Before Dave Rietsema resigned from his HR job to become an entrepreneur full-time, he spent a lot of time preparing to make sure he was leaving his former employer in good shape before quitting. That entailed conversations with friends, mentors and peers in HR to come up with a strategy he presented to the CEO, which included his recommendation for a successor.
“I showed him the plan that I had. I showed him the costs that were involved … it ended up netting the company savings,” said Rietsema, now the founder and CEO of Matchr, a website that helps HR professionals find the right HR software. “He was really appreciative that I put together something, so he didn’t have to do the work of finding somebody, and we happened to have the talent already in house.”
To help the company ease into the transition, Rietsema also remotely consulted with the company for a few months after leaving. But even Rietsema himself acknowledges that the circumstances around quitting a job aren’t always so smooth. For instance, before he got his break into HR, Rietsema was working a retail job and was told he had to start the new job the following Monday. He knew leaving on such short notice would burn some bridges, but it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I had to close doors. I was going from like $12 an hour to $55,000 a year, so it was a no-brainer, but consciously said, this is my last week. I can’t give you two weeks’ notice. I know I’m not rehireable. I still appreciate the opportunity, but I’ve got to go,” Rietsema said.
15 Tips for Quitting a Job the Right Way
- First, be sure you want to leave
- Prepare before giving notice
- Talk to a mentor
- Make sure you have the offer letter
- Tell your manager in person
- Send a written resignation letter after your meeting
- Give as much notice possible — two weeks minimum
- Be honest about why you’re leaving
- Be prepared to receive a counter offer
- Offer to train your replacement
- Give 100 percent until your last day
- Provide constructive and positive feedback in your exit interview
- But don't bad mouth the company on your way out
- Check-in with your former co-workers
- All bets are off in a toxic situation
Quitting a job requires awareness about your personal circumstances and the company culture in order to resign on the best terms possible. “Read your boss and your relationship with them. If it’s the kind of boss you have happy hour with, that’s a different conversation than a boss that you just see 9 to 5,” he said.
Built In spoke with HR experts and tech leaders for their top 15 tips on how to leave a job without burning bridges on your way out the door.
The Importance of Resigning the Right Way
Over the past year or two, Amy Kim, president and CEO of Jugo, a virtual meeting and events platform, said she’s witnessed an alarming pattern of employees forgoing the minimum of two weeks’ notice and just quitting a job on the spot or not even showing up to work. People are giving notice casually too, via text and email.
“I’ve never seen this trend before,” Kim said. “In general, you never know who your next employer is going to be, and you never know who your next employer knows. So, it is best practice to take the professional route of giving notice and giving enough time for the transition to happen.”
Like Kim, Tim Rowley, CTO at PeopleCaddie, a digital talent platform for highly skilled professional contractors, has observed employees increasingly quitting jobs abruptly. For instance, one employee recently started a position on a Monday and resigned the next day.
“I would say professionalism across the board is way down,” he said.
Preparing your soon-to-be former employer for your transition is the right thing to do to alleviate some of the stress that comes with filling your open role, said Julie Titterington, chief culture officer at Merchant Maverick, a comparison site that reviews small business software and services.
“Quitting is fine. It’s expected. There’s no bones broken or hard feelings usually, but when someone leaves a job, they are leaving a lot of extra work and headaches behind them,” Titterington said.
First, Be Really Sure You Want to Leave
Before leaving a job, make sure you really know why you’re leaving your current job, said Cassie Whitlock, director of human resources at BambooHR, an HR software company. Can your current company offer what you’re looking for? Are you going to a new opportunity that will help advance your career? Have you prepared to launch your own venture? Evaluating the why behind your anticipated departure will help you realize if you’re just hopping to a new shiny opportunity or falling for a “grass is greener” scenario.
“The people that I see who are the happiest are individuals who are going to something rather than leaving something,” Whitlock said.
Be sure you’re not just quitting because you had a rough day — think about if you really do work at a bad company or have a toxic boss, Rietsema said. He shared that one of his friends recently left a job at a large company for a smaller company offering much more money, but when the friend realized it wasn’t a good culture fit, she asked her old company for her job back.
“I’ve had days where, when I was an employee, I was like, I just can’t take this anymore, and then days that were wonderful, so you have to be really clear that you’re 100 percent certain that you’re going to leave,” he said.
Prepare Yourself Before Giving Notice
The last time Whitlock left an organization, she prepared for a year and a half. She knew she was going to want other other opportunities and wanted the organization to be prepared for that. That included creating lots of documentation and organizing, plus teaching and sharing knowledge with partners across the organization.
