if they can set aside time to meet with you so you aren’t trying to fit your resignation into the daily office hubbub. If you absolutely can’t talk to your boss in person — if one or both of you work remotely, for example — a call should be your next approach. While you should always provide your employer with a written letter of resignation as well, it’s not professional to quit via email (and we shudder to even think about doing it via text).

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Speaking of a written letter of resignation, type one up and provide it to your boss and/or HR department when you resign in person. Your resignation letter doesn’t have to go into all the details of why you’re quitting and where you’re going. Keep it short (no more than a single page) and simple, but with enough detail that the company knows what to expect during the transition period. State your intended last day and thank them for the opportunity to work at the company, even if you’re not feeling particularly thankful in the moment. Remember as you’re drafting your letter that it will go into your employee file, so you need to consider it as something of a permanent record. Don’t take the opportunity to write a manifesto about the company’s ills and don’t feel like you need to disclose what your next opportunity is.

Tell Your Boss First

Quitting your job can be nerve-wracking, even if you are leaving on the best of terms. Regardless, you need to make sure you talk to your boss before you start letting co-workers know you’re leaving. Spilling to your teammates about your new job is tempting but telling them you plan to quit before you give the official notice to your boss can put everyone in an awkward position. Plus, it could end up reflecting poorly on you if word gets back to your manager from someone else before they hear it directly from you.

When it comes to what to tell your boss, they don’t need to know much beyond the fact that you’re leaving and when your last day will be. Beyond that, it’s up to you how much detail you go into, but if you’re going to say more, make sure you stick to the positives. It’s not worth it to tell your boss you’re leaving because you can’t stand working in that hellhole anymore, even if that’s how you really feel.

Give Notice (and Don’t Ghost Your Co-Workers)

Some companies may have their own internal requirements and procedures for resignation, but a safe standard is two weeks’ notice. When preparing to give your notice, consider what you need to accomplish before you leave. Will you need to train someone? Do you need to get certain resources to co-workers? How much time do you need to clean out your office? When does your new employer want you to start? All of these considerations may affect how much notice you decide to give. In some circumstances, two weeks’ notice may not be possible. If this is the case, you should still try to give as much notice as possible so that both you and your employer have time to prepare for your exit.

Further Reading

Regardless of your experience at your company overall, you likely have some co-workers that have had your back in one way or another throughout your career. Even co-workers you don’t feel particularly close to can pop up later in your career, especially if you’re switching to a new job in the same field. Don’t just ghost the people you work with; say a proper goodbye and make sure you have contact info for everyone you want to stay in touch with.

On the same note, make sure you take a step back and thank co-workers and managers who have helped you. When you’re caught up in the excitement of a new job, it can be easy to forget the manager that set aside extra time to train you, the person that covered your shift when you had an emergency, or the lunch buddy that listened to you vent. Even awful jobs can have amazing teammates and mentors, so make sure you’re giving props to the people that helped you get to where you’re going.

Help Make the Transition Easier

If your employer is able to hire your replacement before your last day, offer to help train them. This can help make the transition easier for everyone involved. Regardless of your relationship with your employer, keep in mind that any frustrations you have are not the fault of your replacement. In fact, you should probably have more empathy for your replacement the worse the environment they’re walking into is. Refusing to help with training can put both your replacement and your former coworkers in a bad spot, and that can end up reflecting badly on you even after you’ve left the company.

You may not always get the chance to train your replacement, either because your company assigns the task to someone else or because your replacement isn’t found within your notice period. If this is the case, you can still be helpful by creating a training document that explains your duties and includes important information like contacts, relevant passwords, and the locations of important files.

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It may also be appropriate for you to let clients know directly that you are leaving the company. If you do, treat this communication with the same tact you treat your resignation letter. Be positive, and don’t use it as an outlet to vent your frustrations. Ranting to clients about your employer isn’t just incredibly bad taste, it has the potential to get you in legal trouble, too.

