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Career Advice From A To Z: “Q” For “How To Quit Your Job With Style”

HowToQuitYourJobWithStyle_KennedyExecutiveCareerBlogYou have taken the decision to quit, to leave your current employer. This means that you have lost the faith to change your job for the better.

Here are 5 tips on how to quit your job with style, ensure a clean departure that does not burn bridges and makes sure you will always get positive references:

  1. Your decision should be final and non-negotiable if you want to maintain your credibility. Be 100% sure. This means several prior talks with a boss or mentor and the realistic understanding that the reasons for leaving will not change shortly.
  2. How will your boss react? Prepare to receive a counter-offer and to hear something like “I understand, Mary, but please let me talk to my boss and see what we can do for you. You have been with us for so many years, don’t throw that away. By the way, where do you want to go to? Oh, really, to XYZ?? If I was you, I would really think about that twice. I do not mean to influence you but…”. Well, what’s going on here? Will the reasons that made you take this decision be different with a new salary or another job title? Why have they never offered this to you before? At the moment when you resign, your superior has a problem – you don’t. S/he might therefore try to keep you. However, the trust is broken. Forever. Your boss will not forget and you might be the first one to be replaced when someone better (=more loyal) turns up or when things get tight.
  3. If you have an exit interview, it may be tempting to say all the things that always bothered you in this company. Consider this well. Do you really want to change the company you are leaving? What’s in for you? Will there rather be a positive or negative impact on you when you criticize your employer, strategic decision or your boss? Give feedback when you are asked but don’t  try to change the world. It is too late now and whether the reasons that made you resign will change or not is irrelevant for you (please ignore this point if you are Robin Hood or Mother Theresa).
  4. Do not change your professional and loyal manners until the last day you are on the payroll – and beyond. Think about your reference and what your colleagues will think and say about you. You can be sure that one day, someone will call and take a reference on you and all you want to avoid is “well, he was actually good but I do not wish to comment on the end of his time with us…”
  5. Never ever talk negatively about your former employer as this will always have a negative consequence for you. If you give reasons to third parties, a good answer can be e.g. “XYZ is a very good company and I am grateful for everything I learned there. However, it was time for me to move on and I had this fantastic offer which I simply could not turn down”.


Conclusion:

Be sure of your decision and don’t let anyone turn you around. At this point, think only about what is good for you (the confidence that you stayed professional until the last day and will therefore always receive a positive reference). If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will.

Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is the Managing Director of Kennedy Executive Search & Outplacement. Apart from running our company blog, he writes for Forbes, Careerbuilder, BBC and other media.
  1. David Reply

    Good article.

    I think the most important point is point 4. We all get de-mob happy, but the people you are working with today in this role, may be people you work with tomorrow in another.

    On the subject of exit interviews, I would suggest that HR is never neutral.

    I would also, however, like to give another spin on a manager trying to keep an employee. Having had over 20 years of experience of managing people I have been in this position a few times and sometimes I have tried to keep the person. Sometimes a good employee who you have looked after, rewarded, promoted and mentored gets their head turned by a fabulous offer, usually based around a great salary. Yes as a manager you do have a problem, but sometimes the person may be making a mistake or leaving for short term gains. Sometimes reminding the person about the past and the fact that they enjoy their job can turn a person around and is this the wrong thing to do?

    Of course sometimes you want to jump for joy when the resignation hits you!

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, David. I feel that someone who has taken clear steps to leave you should not be hold back

      • David Reply

        Hi Jorg, but are you holding someone back?

        I have had staff resign, who have had their head turned by a salary number, that looks attractive. But I have sat them down, reminded them about their salary (say) 2 years ago, compared that to today and then reminded them about the training (on the job and formal), the opportunities and responsibilities that they have been given and the encouragement and support that has gone with it,

        If they are actually happy, is it wrong? Is it holding them back when you are going to carry on investing in that person with training, opportunities and time?

        I would argue no and suggest that this is being a good manager.

        Now I would agree that if you have not historically invested in this person, throwing money at them to keep them is a short term solution and the person will be gone in 6 months time.

        • Jorg Stegemann Reply

          Hi David –

          I do not say I am right but my reasoning is that if someone has undertaken specific steps to leave you (write his resume, go for interviews and negotiate a new contract), it is too late to reinstall loyalty and trust.

  2. Charbel Reply

    Indeed, once you have a new offer, it is too late for your boss to increase your salary or promote you. Why didn’t he do it before???

    Plus, what is your guarantee that, once you decline the new job offer, your boss will honor his promise and increase your salary / promote you?

    As for being emotional, I can’t but agree with the writer of this paper: “Whether the reasons that made you resign will change or not is irrelevant for you”. Why should they?

    Good luck!

  3. Vince Reply

    Jorg,

    I think this is a good article. I would add: Don’t resign until you have signed a contract with your new employer.

    Exit interviews-think carefully if you have this with someone neutral (HR maybe) or a line manager. You may say more with the former but…….. the warning signs should have been out there already for your current employer.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Vince; I agree with you

  4. Cornel Reply

    A remark to point 4: Your customers are even more important for your future than your colleagues. Your customers will not only remember your company, they will remember _you_. Doing a very good job until the last day provides the best chances for good references from customers, and for showing up again later.

  5. Stirling Reply

    When you resign, be sure to have a short brief letter indicating that you have decided to resign effective a certain date.

    Then focus your supervisor’s attention to a second document which is your exit and transition plan that you and your supervisor would focus on in your last couple of weeks. This shows your company you are still engaged and willing to assist in covering off any outstanding issues before you leave.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Excellent, did not hear this before and like it!

