This story originally appeared on DollarSprout.
Several months ago, I decided to leave my job of 14 years to become a full-time freelance writer. But when it was time to give notice, fear overcame me. I’d seen other people leave the company over the years, and it rarely ended well.
Although I did the best I could, I wish I had treated the process more professionally. It’s always better to try and leave doors open rather than slam them shut on your way out.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.5 million people quit their job in January 2020, and it’s safe to assume that not all of those people left their job amicably. While it would be nice if it were this simple, quitting a job is more than just telling your boss you’re leaving, packing up your desk, and walking out the door.
Follow these 10 steps to ensure you leave your job in a professional manner and remain on good terms with your former employer.
1. Have a job or other income stream lined up.
If you’re planning to quit a job, it’s a good idea to have another job lined up beforehand to ensure there’s less of a disruption of income. Since there’s no guarantee that a job search will go quickly, having a job, emergency fund, or another income source in place means you don’t have to worry about that kind of uncertainty. It also means you can take your time finding a job that’s a good fit.
Once you’ve found a new job or career path, then you can work towards an end date at your current position and a start date with a new company. Find out how flexible your new boss is with your start date in case things don’t go to plan when you leave your current job.
2. Avoid starting workplace chatter.
Once you know it’s time to move on from your job, it’s best to play your cards close to your chest. Knowing you’re leaving creates a false sense of security, making it easier to say how you feel about the job, the company, and your coworkers.
This isn’t always a wise move. “Oftentimes employees fantasize about finally standing up to bosses or coworkers that have mistreated them,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. “While this might be a satisfying fantasy, never quit like this. It’s immature, hostile, and will sever any solid relationships or connections you’ve built with anyone at the company.”
If you have legitimate gripes or complaints about your job or treatment by the company, Steiner says to use your exit interview with HR to express those.
3. Schedule a meeting with your supervisor.
Not only should you refrain from airing your grievances about the company, but you should speak to your direct supervisor before telling your co-workers. It’s professional common courtesy, and it helps you control the situation. Telling your co-workers could lead to your boss hearing about it secondhand, which can cause unnecessary issues or animosity.
Make it a point to schedule a meeting with your boss. A face-to-face meeting is preferable, but if meeting in person doesn’t work, schedule a teleconference or phone call instead.
This doesn’t need to happen as soon as you know you want to quit your job, but once you’ve determined a time frame and a target last day, your boss needs to know.
4. Prepare for your meeting.
Once the meeting is scheduled, take some time to prepare for it. Have an idea of what you want to say and what you don’t, and make some notes for yourself with those talking points. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say things you didn’t intend or that may hurt your reputation.
Be prepared for questions your boss may ask and how you might answer them, but don’t feel pressured to explain yourself or your reason for leaving. You can share those sentiments during your exit interview.
Write your resignation letter ahead of time to give to your boss at the meeting. A resignation letter is your chance to leave professionally, lay out a timeline for your departure, and share your appreciation for the time spent with the company.
5. Ask for a reference.
If you plan to use your supervisor as a job reference during your job search, try to secure this now while the news is fresh.
Asking for a reference right after telling someone you’re quitting may be awkward, but it’s worthwhile, especially if you have a solid relationship. Good references, especially from a former employer, will help you when landing future jobs.
If your supervisor says no to your reference request, ask someone else in the company that you’ve either worked under or alongside who can attest to the quality of your work.
6. Show gratitude for your job.
In all your communications, make it known that you are grateful for your job. Gratitude can take several forms. You can write thank you notes to supervisors and co-workers who’ve helped you along the way. Purchase a small gift or buy co-workers lunch to say thank you one last time.
It’s usually possible to find things to be thankful for and lessons you’ve learned to help you in the future.
7. Give at least two weeks’ notice.
When quitting your job, make sure you give the company at least two weeks’ notice or whatever the company policy requires. This allows them to prepare internally for your departure and makes you look respectful, professional, and courteous.
Steiner says, “So many employees will quit jobs without giving their employers notice at all. This is one of the worst things you can do when quitting a job. No matter how much success you had at the position or how many solid relationships you built, you’ll always be looked at as the employee who quit unannounced.”
Once you’ve given them notice, stick to that time frame. Don’t try to leave earlier than planned and if asked, don’t stay beyond it.
8. Ask what they need from you.
Although quitting your job means a significant change for you, it’s also one for your employer.
Content writer and freelancing coach Laura Gariepy spent a decade working in human resources and saw this firsthand.
“Your departure from the company likely throws a wrench in your supervisor’s plans,” she said. “They’ll need to shuffle resources around and shift their strategy to achieve company objectives.” You can ease the burden by being proactive and asking what you can do to help during the transition. It’s a professional gesture that both your boss and your co-workers will appreciate.
Helping the company may mean training your replacement or leaving resources or notes to help the next person working in your position. You may also want to finish up any lingering projects or paperwork, notify customers or clients of your departure, or return any company-issued equipment.
9. Leave on a positive note.
Choose to leave well. Even if your experience with the company was less than desirable, try to find some good aspects beyond receiving a paycheck. Maybe you received training you couldn’t have otherwise afforded or developed a skill you can transfer to a new career. Or perhaps you expanded your professional network or made close friends.
Gariepy considers this an important step in quitting a job. Regardless of poor pay, micromanaging supervisors, or an overall toxic work environment, she advises leaving on a positive note.
“Continue to show up and perform well through your last day,” Gariepy says. “The professional world can be small and you may run into folks from this job later in your career. So don’t burn bridges if you can help it.”
10. Understand your employer is entitled to their reaction.
When you announce your departure, your employer will inevitably have a reaction, and it may not be the reaction you expect or want. They may be angry or confused and demand you leave immediately.
Even if you disagree, try to respect their emotions. This was likely an emotional decision for you but you’ve had time to process your feelings. This is the first they’re hearing your news and need some time to work through theirs.
Offer some grace as they try to plan for your departure.
Quitting a Job on Good Terms Is Best for Your Future Endeavors
Although it’s difficult to know how decisions you make now may impact your career in the future, there are some steps you can take to make sure you protect your reputation and job prospects.
While it’s tempting to let your boss know how you feel, some things are better left unsaid. Abide by company protocol, give notice, and tie up all loose ends before you leave. Talk to HR, get your references in writing, and give your employer space and time to process your notice.
Even if you’re changing careers, it’ll serve you well to quit your job professionally and respectfully.
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