Prescription – How to quit your job the right way

The key to quitting your job the right way is your mindset. When you finally come to the point that you are ready to have the “I quit” conversation, contrary to popular belief, that conversation is no longer about you. You’ve made the decision. One way or another, you’re outta there. The quitting conversation is really about the people you are leaving behind – your boss and your coworkers. Your departure is likely to not only come as a shock but also cause some significant hardships and headaches for them.

“Leave Your Campsite Better Than You Found It”

As you prepare to leave, the best preventative medicine I can prescribe is to practice one of the Boy Scout mottos: “leave your campsite better than you found it.” In other words, the objective of your conversation should be how you can work with your manager to make the transition as easy and as smooth as possible. To that end, come prepared to discuss and offer the following:

  1. Give plenty of notice – One of the greatest gifts you can give your boss is the gift of time. Not only for him / her to come to grips with your departure but to think about how to fill your role when you are gone. I’m often asked: “what is the standard number of days / weeks that one should give notice?” It all depends. On average, two weeks is most common but don’t be afraid to offer more (if you can). This will not only leave a good impression on your current employer (you are going above and beyond) but it can leave a good impression on your new employer. Yes, your new employer is watching to see how you leave your current employer. After all, one day that may be them! Note: There are two big addendums to this rule. 1) Don’t let your employer demand how long you stay. This is your decision not theirs. I recently heard the story of an employer saying that if the employee did not give four weeks notice, the employer would refuse to provide a positive reference going forward. Not only is that ridiculous, my employment attorney colleagues tell me that may not be on the up-and-up. 2) If you are leaving to go to a competitor, be prepared to leave that day. It is common for employers to invite you to leave immediately so have your things already packed just in case.
  2. Identify / train a replacement – Consider offering to identify and or train a replacement. This can be a tremendous help to your boss. After all, who knows your job better than you? Come prepared with suggestions on who might be a good replacement and how to train him or her in case the conversation goes there.
  3. Provide a transition plan – If your job is extremely complicated and / or very senior, come prepared to bring a one-page transition plan to the meeting. In these cases, your departure could likely have a significant impact on the organization and your boss likely doesn’t know what you do every day. Thinking about how to make this transition go smoothly for the organization and bringing a plan to discuss with your boss will change the entire conversation to something very productive and positive.
  4. Control the message – This is an important step. Naturally, you need to tell your boss about your decision first. That is the proper and professional first step. After that, reach out individually to the colleagues and co-workers that you have developed a solid professional relationship with and let them know about your departure. Be mindful to avoid the natural default for these conversations. The tendency is to have the conversation revolve around you: “Why are you leaving? Where are you going? When are you leaving? Are you excited? What’s your new title? How much are they paying you? Etc…” Don’t let it go there. Rather, focus on your co-worker (remember, it’s about them, not you). Tell each co-worker briefly about your move and then quickly shift to how much you have enjoyed working with him / her. Tell them how much they have impressed you, how you want to make sure you stay in touch, etc…. This not only leaves them feeling positive about you, but it dampens their anxiety about your departure. Note: Messaging to customers (if relevant for you) is a tricky one. Make sure you and your boss are on the same page on when and how to do this so as to not create unnecessary anxiety and worry in the mind of the customer simply because you had something you wanted to get off your chest. If customers are part of your job, this should be part of your transition plan (see #3 above).

I think you get the picture. The whole premise behind leaving the right way is to make the exit as much about “leaving your campsite better than you found it” as possible. This preventative prescription preserves your reputation, ensures positive feelings amongst your former colleagues and keeps the bridge intact. After all, you never know where your former colleagues will work next. You may be reunited once again so let’s make sure that’s a happy day, not a painful one.