“Do a mini test. Go on vacation and don’t touch anything in your job. Now when you come back to it, what kind of a hot mess are you coming back to? Are you digging out for 1.5x the amount of time you were gone?” Whitlock said.
Doing this will help you determine the type and amount of preparation you should be doing and help you think of ways to address organizational issues before leaving. In general, document as much as possible about the work your role entails.
“Do a mini test. Go on vacation and don’t touch anything in your job. Now when you come back to it, what kind of a hot mess are you coming back to? Are you digging out for 1.5x the amount of time you were gone?”
“I think it’s useful to have a transition file, which would include your key projects, key issues you’re wrestling with, relationships, key stakeholders your successor might want to know about and having that document literally ready to go so that you can hand it over to your manager when you give the resignation,” said Joseph Liu, career consultant and host of the Career Relaunch podcast.
Be sure to review your employment contract if you have one and the terms around any financial benefits like stock options.
“I would review your work contract so you understand exactly what the notice period is, any implications related to the financial components of your job — so things like bonus, vesting periods,” Liu said. “You might want to check some legal requirements related to non-compete clauses.”
On a personal level, make sure your finances are in order, especially if you are taking a break from working or leaving a company for an entrepreneurial or part-time venture.
“I would get your personal affairs in order, and that means double check your finances. Think about the runway that you’ve got after you’ve resigned if you don’t have another job lined up,” Liu said. “Is your family on board with your decision? What is the impact gonna be on your life? If you’re about to buy a house, you might not want to resign before you apply for your mortgage.”
Talk to a Mentor
Rowley suggests talking to a trusted mentor at your company before you give your notice so you can “game plan” your resignation.
“You have somebody who’s intimately familiar with that company’s culture advising you on the best way to go about things,” Rowley said. “Then you get in a specific plan and not a generic plan that tries to be a one-size-fits-all for every company, every situation.”
For instance, do most people who resign give just two weeks’ notice, or is the standard more like a few months? A workplace mentor can help you figure out the company norms around resignations and the ways to best prepare the company for your departure. In general, any of your mentors can help advise you about making the decision to leave and the right next moves for your career.
Make Sure You Have the Offer Letter
If you’re moving on to a new job, Liu supports the generally accepted best practice of waiting to give notice to your manager until you have received and accepted your new company’s official offer letter.
You want to make sure you have in writing everything you discussed during the interview process like salary and benefits and that you have secured your new opportunity before leaving your job. Issues can arise before you end up with an official offer letter like a budget cut at your new company, and you want to make sure you clear any reference and background checks to avoid having an offer rescinded after you’ve already resigned from your current role.
Tell Your Manager in Person
Once you’ve worked on your preparations and are ready to give your notice, you should arrange a meeting with your manager. If there’s any way to meet with your supervisor in person, do so.
“If possible, this is something you want to do face-to-face with your manager. Now, I understand some people work remotely, so in that case, at the very least the next best thing would be a video call,” Liu said. “From there, it drops down quite significantly, so it could be a phone call. I would not send it in written form. I think you could follow up in written form. You can certainly have a written resignation that you hand over while you’re talking face-to-face, but I wouldn’t lead with a written notice of resignation because it just doesn’t feel as personal, and I think you do owe it to your company to try to do this with your own voice.”
Send a Written Resignation Letter After Your Meeting
After you’ve spoken with your boss directly, you can send a formal written resignation letter to your supervisor and HR.
“I do think it is a good idea to write a letter, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to write a letter before talking because there’s so much nonverbal communication that goes on between an employee and a manager or an employee and HR,” Rietsema said.
Titterington agrees that the written resignation should not be given until you’ve had a conversation with your direct supervisor.
“You don’t want to blindside people by sending in a written resignation before you talk to them,” Titterington said. “Giving both a verbal in-person heads up and a written resignation would always be the best policy, and you want to have the written one as well, just so that there’s a good paper trail, especially if you’re in a situation where you expect to be gaslit or coerced into staying.”
You don’t have to share details about your next steps in your resignation letter, said Sukhi Jutla, co-founder and COO at MarketOrders, an online marketplace connecting jewelry retailers directly to manufacturers, and author of Escape The Cubicle: Quit The Job You Hate, Create A Life You Love. When she wasn’t ready to share information about her entrepreneurial venture with her former employer, Jutla kept her comments vague. You can say you’re looking to explore new avenues or taking time to figure out what your next chapter is going to be, she said.
“What I did was I just wrote my resignation letter just saying that I was really grateful for the opportunity that my current boss has afforded me over the last one or two year … then I just said really graciously that the time had come for me to explore other areas of personal growth and development,” Jutla said. “So, I kept it really broad. I just said that I was moving on to new opportunities.”
