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Cover image for How To Quit Your Job

How To Quit Your Job

emmabostian profile image Emma Bostian ✨ ・6 min read

Preface: I am not thinking of leaving my current job. Additionally, this is my experience of leaving a job in the United States. Certain logistics may pertain solely to the U.S. so you may want to consult a trusted colleague, friend, or mentor about etiquette specific to your location.

In February of 2018 I quit my job at IBM. There were several reasons which led me to this decision, but navigating the process of gracefully giving my notice left me in a state of turmoil.

I had never quit a job before; I joined IBM immediately after graduating college and spent three years building the foundation of my career.

And not only did I quit my job, I sold everything I had ever owned and moved halfway across the world from Austin, Texas to Karlsruhe, Germany. Needless to say, I had a lot of tricky situations to navigate.

We never discuss strategies surrounding the process of gracefully leaving a job. Why is that?

I have never understood the the negative stigma that surrounds quitting; it’s a skill that most employees will, at one point or another, will need to acquire. Quitting has a negative connotation, when in reality there are various reasons why you might quit a job, not all of which are bad.

Here is my experience with quitting my job, and the tips I picked up along the way to maintain a healthy relationship with your ex-employer.

Reasons For Quitting Your Job

Before we delve in to the methods of giving notice, let’s examine some reasons why you might want to leave your current role.

Switching Industries

Perhaps your current role isn’t where you see yourself in five, ten, or fifteen years. Perhaps it’s not even in the same industry! Switching industries can provide you with a large variation of experience within your career.

At IBM I was working on Quantum Computing. It was great! I got to learn physics and apply the knowledge from my Computer Science degree. And when I switched to LogMeIn, I switched into the Online Meetings industry.

Gaining knowledge in different industries is a valid reason for leaving your current job, especially if your passion lies elsewhere.\

Work/Life Balance

Perhaps your current role doesn’t provide you with the work/life balance you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We often forget that mental health is a vastly important part of our overall well-being. If you don’t have time to spend with family and friends, or relax at the end of a long workday, you can quickly burn out.

Friction With Your Current Company

When we think of quitting, we often attribute it to a dispute with a company. And although this can be the case, it’s not always true.

If you have irreconcilable differences with your company, their mission, or the culture, quitting might be the best option.

Moving

This was the reason that I left my job at IBM; I wanted to move to Germany. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep my job, so I was left with no choice but to quit.

I am a huge advocate for always putting yourself, and your family, above any job. I would never postpone moving to be reunited with my husband in order to keep my job; life is too short.

If you’re stuck between wanting to move and staying at your job, I always encourage you to put yourself first.

Career Growth Stagnation

Sometimes you may be in the unfortunate situation of little-to-no career growth. I’ve noticed this happen in larger enterprises; it can be really difficult to get promoted.

If this is the case, you may want to explore new opportunities. Switching companies is often the quickest way to get a promotion if your career has hit a plateau.

Opportunity Of A Lifetime

If you’ve been given the job offer of a lifetime, take it. You should never turn down a job because you’re afraid to hurt your manager’s feelings. A good manager will always have your best interests at heart.

How To Quit Your Job

Now on to the hard question of how to actually quit your job. There are a few buckets underneath this that I want to examine.

How Long Before Leaving Should I Give Notice?

I accepted my job offer in Germany in November of 2017, but my start date wasn’t until March 2018. I had no idea how much notice I should give.

My old manager at IBM gave me great advice:

“Two-weeks notice is sufficient and standard. If you want to leave on a better note you can always give three or four weeks.”

Now, I recognize that giving three or four weeks notice isn’t practical for everyone. Namely, people who may have their visas tied to their current position, who are worried about losing that security. I chose to give more than two-weeks notice as a courtesy to my team and my manager.

Could she have let me go before the end of my four weeks? Yes, it’s possible. But we had always maintained a good relationship, and she recognized that I was giving her an additional two-weeks notice in good faith that I would help transition the team to take over my work.

When you choose to give notice of your departure is a decision only you can make. Whether you give the minimum, or a little extra, you can continue to maintain a healthy relationship with your ex-employer.

How Do I Start The Conversation?

It’s important to schedule a one-on-one conversation with your manager, away from any distractions or other people.

Here’s an example of how to start this conversation.

“Hi manager. I have received a job offer of a lifetime and I just cannot pass it up, so I need to formally give my X weeks notice. I appreciate everything you and the company have done for me; I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I hope that we can keep in contact.”

Of course, this is just one example, but by showing gratitude to your manager, you diffuse an otherwise tense situation.

At this point, your manager may ask if there’s anything they can do to keep you. It’s up to you, based on your reasoning for quitting the job, whether or not to entertain this idea.

But if you’re adamant about leaving, stay strong. Remember why you are choosing to leave and don’t be talked out of it (if it’s really what you want).