Keep Your Frustrations Private

Tempting as the “take this job and shove it!” approach can be in certain circumstances, it’s never the right call in the end. If the work environment has become tense enough to drive you to quit, raging your way out the door isn’t likely to do much more than cause grief for the people you’re leaving behind. Think twice before trashing the company on social media, too. It may make you feel temporarily vindicated, but it also has the potential to make you look terrible to future employers who don’t have the whole story and may worry about receiving the same treatment from you in the future.

If you’re leaving on good terms and have some legitimate suggestions for how your replacement or department might improve upon the work you’ve done, practice a way to tactfully bring them up in the event of an exit interview. Think about how you’re phrasing any suggestions so that they don’t come off as harsh criticisms. Instead of saying, “I think the way this department operates is stupid and should be changed,” say something like “This department has come a long way, and before I leave I’d love to share a couple of suggestions on how I think they can do even better.” If you’re having trouble finding a positive way to frame a suggestion, play it safe and don’t bring it up at all.

Ask About References

If you feel comfortable enough, it’s good practice to ask your boss for a letter of recommendation before your last day, rather than waiting until you need it in the future. Over time, you may lose contact with your former boss or the company may close, switch ownership, or otherwise change. If you ask for a letter of recommendation before you leave, you’ll have it on hand when you need it.

It’s good practice to ask your boss for a letter of recommendation before your last day, rather than waiting until you need it in the future.

Regardless of whether you plan to ask your boss for a recommendation letter, consider whether you may want to ask anyone else at the company to act as a reference for you in the future. If you do, make sure to ask them if they’re comfortable with it before you leave so they don’t feel put on the spot in the future. And don’t take it personally if they say no – some people simply aren’t comfortable acting as references, especially for people they consider good friends.

Clean Out Your Workspace

Whether you work in a cubicle or the corner office, some of your personal items have certainly wound up in your workspace over time. Don’t wait until the last minute to clean out your workspace. Take some time over a couple of days (or even your last full week) to go through drawers, clear off your desk, grab personal items from any common areas, etc. Once you’re gone, there’s no guarantee that other employees will be able to reach you to send you anything you left behind. Use this same time to check your home, vehicle, briefcase, and any other places where you may have company property that needs to be returned (like office keys, manuals, phones, computers, and other devices). Even if you work from home, set aside time to gather up any company property you may have received. Taking the time to be thorough in cleaning out your workspaces will ensure you don’t leave any important items behind and that all company property is back under the responsibility of your employer.

how to quit a job clean desk
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Don’t forget to clean out your computer, too. Look, life doesn’t stop just because you’re at work for eight hours a day. Even the most careful employees occasionally end up using their work computer to handle personal business or sending a frustrated email to an office friend. While you’re cleaning out your desk, make sure you clear out any personal passwords, emails, or files from your computer. Be careful not to get rid of anything company-related, and make sure that managers and coworkers have any passwords for company accounts they’ll need access to after you’re gone.

Be Prepared for a Quick Exit

Unfortunately, even if you do your best to leave on good terms, some employers may simply ask you to resign immediately when you give notice. Make sure you’re prepared for this possibility by having a way to quickly gather up your personal belongings, knowing what benefits (if any) to expect upon your resignation, and by preparing yourself financially as much as possible. It’s never best practice to quit your job without notice and without a new prospect lined up, but toxic work environments do happen and sometimes it may genuinely be in your best interest to make a swift exit. Before doing so, try to consider the effect it will have on your co-workers, your bank account, and your resume should it take longer than expected to find new employment. Taking steps like drafting training documents, cutting back spending, making friends and family aware of your situation, or getting a short-term job can help make the process easier.

Hopefully quitting your job will be more about the excitement of new opportunity than it is about the awkwardness of breaking the news to your boss. But even if you’re leaving under less-than-ideal circumstances, being prepared and staying professional will make the whole process much less intimidating.

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LeeAnn Whittemore
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LeeAnn Whittemore is a writer, artist, and graphic designer who grew up in the Midwest before moving to the Gulf Coast. As a…
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