Give As Much Notice As Possible — Two Weeks Minimum
When you’re telling your supervisor you’re resigning, you need to tell them when your last day will be. But what’s the right amount of time? You want to strike the right balance of providing enough notice for them to start looking for a replacement and prepare for the transition, but you also don’t want to stay too long to where you’re completely checked out and your work quality goes downhill.
Two weeks’ notice is the generally expected bare minimum, but if you’re in a highly specialized job, it’s likely that at least a month’s notice would be appropriate. In Europe, Kim said giving more like three months’ notice is standard.
“I would say that two weeks’ notice is not mandatory, but it’s so expected that it would be really a breach of etiquette to not offer it in a nonabusive or unusual quitting scenario,” Titterington said. “I sometimes would even recommend people to give more like a month, if they can, and that’s mostly because burning bridges is never good policy. You never know when you might need to go back to a job or or need connections at the job you’re leaving.”
If you’re in a high level role or have a speciality skillset, two weeks is probably not going to be enough time for your company to prepare for the transition, Rietsema said.
“If you’re in a very high tech job … try to be considerate when you’re leaving, so that they can maybe hopefully line up someone, or you can cross train someone to tie them over to the next person,” he said.
How will your employer feel about your departure? You want them to feel like you’ve done your best to be considerate and help them have as seamless of a transition as possible.
“What is that employer’s contingency plan? If the employer feels that you’ve left them in a lurch, you’ve left them high and dry, even if you provided the requisite two weeks, there’s still going to be some bad blood or some ill will that that engenders,” Rowley said.
Give Honest Reasons Why You’re Leaving But Leave the Door Open
If you think there’s even the slightest chance you might want to return to the company one day, or you just want to maintain a positive relationship with your manager, be careful about how you present your reasons for leaving to your manager in your meeting about your resignation.
Titterington said people are generally understanding when an employee leaves to gain new skills or needs different working hours for their work-life balance, for example. Make it clear you’re leaving to find a better situation for yourself, not to leave your coworkers or because you didn’t like the company, if that’s truly the case for you, she said.
“If you want to maintain a relationship — because you never know, you might come back — you don’t have to lie about it, but the reasons for leaving should be for your growth versus what you didn’t like about the company,” Kim said. “Highlight all the good things, so that if for any reason you did possibly have any considerations of returning that that door is open for you. Focus on the positive and say, ‘Hey, I’m pursuing this new company for XYZ reason for my personal growth. But at any time, I’d love to come back if that’s an opportunity,’ and just leave that door open.”
Be Prepared to Receive a Counter Offer
While there are exceptions to the rule, Liu said he almost always recommends being prepared to reject any counter offer you receive. If you accept a financial counter offer, then the only thing keeping you at the company is money, he said.
“As an employer that’s not what I want to see as being the only motivator behind why someone wants to continue to work for me,” Liu said. “The second issue is that it erodes some goodwill that you have with the organization because some people will perceive this as you potentially getting an offer as a bargaining chip to get a counter offer. Not to say that you did that, but there’s a risk of it being perceived as that, especially if you accept it.”
While unfair, some people might remember that you were going to resign but have stuck around, which could taint how they perceive you. Plus, your future salary adjustments could be recalibrated based on the increase from the counter offer, Liu said. And presuming you’ve accepted the offer with a new company, then you have to go back on your agreement with them if you stay with your current job.
“Now you’ve got to go back to your future employer, and you’ve got to renege on your job offer acceptance. There’s a bridge that you’ve just burned at that point,” Liu said.
Offer to Train Your Replacement
Between your resignation and last day, offer to help the company with training your replacement or whoever will be assisting in the responsibilities until your role is backfilled. It demonstrates that you still care about the success of the company and that you’re willing to share your knowledge and experience with others. “It shows initiative. It shows that you care and not just peace out,” Rietsema said.
Help minimize the headaches you leave behind by preparing documentation and training your replacement will need, too.
“It’s just the right thing to do to alleviate as much of that as they can by either writing down all of their protocols or training the new person that’s coming in, documenting everything so that people aren’t just left out to dry when someone leaves,” Titterington said. “That’s always the good recommendation, just if you want to be a good person and maintain good professional relationships.”
Give 100 Percent Until Your Last Day
Your former supervisor and coworkers will likely remember you by how you helped them in your final days at the company. For your own reputation, be sure to keep up the same high quality of work production that you performed throughout your time at the company.
“I would see it as an opportunity to really signal how valuable you were to the organization. Think of it as a long-term investment in the relationships you had with these eventual former employees,” Liu said.