Top 5 worst ways to quit a job

Yes, it is possible to actually screw up the job quitting process. Done poorly, quitting a job can not only damage your professional reputation, it can create more problems than its worth. A good analogy for quitting a job is having that dreaded “break-up” conversation. After all, it really is the same thing – you’re ending a relationship.  And we all know that break-ups can be done well or end up in disaster. Here are my top 5 worst ways to quit a job (in no particular order):

1. Don’t bother coming in – In this case, the quitter just decides not to show up – thus quitting by default. At first people in the office worry. Soon that worry quickly turns to anger. This is the equivalent of “he/she never called me back after our last date. I thought everything was fine. What happened?” This not only damages one’s professional reputation, it ruins the possibility of ever returning to that employer again. No one wants to deal with that level of immaturity.

2. Making a scene – While tempting, I would never ever recommend this approach to quitting. Essentially, this is the equivalent of having one last big knock-down, drag out fight before it’s all over. It usually entails a loud argument with one’s boss complete with name calling. Similar to number one, this approach also damages one’s professional reputation and almost certainlty guarantees that a return to the office as an employee is unlikely. Organizations aren’t into unstable employees.

3. Not giving any notice – Then there are those cases when the individual has the proper professional conversation with their manager (check) and tells their manager that they are leaving (check) only to end the conversation with “this is my last day”(fail). Not good. Whenever you quit a job, you’ve just created a fire for your boss (and maybe others). Professional courtesy is to offer notice of some kind. While two weeks is the standard, the key is to work that out with your boss. Leaving your boss upset with you when you leave because you didn’t offer to provide some transitional help can absolutely be a reputation breaker.

4. Trying to take others down with you – This can be a common trap for many people quitting a job.  Most employers offer some type of exit interview – an opportunity to supply your rationale for leaving. Be careful here. Your intentions are what matter. Where I see people cross the line from helpful to destructive is when they use this opportunity to blast their boss, their co-workers, senior leadership, essentially everything and everyone that they believed made their lives miserable. Don’t do it. It’s not about venting or being right. It’s about leaving the organization in a better place than you found it. Naturally, if you believe something unprofessional is going on, you absolutely should share that with H.R. (or others in authority). However, if your goal is to get as many people fired as you can post departure, you are nothing more than saboteur. Think of this as the break-up conversation that brings up the past and every awful action the other person ever said or did (even though the break-up has already happened). Hurtful, yes.  Productive, no. 

5. Not actually leaving – “Wait” you say. How can you quit and not leave? Easy. You can continue to go out to lunch with co-workers from your old job and complain about the organization – the organization that you are no longer a part of. You can send notes to H.R. detailing events that happened while you were there months after your exit. You can continue to plot the overthrow of your boss and your boss’ boss years after you leave. This is like that “ex” that continues to follow you around, say negative things about you and generally stays in your circle even though the relationship has been over for months or years. Don’t be that “ex.”

There you have it. Some of the worst ways I’ve seen people leave jobs. Granted one could argue there are worse ways to leave a job, ways that involve breaking the law (stealing equipment, giving sensitive information to competitors, etc…), but no need to go there. If you are unclear on those lines, you’ve got bigger problems.

Next up: Your prescription for quitting a job the right way. It works every time.

In the meantime, here’s another example of how not to quit a job. This one comes from the movie “The Incredibles” and falls under the category of “making a scene.” No matter how bad they are, bosses shouldn’t be thrown throw walls. Not good…

3 things you MUST do before you quit your job

Before you jump ship and quit your job, here are three things you simply must do. Think of them as good ol’ hygiene for any job transition. If done properly, these will ensure that you maintain:

  • Your sanity
  • Your professional reputation
  • Your options

However, if you don’t do any of the following steps, you run the risk of not only missing golden opportunities, but you may inadvertently find yourself out of work for a very VERY long time.