One other thing you can do to maintain a great relationship is to offer to onboard, or search for, the person who will be replacing you.

Before leaving IBM, I helped interview and vet candidates. I also typed up an on-boarding guide to get them up-to-speed. This is one more way you can leave a positive impression on your employer.

Do I Need To Have Another Job Lined Up?

This is a completely subjective question. I chose to have a job lined up because I needed a visa to live and work in Germany. Others have quit jobs with no offer on the table.

It all comes down to you, your family, and your financial comfort. Can you afford to go one or two months without a salary? This is an important question to discuss with your family prior to quitting your job (if possible).

How Do I Tell My Team?

I chose to tell my team personally, but if you’re not comfortable with it, you can ask your manager for help navigating this. Perhaps they can send an email to the team or make a formal announcement.

It’s important not to “ghost” your teammates. If you up-and-quit without saying goodbye, your teammates won’t be left with a good impression of you.

If networking is your thing, ask to connect with your team on LinkedIn, XING, or social media.


Remember that quitting is ultimately a personal decision and you shouldn’t be sorry about it. You’re making the best decision for yourself, whatever the reason may be, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

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emmabostian profile

Emma Bostian ✨

@emmabostian

Software Engineer, bibliophile, & cat mom

Discussion

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That’s called the indispensable trap! If any of us become that big of a piece then something is wrong. Find a way to distribute the knowledge in your mind to your coworkers. Making yourself dispensable is a favour to your company! It’s both humbling, and the professional thing to do!

 

This is so much the truth. Thank you for stating this. I've talked with co-workers in the past who have done the opposite in an attempt to become less dispensible, only to find themselves gone.

 

Thanks a lot Emma for writing this article.From past one week my mind is revolving around this whether to quit the job or not and when should I have to quit the job is it before getting any other offer or after getting the offer. You answered all of them .

 

My reasons for quitting the job are

  • Work/Life Balance
  • Switching Industries
  • Career Growth Stagnation
 
 

Thanks for sharing your experience! I will be honest, I have had way more jobs than I can even count (being able to land a job is a skill all in its own). I worked all through my teens and twenties while I was in school. I gained some interesting experiences along the way, none of which were related to software or programming. Leaving a job for another opportunity is something that we shouldn't be risk-averse to. As you outlined there are many reasons why someone might want to leave a job.

So that brings me up to now...
I recently left a job only to accept a similar position with the same company a few months later. The reason I was able to go back? I left with ample notice (2 weeks), I documented the projects I was working as well as made sure to be helpful and courteous up to my last day. I didn't leave in anger, or hurt feelings, but left because I thought I had found a different opportunity worth pursuing. The result? Things didn't shake out the way I thought they would. Because of my work ethic, I was able to go back to my previous employer. Is this the way things always work? No, and I wouldn't expect them too. I guess my point is that your reputation will precede you, but at the same time don't be afraid to take a chance on different opportunities.

 

Imagine yourself sharing with your replacement! Early in my career I was introduced to the idea of - what would happen if I was hit by a bus? Would my codebase and documentation be worthless or could someone with a bit of skill pick it up? What can I do to make sure that’s the case?

At a minimum, that’s a list of servers, passwords, repos etc that your boss knows about. Unless you invented the platform you’re working with, that should be enough for the “new guy” to go on!

In short - future proof your organisation against your absence!

 

Thanks for the great post! So I have this situation that I'd like to share with you guys. What if your manager is not that nice and the HR management is in favor with that manager. I am about to resign and I am afraid that they will put bad things on my record (certificate of employment) just like what they did to my former colleagues. The company's environment is the worst and there is no career growth there. Totally no reason for me to stay. The manager uses delaying tactics so that you will not be able to finish rendering your knowledge transfer (even if you did, just because he/she is not there he want to repeat the knowledge transfer) ending up not signing your clearance and the thing is HR management is OK with that even if you have sufficient evidence that you did. What would be the best move? I have 2 months resignation period to fulfill, 1 month to give them time to find a guy to take my place and 1 month to render knowledge transfer. I planned to resign in advance even though I am not that active on searching for a new career opportunity because of that to overly long resignation period. I really do not know what to do. I just want to leave the company with out any hassle. I am still building my foundations and I am not getting any experiences related to what I see my self a couple of years from now. help

 

There is no one in HR who can protect you against backlash?

 

In my own experience, I came across more than my fair share of HR departments where their primary function was to protect the company first, and only as an after thought protect the employees.
As soon as I recognized those kinds of companies I would run to the hills and stay as far away from them as possible, since in my own personal opinion HR is the only real lifeline employees have in a bigger company.

Long story short. The HR manager is somehow related with our manager so yeah that's why.

 

Unfortunately, no one. They're so bias in favor of the manager(family friend). HR management will make you feel that they are on your side but no. haha! Anyway I'll be submitting my resignation letter today and that's the best option I have. Thanks Emma!