When leaving a previous role at Clorox, Liu was in the midst of working on a product launch and was in meetings through his very last hour with the company.
“To this day, when I reconnect with my former managers and my former teammates, they still remember that I gave 100 percent all the way through to the very last day, and I think that has resulted in at least a positive lasting reputation with those former colleagues and former manager,” he said.
Give Constructive Feedback in Your Exit Interview
Being honest in your exit interview is the right way to leave a company.
“I think it’s almost a societal obligation for mutual parties to engage in a dialogue to better the organization and the growth of the business,” Kim said.
But keep in mind that whatever you share about your reasons for leaving a company will be documented during your exit interview. If you want to keep a relationship with the company, be thoughtful about how you present feedback.
“I think giving them a dose of positivity as well as real criticism, if it’s necessary, or real feedback, is good,” Rietsema said. “I would say even if you feel like you and your boss don’t get along that well, there’s probably a way that you could be honest about it without just saying like, ‘You’re terrible to work with,’ – kind of saying, ‘We have different working styles or something like that.’”
If you’re leaving a company because you didn’t like your experience, your feedback during an exit interview can help point out areas of improvement to prevent the company from losing more employees, Titterington said.
“It hurts when a direct report leaves. It can feel like a rejection, so understanding why they left better can sometimes be useful even in the future hiring processes, making sure they get the right fit the next time,” Titterington said. “There’s basically nothing to be lost by being pretty direct about why you’re leaving a company. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone.”
But Don’t Bad Mouth the Company on Your Way Out
It can be tempting to quit in a dramatic fashion if you have a boss that’s unsupportive or if you really hate your soon-to-be former employer. Jutla said she fantasized about telling off her awful boss and storming out the door with all her coworkers cheering her on, but she knew that was just a fantasy.
“The reality is you do really need to make sure that you haven’t burned any bridges because you don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future,” Jutla said. “But I think as human beings, we can just be really kind and human to one another.”
It’s best to give feedback while you’re still in the midst of your employment with the company, rather than unloading a bunch of negative comments in an exit interview.
“The reality is they’re just gonna move on, and now you’ve got this negative feedback about the organization floating around your name, and maybe it rubs people the wrong way,” Liu said. “So, I think the time to provide feedback to an organization is actually when you’re still fully employed there with your manager, in maybe like an annual one-on-one, end-of-year check in.”
Check-In With Your Former Co-Workers
Resigning from a job doesn’t necessarily mark the end of your relationship with your former coworkers, Kim said.
Focus on solidifying relationships with your manager and immediate team before leaving, Liu suggests. While you’re at it, ask for a LinkedIn recommendation since that’ll never go away, Rietsema said.
“After you’ve left, as tempting as it might be to throw these people into the wind and never talk to them again, I would make a point to check in with them on a periodic basis, maybe once every six months, once a year,” Liu said. “Periodically check in with your manager. I actually think that one of the most important relationships for you to maintain in your professional network are those with your current and former managers.”
Make it clear that if circumstances change, you’d love to have connections with that company again, said Titterington.
“Keeping in touch on LinkedIn is good policy — just basically trying not to burn any bridges if you can help it because you really never know when you might need to go back, use that connection, leverage that acquaintance or join the company again,” Titterington said.
All Bets Are Off if You’re In a Toxic Situation
All of this said, if you’re in a job where you feel unsafe or your mental health is in distress, it’s okay to break the rules around these best practices for leaving a job. Chances are you don’t want to maintain relationships with these people anyways.
“When a workplace is really toxic, my recommendation would be to keep human one-on-one interaction to a minimum,” Titterington said. “If you really need to get out of something that is harmful to your mental health or a situation that’s maybe even illegal, the best thing to do is to leave a paper trail, so a resignation in writing to avoid having a lot of contact with anyone who’s been abusive to you. Often people feel they can get talked into staying longer, talked into doing two weeks or a month, bullied or made to feel guilty about leaving.”
If you’re in an abusive work relationship, Titterington said to just quit and send a written resignation rather than feel obligated to stick around.
Jutla has experienced workplaces that have taken a toll on her mental health. She suggests seeing a doctor or counselor to get time away from the situation that’s causing you distress. Then with that time away, you can think about what you want to do next and prepare your finances if you get to the point where you can’t bring yourself to continue working at the company. That’s what she did after she decided not to renew her contract with a company that was causing her mental distress and stomach aches almost every day.
“If you really do feel your mental health is struggling, go and see your doctor and get some time off because when you’re in a pressure cooker environment, you actually can’t think straight,” Jutla said.