14 Tips to Quit a Job Gracefully

You’ve probably seen those viral articles about quitting your job in style. They’re often dramatic, hilarious … and completely contrived. Meaning someone made them up just to go viral. In other words, don’t try this at home … or at work! But what if you desperately need to quit?

The professional space is far smaller than it used to be. You may leave without notice then meet your supervisor (or their girlfriend) at your next job interview. In such cases, the bad blood you generated could work against you! So let’s share some tips on graceful job exits.

How to Quit a Job

Tip 1: Create an Emergency Fund

You may already have a job offer, but stranger things have happened. Your new employer may put you on a probationary period. Or your expenses may go up. Maybe the commute costs more, or maybe the new office doesn’t have cheap lunch spots. Maybe your contract will fall through.

Whether you’ve quit in a huff or been poached by a rival, put some cash aside. If you hadn’t saved up beforehand, carve it out of your final dues. Your Emergency Fund should cover your basic expenses for 3 to 6 months, especially rent, food, transport, and medical insurance.

Tip 2: Review Your Contract

What does it say about leaving your job? Can you claim a pension? Will they give you a recommendation letter? Can you get cash-back for unused leave days? Are you allowed to tell workmates about your new job or does that count as recruiting for your next employer?

Is there a non-compete clause that could affect your future job prospects? Most importantly, how much notice is needed? Some jobs ask for a week or two, others go up to three months. Some employers let you leave immediately, but you’ll have to forfeit any money they owe you.

Tip 3: Keep it to Yourself

It’s tempting to tell colleagues about your plans. Especially the ones you consider friends. You may have mentioned you’re looking for new work or asked them if they’ve heard of any openings. In theory, this is a great idea, because it widens your job-hunting networks.

In reality, it gets messy, because people talk. So whether or not you’ve found a new position, it will eventually get back to your boss. And they’re unlikely to take it well. The first person who should know you’re quitting is your boss. You can tell your colleagues afterward.

Tip 4: Avoid Technology

Yes, you can quit by text, send an email, or even record a voice note. These are all bad ideas because they can get intercepted, and they may create a legal loophole. It may also be considered rude by some employers. Before you type any notice-giving message, talk to the boss in person.

After all, they interviewed for the job face-to-face (or at least on a video call). So you should exit the same way. You’ll still need to write a formal letter or email, but first, ask for a face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) meeting and let them know your plans. Then you can follow up in writing.

Tip 5: Don’t Yell ‘Surprise!’

We mean this metaphorically. Ask your direct supervisor for an informal meeting. Specifically say you want to discuss your future. Your boss will guess you want a raise, a promotion, or that you’ve found a new job. It puts them in the right frame of mind to hear what you have to say.

If you just ask for a meeting with no agenda, you could disrupt the rest of their day. Some people ambush their bosses by sticking your head in their office and asking, ‘Do you have a minute?’ This leaves the boss with a bad taste in their mouths. Then they’re unlikely to recommend you.

Tip 6: Stay On Script

When you tell your boss you’re leaving, they’ll probably have a million questions and rebuttals. They mage rage at you, intimidating you into a retraction. Or they might guilt you into staying. If you’re determined to leave, practice your exit speech. Think of their potential arguments and come up with responses. Rehearse so you can stay calm during the ‘attack’. For example:

  • We’ve wasted resources on you – I’d be glad to pay it forward and train my replacement.
  • We’ll double your pay – I want to move my career in a new direction, it’s not just money.
  • It’s impossible to replace you – I can suggest a few names.
  • You’re so ungrateful – I appreciate everything, and maybe I’ll come back one day.

Be sure to give your bosses a minimum of two weeks’ notice. This is important because future employers will call to ask about the circumstances of your exit. And if you left your current job suddenly, they’ll be wary that you’ll do the same to them. That could mess your job offer.

Tip 7: Chart Your Unfinished Tasks

Look at all the work that’s pending in your inbox, and review it with your line manager. What can you finish before D-Day? What can be delegated to colleagues? What requires on-boarding and handover? Do you need to introduce clients or suppliers to your replacement? As much as you want to be indispensable, you don’t want to leave gaps and have others cleaning your mess.

Technically, this isn’t really your problem anymore. But by ensuring your exit doesn’t leave holes unplugged, you solidify your reputation for reliability. This is crucial because people talk, and you want your next boss to know you can be trusted. You want to appear responsible and reliable. Besides, if you leave on a good note, your colleagues may vouch for you in the future.

Tip 8: Make a Tutorial

In some cases, your replacement may join the firm before you leave. Show a willingness to train them, and be genuine as you show them the ropes. If you don’t get that chance to train them, make them a detailed guide. It could be a screen-grab video showing where every file is on your computer. Or it could be a series of voice notes describing their contact person for each scenario.

It could be a typed document, infographic, or PowerPoint presentation explaining their key duties and how to carry them out. Or it could be a friendly video welcoming them and telling them where the best coffee shop is in the neighborhood. The tutorial will make their transition easier, both for them and for your colleagues. Plus, it will generate goodwill … and good karma.

