Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How to quit your job

(This piece follows on from an entry I did a few months back on turning down a job offer. A number of correspondents asked me to address the more typical situation of simply quitting a job)

So you're leaving your job. How hard could that be?

Well, amazingly enough, some people do louse up this apparently simple task; and most people seem to feel quite a high degree of stress at the prospect of telling their employer that they are moving on - even when they hate that employer and are deliriously happy to be leaving. I suspect this may be the reason why so many 12 year-olds get a friend to break up for them:
"Hey Rowan."
"Alison says you're dumped."
"Uh, okay. .......... Th-thanks."
Unfortunately, it's not appropriate to get a friend to pass your boss a note in gym class when it comes the time to break the bad news. It's just one of those grown-up things you are going to have to do yourself.

Keep it clean, quick and unequivocal. Assertiveness is your friend here - don't get all apologetic and, no matter how much your creep of a boss deserves it, don't start listing the catalogue of reasons you have for wanting to leave. State the situation, agree your departure date, agree your reference, shake hands and get out of the boss's office. Some thoughts:
  • Be graceful in victory. Even if you feel that you are being chased out the door and that you have resigned five seconds before they were going to fire you; if you have secured a new job and are leaving of your own volition, you win. No rubbing of noses in it please! Don't tell them how amaaaaaazing your new role is going to be, or about the huuuuuge increase in salary, or about the All Terrain Vehicle that the new company are giving you as a company car. When you talk like this, all they are hearing is, "Your job sucks. Your company sucks. You suck!"
  • Work to maintain your relationships on at least civil terms. You may live in a big country with all the anonymity that goes with it, but within your industry, tongues can wag very easily and that can come back to haunt you at a later stage in your career. Burning bridges make marvellous crackly sounds and they glow very prettily against the night sky, but you will feel more than a little stupid should you ever need to cross that particular river again in the future.
  • Extend that civility to demonstrable professionalism on your part. In the army, they used to say that soldiers who knew their tour was nearly over were suffering from 'Demob Fever.' They knew that they were about to be demobilised and suddenly, painting coal white just didn't seem so important any more. Maintain your focus right through to your last day. If you have to work out a lengthy notice period, this can be very hard; but take solace in the fact that this time is finite and will be over soon. Answer your phone, return your messages, stay on top of your email and keep all the wheels turning. This, more than any other behaviour on your part, will distinguish you from the crowd and enhance your reputation throughout your industry going forward.
  • Polish up your reference(s). Most companies now give the standard 'Name, Rank, Serial Number' reference and nothing more. Make sure that you spend some time with those people who are particularly kindly disposed towards you and see if any of them are willing to be a personal reference. You may be in a position to reciprocate - immediately if your move is a step up; later in your respective careers otherwise. These conversations are the nucleus of your ongoing networking efforts with these people - make 'em good!
  • Observe the legalities to the letter and the niceties above and beyond that. If you have signed a contract that states you have to give four months' notice, then be prepared to have that contract enforced and to perform a detailed handover to your replacement. Your new employer will no doubt be putting pressure on you to elide your responsibilities in this regard. Don't. Just quietly say to your new boss: "I'm sure if one of your business-critical subordinates was leaving you under similar circumstances, you wouldn't be too impressed if they dumped you in it." As to the niceties, that includes returning all company material and equipment in perfect condition. Have the car valeted. Clean the keyboard and screen on your laptop. Bring home-baked biscuits for coffee break on your final day. The devil is in the details ...
  • Finally, DON'T bad-mouth your old employer once you take up your new position, no matter how much they deserve it and no matter how much every fibre of your being wants to. I don't care if you were working in the ninth pit of hell, be diplomatic! If you have to mention something negative, make sure you balance it with a positive. "Yes, it could get pretty warm there on the lake of fire, but I'd have to say - it really loosened out my creaky joints. Never had any trouble with the old football injuries while I worked at Ninth Pit Inc.!"
I realise I sound like Pollyanna writing this. Trust me - I'm not. Every piece of advice I am offering here is based on a stupid, stupid mistake that I've seen over the years. And each one of those mistakes resonated ... for a long time. When it comes to your behaviour as you are quitting your job, be Pollyanna. A shrewd, self-serving, self-preserving Pollyanna.

If you'd like more on this, or some detail on what to include and omit from your resignation letter, drop me a line or pop it in a comment.


micromysore said...

few other points
* don't declare that your are quitting till your boss announces !!
* don't use current work to fax/email while negotiating with your new employer

Rowan Manahan said...

Good points both and some of the myriad details that I'll be covering in a post on the tactical elements of gracefully quitting your job. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

I read through the "how to quit your job" post and found it very useful. Any thoughts on how to handle the exit conversations when you do not have another job lined up? I am leaving because I can not stand it anymore not because I have a better opportunity. Of course, I am not going to say anything like that, but what can I say by way of explanation? They are going to try very hard to get me to stay and I would rather stick needles in my eyes (again, not planning to say that).

Jyoti said...


Should one be honest about who their new employer is going to be? Because eventually everyone does find out? What are the repercussions one needs to be aware of?

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