Without further adieu, here’s the list:

1. Let your boss know what you need – If you haven’t expressed to your boss that you are unhappy (whether it’s the role, the pay, the hours, etc…) it is your personal and professional responsibility to have that conversation. I feel so strongly about this step that if you are thinking about dropping me a note asking for advice, don’t bother if you haven’t done this step first. Things you want to cover in that conversation with your boss are the following:

  • Expressing your happiness working for your current employer (even if it’s a stretch… you won’t get anywhere being seen as a complainer. Open positively)
  • State what hasn’t been working and what you need
  • Express your understanding that your boss is under a lot of pressure and there are constraints (likely your boss won’t be able to meet your needs overnight)
  • Discuss possible solutions and identify a day / time to follow-up on the conversation
  • Talk about when a change is likely to happen and follow-up

2. Let others inside the organization know that you are looking for more – I’m all about hedging bets. While you absolutely need to discuss your needs / interests with your boss, don’t stop there. Network within the organization and see if there are other roles you could transfer into. Consider dropping a few hints to H.R. that you are unhappy and you are looking for something else within the organization to bring the happiness back (different role, more pay, better hours, etc…). Have lunch with colleagues or senior leaders in other departments and ask them if they might have an opportunity in their group that is a good fit. This step is particularly important if your boss is the problem (that’s usually the case about 50% of the time). I find this approach to be incredibly effective so don’t overlook it!

3. Consider your outside options before you jump – While you may be miserable, before you do something drastic, consider what nets may be in place to catch you. Consider the following:

  • Your role – is your current role marketable outside your organzation? Consider both the industry and the function. Just like music, roles and industries can fall out of favor. If your role isn’t “cool” anymore, you may be looking for a long time.
  • Your salary – is your current salary above market averages? If you are getting paid better than most in a comparable position, don’t kid yourself. It’s probably not because you are so wonderful. More likely it’s because the organization is out of touch with current market rates for roles similar to yours. And in the case it is because of your amazing shine, will you have a hard time convincing future employers that you are “all that and a bag of chips?”
  • Your story – dust off your resume and ask yourself, “what’s the story here?” Usually, this isn’t a problem but consider two extremes. Extreme number one, you’ve been with the same organization for over 15 years. My friends in executive search say that can be the kiss of death. Potential employers may view you as “set in your ways” and only know how to do things the way you did it in your current organization. On the flip side lies extreme number two – do you have a history of job-hopping? If that is that story, know that future employers may not want to be the next notch in your proverbial career bedpost.
  • Your network – do you have a solid network of personal and professional acquaintances that can help you land your next gig or are you starting from scratch? Never ever build a network when you need it. You build your network when you don’t need it and use it when you do. Another common trap that out of work exec’s have realized the hard way
  • Your age, health, etc… – this is not a time for political correctness. Are there things that future employers may discriminate against in the hiring process? Are you of an age that future employers may not want to give you a chance or do you have health issues that might preclude them from wanting to put you on their insurance plan or payroll knowing that you could cost them time and money? Be honest with yourself and consider those real obstacles before you move too quickly.

No excuses. Don’t even consider quitting until you’ve done the three steps above. Once you are comfortable you weighed all of your options and had all the conversations you needed to, then you can start to pack your bags. But until then, you may be jumping out of a plane without a parachute. None of us want that.

Sticking with the George Costanza theme, here’s George considering his options AFTER he quits is job. Not good…


QUIZ – Is it time to quit?

Knowing when to quit a job is a tricky decision. Some folks quit way too early and others stay in abusive or dead-end jobs for years, fearing what lies on the other side. So, how do you know if it’s time to quit your job? Consider the following quiz to help you determine if it’s time. Add up your scores at the end for a final: “time to quit” assessment.

