Series of panels, in the style of an in-flight emergency guide, showing instructions for quitting a job
Illustration by Michael Kennedy
Money

Here's Precisely How to Quit Your Job

If you need to quit by Tuesday to give two weeks’ notice but your boss can't meet until Thursday, what are you supposed to do?
July 14, 2021, 11:30am
Amateur Hour is an advice column for people who are new to the professional world and are figuring out how work even… works.

Quitting your job can be surprisingly anxiety-producing. Not only are you preparing to leave a job and co-workers who have grown familiar to you, but having the actual quitting conversation with your boss can be stressful even if you are thrilled to be leaving.

And if you haven’t quit many jobs before, you might not even be sure exactly how to do it. Do you have to do it in person? By formal letter? Do you need to say why you’re quitting or can you just... be done? Here’s everything you need to know about how to quit your job professionally and without burning bridges.

What’s the actual mechanism I use to quit? Like, exactly what do I need to do?

Ideally, you resign in an in-person conversation with your boss. Ask if they have a few minutes to talk and say something like, “After a lot of thought, I’d decided to move on and my last day will be (date).” That’s it! Your boss may have follow-up questions, but this is how you initially deliver the news.

If you don’t work from the same location as your boss (if you’re remote, or they are), it’s OK to do this by phone or video chat instead. You wouldn’t need to make a special, out-of-the-way trip to do it in person; whatever method the two of you normally use to talk in real-time is fine. 

Do I have to give a reason for why I’m leaving?

Not technically, but it can come across as chilly if you’re asked and refuse to answer. If there’s an easy explanation you can point to—like “I’ve accepted another job,” “I’m going back to school,” or “I’m moving to another state”—it makes sense to explain that.

If the reason you’re leaving is bad management or mistreatment, this isn’t a great time to get into those issues, at least if you’re trying to preserve the relationship. At this point, you’ve already decided to leave and there’s usually not a lot to be gained by providing a list of grievances. (That said, if you have a good relationship with your manager, it might be fine to acknowledge that, yes, this is because of the salary, the hours, or the workload, especially if those are concerns you had raised with them previously.) 

What’s the deal with resignation letters?

Some employers will want a written letter of resignation for their records, but don’t deliver the news that way initially. Start with a conversation, and your boss will let you know if you need to put something in writing or not.

If they do want a letter, keep it short. For example: “After three years working for X Company, I am resigning my role as Y and my last day will be August 15.” If you want, you can add some niceties like, “I’ve enjoyed my time here and wish the company all the best in the future.” But that’s it—no need to go into your reasons for leaving. This is just documentation that you did in fact resign.

Am I supposed to just... blindside my boss when I quit? Or should I have given them a heads-up earlier that I was thinking about leaving? 

In general, no, you’re not expected to give your employer a heads-up that you’re considering leaving. Doing that can sometimes put your job in jeopardy; some employers will push people out when they know they’re getting ready to leave, or you could end up at the top of a layoff list because they figure you’re leaving anyway. 

That said, if you have a very good relationship with your boss and it will be obvious that you were planning your departure for a while—like if you’re leaving to go to grad school or for a long-planned move—sometimes it does make sense to talk with your boss ahead of time. But this is very, very relationship-dependent, and the risk is too high to do it unless you’re confident that your employer will handle it well.

Is it OK to give more or less than two weeks’ notice?

As a general rule, two weeks’ notice is the professional standard. You should try hard to avoid giving less unless it’s truly unavoidable, like a health emergency. (Otherwise it’s the kind of thing that could hurt you in reference calls in the future.) 

If you’re thinking two weeks sounds like a really short time to hire a replacement, it is! Notice periods aren’t intended to provide enough time for your employer to hire someone new; they’re for letting you transfer your work or create documentation for whoever eventually will take it over.

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However, some people do give more notice than two weeks, especially if they feel warmly toward their employer and want to help with a smooth transition. If you’re considering doing that, make sure that your company has a track record of handling longer notice periods well and doesn’t push people out earlier than they’d planned to leave.

Anything else I should know about the timing?

Sometimes you won’t have a lot of choice in when you give notice; if you have a new job that needs you to start soon, you might need to announce your resignation right away in order to be able to give enough notice. But other times you might have more flexibility in your timing and can use it to your advantage. For example, a lot of companies will pay for your health insurance for the full month as long as you’re working there on the first of the month; in those cases, you could benefit from leaving at the start of a new month rather than at the end of the previous one.

What if my boss is away or hard to reach and I can’t get in touch with them when I’m ready to resign? 

If your boss is around but just hard to pin down for a meeting, you’ll need to be assertive. Call, text, pop your head in their office, whatever it takes for a chance to say, “I have some time-sensitive news that I must speak to you about today. I just need two minutes.” Even if you’d normally defer to your boss’s schedule and not push so hard for time when they’re swamped, when you’re resigning people do expect that you’ll make a higher-than-normal effort to connect. And while meeting in person is ideal, if the only way you’ll get time with them that day is to do it by phone or video chat, do that! 

But if your boss is staunchly unavailable—or on leave and not scheduled to be back before the clock starts ticking on the notice period you want—you can resign to their boss or to HR. That’s perfectly fine to do when you don’t have other options. (And you can then ask that person for guidance on the best way to fill in your boss; they might prefer to get a hold of your manager themselves or suggest a method for you to do so.)

So I really can’t just quit in an email, huh?

No. I mean, you can, but it generally won’t be seen as professional unless there are truly extenuating circumstances. With email, there’s also a possibility your message could be missed, or not seen for several days. Email might feel easier, but you’ve really just got to have the conversation. It can be a short one though!

When do I tell my coworkers I’m leaving?

Even if you’re tempted to tell your coworkers right away, it’s considered professional courtesy to tell your manager first—and there’s always a risk a coworker could spill the beans before you want them to. Once you’re ready to announce your departure to others, you can either let people know one-on-one or send an email to your team, depending on the norms of your office. (You should wait to post it on social media for the same reason.)

What if my office contacts me with questions after I’m gone? 

Once you no longer work there, you’re not obligated to respond to work questions. That said, if you want to preserve the relationship, it’s generally wise to be willing to answer a few short questions. These should be things like “where is the X file stored?” or “who was your contact at Z?”—not anything that would take up significant amounts of time or involve you doing actual work. If they do contact you for more than that, it’s reasonable to say, “I’m sorry I can’t help, my new job is keeping me really busy” or “hmmm, I can’t remember after all this time.” 

Of course, before you leave, ideally you’ll write up documentation of your key projects and processes for whoever takes over your work. Then if you do get these calls, you can say, “It should be in the documentation I left!”