  6. Sarah Reply

    Good article thanks. Point 4 I would even say prepare a good handover with the person who will replace you. Facilitate the transition :-)

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, baby (explanation: Sarah is my wife…)

  7. Jim Reply

    I found this article to be an interesting add-on to the discussion as whether you should hold people back or not when they tell you to quit!

    In fact the used vocabulary “Holding Back” already has something unnatural to it. It is preventing someone from doing something they initially intended to do:

    http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/03/26/why-you-shouldnt-take-a-counteroffer

    Some personal notes: I do agree that there is nothing wrong with approaching these moments with the outmost care:

    - As a manager you might want to find out what goes wrong in your team, in your company, in your relationship with direct reports and beyond

    - As a manager you might want to make sure that the person in front of you has all thought through in a good way. Asking people about the why’s of their decision is not necessarily holding back. As long as you want to understand and make sure a person does not regret his/her decision in the end, I don’t believe you are doing anything wrong. Offering a quick fix solution as pay raises, promotions falling out of the sky on the other hand rarely prove to be a good and sustainable solution.

    - As a company you must have an exit process in place. Allow people to tell their story to the line manager, their N+2 and why not also to HR. Valuable information will come to you, biased as information is always, but surely different as from the information one would share if they were to stay.

    - And last but not least if you handle these moments with care, you may have one ambassador extra out there to promote your company.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Jim, thanks for the link and this high quality input

    • Jurgen Reply

      Jim,

      great recommendation. According to my experiences these 5 points are very important, also in the Chemical Industry in Germany.

  8. Stefano Reply

    One thing – I would never (NEVER) say where I am going, but rather describe it in general terms, e.g. a pan-European provider headquartered in London. Industries are small worlds and a call between old friends in the wto companies (e.g. previous and future bosses/ colleagues) may impact your move…

  9. Klaus Reply

    You should always leave your old company in the best way possible through the big door. You never know whether you meet “them” again in this small world of mergers, acquisitions and cooperations.

    Transparency and candor are mandatory with your old company beyond your leaving and with your new company from the first time you had contact.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Klaus, fully agree!

  10. Stanton Reply

    Oops… should have read this a few days ago. I think I broke every rule mentioned.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Stanton -

      Thanks for sharing. What happened?

      • Stanton Reply

        I told my boss I was going to quit when I was responding emotionally to yet another job evaluation failure and then agreed to sleep on it. The next day I said, “I will stay but I’m looking for another job,” I don’t think that was very well handled by me but understandable.

  11. Samantha Reply

    I agree with you all… from my perspective (HR) I believe that when a decision is made to leave an organisation there is no point to try and stop the person at that time….. a good leader would have done his/her best to prevent that way before the resignation point…. as for exit interviews I believe that any HR person worth their salt will be neutral and counsel the person, listen to the reasons for leaving to truly understand the trending…. especially if the turnover is above 20% AND ESPECIALLY IF IT’S WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR OF EMPLOYMENT!

    Resigning is always emotional – and while I strongly recommend that one be tempered in the reasons for leaving as this is a small world, one should be honest i.e. if it’s salary say so and if it’s the way you were managed, say so too…. again it depends on the culture of your company, the unwritten norms….

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks Samantha from your insight from an HR perspective

  12. Anil Reply

    Agree with all the points. Exits not managed gracefully reflect on the true personality behind a ‘professional’.

    Casual / negative comments must be avoided as far as possible- after all, when you have a fresh assignment coming up, it is always sane to focus on the upcoming assignment rather than current negativity.

  13. Steve Reply

    Just wanted to say thanks for an interesting post, Jorg. I read some of your other blogs entries too, which I also enjoyed. I find it interesting that many people seem to see their life inside work and their life outside work as two different things, as opposed to having a set of values and principles that hold good across the piece. It seems to me that if we treat those around us as we would wish to be treated wherever the relationship is then life is much easier (and I use that word deliberately): if we are behaving artificially then we are constantly having to think about it and so it all gets a bit calculated. In the case of your job-quitter, for example, if the person really understands themselves and knows why they are leaving then then the rules you have suggested (which all make perfect sense to me) shouldn’t be hard to follow, but if what they really want is to provoke a different conversation then that’s a different matter.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Steve. I like your point of view

  14. Liz Reply

    Excellent advice and I would add that some of the principles should still be observed if being made redundant from your company. ie loyal to the end, professional, not bad mouthing the company after your departure. You just never know what the future holds.

    I would rather be known for being professional to the end and leave with my head held high.

  15. Steve Reply

    This is something I always tell my clients and friends. The same also applies when facing redundancy. Whatever the agenda, it pays to always leave on good terms and be totally professional!

  16. Sotirios Reply

    Take care of yourself before others do it for you, in their way (negative). The more complex and vast the hierarchy in a company (talking about blue chips, major global players etc.), the easier it is to cut loose. In small family businesses this needs strategy.

    Generally there is no single universal method to follow here. Experience, adaptivity and a healthy mind, are able to determine the way. Remember that your way is the right way for you. Think and act.

    Many advices are out there to follow. But only you will determine which fits with your wished outcome. If none fits, then you have to think for yourself creatively. Why not starting with in first place ? In fact it is like music.

    Do not hear various recordings of the piece you are working on, before you actually master it by yourself. Otherwise you just immitate. In Executive Management, Immitation is another word for Degeneration. if not supported by restructuring based on your companies profile.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Sotirios. I like it!

  17. Harry Reply

    Great article – completely agree with everything. I quit my job in London two years ago and moved to Barcelona. I was professional and my resignation was received with regret, which gave me a lot more satisfaction than storming out would have. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges – though I would say that it is OK to speak negatively about processes, rather than people.

  18. jharaphula Reply

    Thanks for Sharing. It help me a lot for my Current Job Change. Keep writing such good articles. I bookmarked your link. Will keep in touch with regular updates.

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