Your Boss – many studies point to our boss as the reason why we exit jobs (nearly 50% of the time). Score your boss on this readiness to quit scale:

0 points – My boss is wonderful! Perfection is indeed real. No problems here

1 point – My boss is generally pretty competent. He / she generally stays out of my way

2 points – My boss is average. If he/she was an ice cream flavor, it would be vanilla without a doubt

3 points – My boss is any ONE of the following: inconsistent / unpredictable, disengaged, a micromanager, doesn’t like me, backstabbing, incompetent, abusive

4 points – My boss is any TWO of the following: inconsistent / unpredictable, disengaged, a micromanager, doesn’t like me, backstabbing, incompetent, abusive

5 points – My boss is THREE OR MORE of the following: inconsistent / unpredictable, disengaged, a micromanager, doesn’t like me, backstabbing, incompetent, abusive


The Culture – sometimes it’s the company culture that’s the problem. Only you can gauge fit with a culture, so give yourself a score on a scale of 0–5. Here’s the spectrum:

0 points – I LOVE this place. It feels like home

1 point – Overall, one of the best places I’ve worked (from a culture standpoint)

2 points – Very tolerable. Not a perfect fit, but I can deal with it assuming other things are in place and other needs are met

3 points – At least one day a week I dread coming into work because of the culture

4 points – For me, this culture is unhealthy and / or a very poor fit. I’m like a fish out of water – flopping and gasping for air

5 points – If people knew what this place was really like, we would be shut down by every body of authority you could find (legal, regulatory, police, psychiatric, etc…). I die a little bit inside each day I come to work…


The Job – a final category is the job itself. Perhaps the job is a really poor fit for your strengths and / or passions. Or perhaps there is no future in the role you are in. Score your job on the following scale:

0 points – This job rocks! I couldn’t have scripted a better role for me

1 point – The job meets most of my needs, but something is missing. I could keep doing this role for at least 2 more years without a problem, but after that…

2 points – The job works for now, but I’m missing some significant pieces that I will need to fill over the next few years

3 points – I can do the job adequately, but I’m largely unfulfilled and/or unchallenged. I need something different

4 points – This job is a poor fit for me. I am either not using my strengths and / or have no passion for what I’m doing. I feel like I am wasting my time each day. I’m meant for and capable of so much more

5 points – I am a horrible fit for the role. If I continue in this job for much longer, I’m either going to be fired or I’m going to lose my mind. (To borrow a line from Office Space) “Each day you see me is the worst day of my life”.

 Add up your scores and consider the following “back of the envelope” scoring key:

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” KEY:

0-5 – Stay put. You are as close to perfect as you are going to get. Make some tweaks and thank your lucky stars for be so fortunate. You should probably thank someone… anyone after you read this post

6-10 – Isolate the biggest cause of your discomfort and try to address it (boss, culture or job). With some tweaking and planning, you might be able to make it fit. Consider things like internal job transfers or finding ways to work remotely as possible options depending on your pain point

10-15 – Yep, you need to get out. Pack your suitcase, polish your resume and hit the networking circuit ASAP. But remember, those with jobs are much more employable than those without. Keep your job as long as you can while you plan your escape

There you have it, the test to see if it really is time to quit. Next week we take on the three things you need to do before you exit. Until then, don’t do anything drastic. Drastic only works in the movies.


“I Quit!”

Whether you are minutes away from quitting your job or you are just fantasizing about “sticking it to the man,” quitting is on our minds more often than we admit. And just like a break-up, there is a time and place for quitting one’s job. Sometimes circumstances are so extreme and abusive that quitting really is the best option. On the flip side, there are situations where a game plan needs to be put in place to make sure you’ve done everything you can do.

And then there’s the “how” of quitting. Texting “it’s not you, it’s me” just isn’t going to do the trick if we want to preserve our professional reputations. Quitting the right way matters.

This month, we’re talking about quitting. We’ll be covering the following as we plot our journey to the end:

  •  Is it time to quit?
  • What are the 3 things we need to be sure to do before we quit?
  • What are the top 5 worst ways to quit?
  • Prescription for quitting the “right way”

So, before you do anything hasty, hold on for one more month. And if it helps, you can live vicariously through George Costanza – the master of quitting the wrong way.