Tip 9: Don’t Tune Out

Getting complacent is a natural human habit. You already have a new job and you’ve signed your contract. Or maybe you’re burnt put so you just need a few months off from everything. But if you appear disinterested in your work, your boss and colleagues will resent you for it.

You may not think this matters because you already have employment plans. But humans are fickle and contracts can be nullified. Stay as dedicated in your last month as you were during your first. That way, the people around you will maintain their high regard for you. And who knows, they may put your name down for an even better job than the one you’re leaving for!

Tip 10: Request an Exit Interview

Your boss may not be open to the idea, but at least bring it up. Use the interview to thank your mentors and managers for the opportunity, and for everything they’ve taught you. Tell them what you like about the company, and what worked for you. It’s tempting to put the company (or the boss) on blast and talk about all the negative things. Don’t. It won’t end well.

Instead, before you request the interview, think of all the things you hate. Write the list and let it sit overnight. Come back to it the next day, or even the next week, and rephrase it. For example, maybe you hated the 4-hour commute. Reword it to ask if it’s possible for employees to get transport assistance. That way, you’re being honest, but you’re staying positive.

Or maybe you were always clashing with one teammate in particular. Don’t call them out by name. But suggest the company might try a rotational system, allowing staff to work in different teams. That takes a lot of pressure off your replacement and makes their job far easier.

Tip 11: Ask for References

Even if you already have a job lined up, connections and reputation are everything. So ask your line manager or a superior who worked closely with you. Most bosses will be glad to give you a written recommendation. They may even be willing to shop your name around their circles and introduce you to key people in the field. Besides, the worst they can do is say no, so just ask.

If you an especially good relationship with your boss, they might even ask you the type of recommendation you prefer. So think about it beforehand. Do you want a character reference for professional associations? A skill assessment for headhunters? A summary of your strengths and growth areas? If your boss requests a writing prompt, summarize in two or three sentences.

Tip 12: Make it Official

Now that everything is out in the open, write a formal resignation letter. Keep it brief and respectful. Tell them you’re grateful for the chance to work there (even if you hated the experience). There must have been a few good things about the job, so focus on those instead. Whether it’s the scenic commute or your fun office desk-mate, find the positive and list it:

Dear Line Manager,

I’m writing to officially resign from my position as Front Office Manager. I’ve been here since 20th February 2013, and my last day is 22nd July 2020. I’m grateful for the skills I’ve acquired and the relationships I’ve formed, both professional and personal.

Please let me know if I can make the transition any easier for my replacement, I’m available to train them if needed. I can also recommend peers in my field who may be suitable for my position. I’m open to helping them acclimate during my notice period. All the best.

Sincerely, My Name.

Send the letter in email form, addressing it to your line manager and HR. You can also print out a physical copy for your records, just in case. Request a confirmation of receipt, and follow up in person if they don’t reply. Otherwise, they might claim they didn’t receive your email.

Tip 13: Say Your Goodbyes

On your last day, talk to everyone individually, from your manager to the tea girl. It’s a small thing, but those personal connections make a difference. You never know if you’ll meet them (or their nephews) at your next job. Or if you’ll need to call them for emergency professional help.

Of course, this only applies if it’s a small company where you know everyone by name. If the firm is too large to keep track, only say goodbye to the people you had regular interactions with. It doesn’t have to be drawn out. Just a quick chat. Say something specific you liked about them.

It shows them you noticed them and know they exist. It makes them feel seen, and that way, they’re more likely to do you a favor when you need it. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or significant. Maybe their shiny shoes made you smile every day. Or they helped you on your first day and it made the whole job easier. Make them feel appreciated. It leaves a lasting impression.

Tip 14: Send a Final Message

By now, everyone knows you’re going, so say a final informal goodbye. This could be a ‘send to all’ email or a message in the office group chat. Keep it short, sweet, and positive. Let everyone know you’ve learned a lot working with them. And you have! Whether they were good or bad lessons! Give them your contact information – a personal email address and/or phone number.

Time this message as close as possible to end-of-day because your mind will probably tune out after that. Finish by returning your office laptop or office phone and clearing your desk. You want it neat and clean for the next person that uses it. And they’ll be glad you did it for them. It’s stressful starting a new job, and something as simple as a welcoming work station helps. A lot.

Exiting in Style

Leaving your job on a nasty note will eventually work against you. So how can you quit a job without ruining professional relationships?

  • Be clear about your company’s quitting terms.
  • Tell your boss before your workmates.
  • Say goodbye to relevant peers individually.
  • Offer to help (find and) train your replacement.
  • Create a guideline your replacement will use.
  • Get the details in writing, including your last working day.
  • Request an exit interview, keeping your comments positive and professional.

How did you quit your last job? Tell us about it in the comments. Maybe we’ll learn a few tricks!