 

When I left my last position, which was a leadership position in the US, because I was moving cross-country (with lol no plan), I actually gave a year notice to my direct boss and 6 months notice to the head of the company.

That gave us time to find new leadership, be a part of the hiring and training process, and do my darnedest to tie up any loose ends I had left. The last 3 months I was effectively "emeritus" status, which both let me do some blue-sky research, take care of overflow, and overall be grease for the wheels as my replacement (quickly, because he was more experienced than i was) ramped up.

If you're moderately senior, I'd always suggest being as open and honest about what you're planning with your managers! Getting blindsided by losing even a great front-line worker really showed me the value of communicating upward with your direct managers -- we'll (almost) always fight for the best thing for you!

 

Great post. But you have worked on quantum computing, that's really amazing! Have you wrote anything on the subject or are you considering writing something?

It's true that we feel some sort of guilt about quitting a job, when we do. But I think at some point we will all be job quitters and the managers will accept that and even help us, to some extent.

 

I haven't, but I built the IBM Q Network site!

 

That's nice work. Isn't it open source by any chance? That video they did with Wired is brilliant, I watch that over and over again.

 

💯!! Especially about the stigma of quitting. Employer/employee relationships are often unbalanced. I've known people that have felt guilty about quitting a job even when they were in a toxic work environment. Quitting is a human right!

 

Just a word of caution about the 2 weeks notice. Depending on where u work notice period may be stated in the contract. In Sweden it is usually anything between 1 to 6 months depending on how senior or important you are to the company.

Otherwise yeah, nice post. Often we only hear about quitting jobs because the current job is bad, but that doesn't have to be the case.

 

Yep - that's why I started the article with the preface that my experience is U.S. specific and you should consult with a mentor in your country for specifics

 

That's why I offer to back-fill my position with a great candidate :)

 

If you work at a startup, or small company, a few weeks notice is difficult for them to deal with. I've left companies with several months notice before, and ensured my position was filled, or no longer needed.

That said, there's an abundance of jobs where a few weeks notice should be fine. But be sure to consider all your unused vacation days, don't needlessly give them up! :)

 

I was suprised to read that two weeks is a sufficient standard in the US. Here in France, my contract says that I must inform the company 2 to 3 months before leaving, depends on how long I stayed in before.
What is the standard in Germany ?

 

Hi, Emma! Thanks for the post, really nice. I'm currently on my third job already, so I am familiar with the process a little bit.

The only thing that puzzles me is whether or not should I be honest regarding wether or not I'm doing interviews somewhere else with the intent to leave.

My last manager really got mad with me for not letting him know before, but from my point of view the relationship could get awkward if I said "hey, I'm doing interviews somewhere else" and suddenly I don't get the job and have to stay.

What are your thoughts on that?

 

You’re not obligated to tell them that in my opinion!

 

I was asking to myself if I was taking a good decision. Your post makes me feel more confident with my decision an growth my mind with another point of view. I'm still a Computer Science student but I have been working in dev for a years. I'm really thankful with dev.to and its community. Such a pleasure being here! I want to improve my social, english and dev skills and this site seems fallen from heaven to me. By the way, you write great posts, new sub here!

 

At least in my country it is customary (and in some cases required by law) to have a longer notice period. It usually depends on the contract and how many years you've been employed in your company. For me it is 6 weeks, but I'd rather give them a couple of months if possible as too many projects depend on me and we're a small company so they need to find somebody to replace me, and I want to have at least 2-3 weeks with the new hire.
I sometimes ask myself how they'll do without me, I'm the one who started the most important company project and I'd feel sorry if they struggled to manage it without me, and I have a great relationship with both the managers and my team mates, so I'll be sorry to say goodbye.

In the end when I decide to leave I'll do it for the better, of course, and my family is my top priority. I've turned down some interesting positions because they'd have been better for my career, but would have required sacrifices for my family and I can't accept that. It is not easy to find a job that is both great for myself and remote or so close to home I can spend as much time as possible with the kids.

 

I like the US-style notice periods. In Hungary, it was 2 months for me, in France it's 3 months. So it goes usually the other way around. People are not thinking about offering more as a courtesy but trying to negotiate for less.

And as this negotiation doesn't always go well, often you can see people not working on full speed for months before leaving. Full speed? Not even half speed :D

 

“Two-weeks notice is sufficient and standard. If you want to leave on a better note you can always give three or four weeks.”

It differs, depending on the particular industry and type of role. In my country (NZ) the standard for high school teachers is eight weeks.

So, my advice (FWIW), would be to check out the notice period for your job.

 

Very informative and inspiring !!
Thank you!!

 

Great read! Thanks for sharing the experience. Indeed very helpful!

Wish you all the best and I am inspired and motivated by this article!

 
 
 

~afraid to like this post, as my current employer might be watching~ 👀