So, you’ve made the decision to quit. Congratulations! That’s huge. We hope our decision chart helped bring some clarity. Now, onto the next step: How to actually go about it. It is such an awkward process that feels oddly like a breakup but worse (especially if you have a good relationship with your boss). You’re stuck in your head, thinking, “What if they hate me after?” or “What if I’m letting them down?” You’re also racked with guilt because your colleagues will be left scrambling to cover your job when you leave. But such thoughts can actually hinder your career growth, so don’t let them stop you from pulling the plug.
There are a lot of emotions that come with quitting, and if you’re a people-pleaser, you’re probably overthinking everything right now. So we asked Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol, to share all of her insight—and boy, did she deliver. Think of this as your cheat sheet on how to gracefully quit your job.
No, you don’t need to give crazy amounts of notice. Every company is different, so make sure to read over your employment agreement. Is it 2 weeks minimum for announcing your resignation? 3 weeks? 1 month? Figure out how much time you need to wrap up your responsibilities and outstanding projects, too. Then, you can work out the start date for your next job (if you have one) based on this timeline. Have your offer letter for your new job signed by both parties and start date before you put in your resignation, according to Swann. “This way you land softly on the other side.”
Make sure to put your official resignation in writing. If you are leaving on good terms, it’s best to share the news with your boss in person, over the phone, or on a video call. However, be sure to follow up with your formal resignation in writing afterward, with your proposed last day and any other conditions. It can be a letter, email, or even text message (shocking, we know!), depending on your work situation. “The one thing that people cannot change or shift is your words,” says Swann. “And your words with a timestamp on it are even better. When you do so verbally, things can be misconstrued.”
Leave the higher-ups out of it. In your resignation email, don’t loop in the CEO or the founder. They will find out from the right people when the time is right. “If you have hard complaints, make sure you follow the proper channels (HR), but try not to let your resignation disrupt the company culture,” adds Swann. And if it does need to be disrupted? “Look for the proper channels,” says Swann, like labor attorneys or The Labor Board.
It’s perfectly okay to ask for a reference. Go ahead, don’t be shy! Before you leave, pull your boss aside and ask them for a reference, once you’ve officially resigned. Just make sure to ask their permission first before adding them to your job application, so there are no surprises.
As tempting as it is, try not to blab about it. “Keep your mouth shut,” says Swann with a laugh. “Do not go on a campaign telling other people you are going to quit. Something that you meant to be secretive can spread like wildfire.” Once you’ve officially put in your resignation (and the company has accepted it), then you can start telling industry peers and key colleagues.
Hit up your connects on LinkedIn. Send them an email letting them know you’re leaving the company and who to connect with at the company for future correspondence. But, make sure to wait until after you’ve started your new job to share it with all of your followers. It’s so tempting to want to break the exciting news but resist the urge. Keep it hush-hush until well after your start date. When you do, “make that social media moment a positive, uplifting one that can possibly encourage someone else.” Talk about new beginnings and all of the things you’re excited to accomplish in this next chapter of your career.
Don’t stress about what you’re leaving behind—even those important email addresses. “Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, and that includes company emails or trade secrets,” says Swann. “I promise you, everything you’re supposed to have in life, you will get it.”
You can totally give out hand-written notes. It’s “a thoughtful gesture to leave behind,” says Swann, but only do it for those special colleagues who you really care about. You also don’t need to purchase gifts, but if you would like to do something for the boss that went above and beyond, a nice bottle of wine or flowers would leave a lasting impression—you can even send your gift a few weeks after you’ve left the job as a nice reminder that you’re still rooting for your old company.
At the end of the day, a truly great boss will understand, and want you to succeed, even if that’s elsewhere. Of course, they’ll be sad to lose you, but that’s not your burden to carry.