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How to Quit a Job With Grace and Keep Your Professional Rep Intact

Exit, stage right.

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This article is part of Making Moves Week where we’re exploring the ways you can change your career effective immediately. Don’t change who you are, change where you are.  

When quitting a job—particularly one you’re leaving because you felt mistreated, underutilized, or unappreciated—it’s tempting to tell your boss to talk to the hand, turn on your heel, and never look back. But while the “I’m out of here” approach might be immediately gratifying, it’s not the smartest play in the long-term (barring inappropriate, abusive, or illegal workplace behavior).

Professional industries are small worlds, and professional peers have a tendency to reappear in your work life when you least expect it. You never know who might be involved in a future hiring opportunity, or solicited as a professional reference down the road.

This means quitting a job is actually a critical moment to let your positivity shine, and with this in mind we reached out to a group of hiring professionals to get their advice on how to keep your professional relationships and reputation intact on your way out the door.

1. Let Your Supervisor Know Directly When You’re Quitting a Job

Carolyn Birsky, Owner and Career Coach at life coaching company Compass Maven, says the best practice for giving your notice at work is to meet with your boss privately. “Simply explain that you’ve enjoyed your time working for them and that you’ve learned a lot, but you found an opportunity that better suits your needs and that you couldn’t pass it up,” says Birsky.

If you’re leaving your job due to unhappiness, you don’t have to lie about your feelings, but don’t catalog all of your grievances either. Sticking to the script that you can’t pass up this new opportunity, Birsky says, is an easy way to keep your exit positive.

In addition to giving your notice one-on-one to your boss or supervisor, Rachele Wright, Career Pilot and Resume Architect at career consulting company Elarie Consulting, says to make sure to include a written resignation letter. The letter of should stick to the fact that you’re leaving, a thank you for the opportunity, and your last date of employment.

Just like in your verbal conversation with your boss, Wright cautions using the resignation letter as a tell-all about your reasons for quitting. Your impending exit might inspire feelings of extreme honesty, but your reputation with your employer (and anyone else in their network whose path you might cross in the future) will be best served by keeping unprofessional outbursts close to the vest.

2. Quit Your Job With Appropriate Notice and Keep Showing Up For Work

Regardless of your reason for quitting, Wright stresses that it’s always critical to give your employer an appropriate amount of notice before leaving. According to Wright, this should be at least two weeks (and as much as a month if you’re in a management or executive position). And while you might absolutely hate your job, remember that not everyone around you is responsible for your experiences, Wright says.

When you don’t give enough notice you’re not only hurting the parts of the company you dislike, you’re also creating stress for other co-workers and team members who end up having to pick up your slack.

Lucia Smith, HR Consultant at human resource solutions company Gray Scalable, says that you also need to show up during your final days and weeks. Smith says that while you may have unused vacation days you want to take, it’s better to plan ahead and take that time off before giving notice.

Once it’s known you’ll be leaving, your manager will likely be scrambling to make sure your knowledge is transferred and your role is backfilled, so being at work during your last days to help facilitate the process is key to leaving on a good note.

3. Be Helpful With Transitions

Brie Reynolds, Senior Career Specialist at flexible job site FlexJobs, says that leaving behind a document with tips or steps for important aspects of your job can do wonders for ensuring a graceful exit.

“Whether it’s contact information they need for certain clients or vendors, how to run a specific report, or just a general timeline of your day and when you do things, leaving breadcrumbs for your replacement to follow is a good way to leave the office positively in the minds of your former coworkers,” says Reynolds.

Wright adds that leaving a job well means not leaving any personal affects or issues behind. Wright recommends spending time during your last days at the job making sure your desk and office area are completely cleared out and ready for the next person to come in.

She also says to make sure any company-related documents in your work space are organized and easy to find (either physically or digitally), and to delete anything from your computer that you feel uncomfortable leaving behind (for instance, saved passwords for online accounts that you used for work but were personal to you).

Double check with your manager and HR department to tie up any loose ends that weren’t addressed when you gave your notice—for instance, exit interviews that need to be scheduled or final paperwork that needs to be submitted. The smoother you can make this process, says Wright, the easier it will be for you to leave in a professional manner.

4. Don’t Say Too Much About Quitting Your Job, But DO Say Something

Just as it’s best to show restraint when giving your boss details about your reasons for leaving, Smith says it’s a good idea to keep your complaints on the DL with the rest of your coworkers as well (again, barring extreme cases of harassment or illegal activity).

“While you may have good reasons for leaving,” says Smith, “spending your remaining days bad-mouthing the company to team members who are staying behind will only burn bridges and create awkwardness for your whole team.”

Remember: Not everyone has the same experiences you do, and you might have team members who either feel differently than you or who agree but aren’t in a position to leave themselves. Even if they’re nodding in agreement to your venting, Smith says, it’s unlikely they’re actually appreciating or enjoying hearing it.

And while causing a scene and burning down the house on your way out the door might seem like the most obvious and egregious case of a bad exit, Michele Moore, Founder and CEO at human resources consulting company Southwest Human Capital, says there’s an approach that’s even worse: saying nothing.

“When you come into work one day only to find that someone has left without saying a word, it leaves an unsettling, uneasy feeling,” says Moore. “Whether your time at the job was good or bad, leaving without acknowledging your coworkers shows a lack of respect and professionalism that should be reserved for only the most heinous situations.”

Looking for the skills you need to make a graceful exit? Check out our Skillcrush Blueprint Courses, and starting planning your own career pivot.

You can hear what some of our alumni have to say about our programs in the video below.

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Scott Morris

Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.

Category: Blog