Molly Erman arrived in New York straight out of college at age 22—she had a room in a crappy apartment, about $500 in the bank, and an assistant position at her favorite magazine. She was unyielding in her desire to be great at the job, except for one thing: she knew basically nothing about working in an office. Luckily, there were other assistants like her, and together they formed a mesh network of support for each other—bailing each other out of near-flubs at every turn.
Erman, now a decade into her career, and the communications director for New Lab, a sprawling hub for advanced tech in Brooklyn, marked the ten-year milestone by compiling all the valuable early career advice she learned into a book. Work Lifeis a real-talk handbook for for surviving the modern office, and reads like a conversation with a trusted friend. The following is an adapted excerpt from her book.
Walking away is never easy—whether it’s from a relationship or a job, amicable or otherwise.
And regardless of whether we’re talking about love or employment: once you’ve decided to end it, it’s important to do so with respect. Exiting your job on positive terms with your colleagues, your boss, your boss’s boss—plus that great assistant who intuitively brought you coffee on stressful mornings—is worth doing, even if it’s not always easy.
Here’s my frankest advice, whether you’re exiting on your own terms or someone else’s: leave before things get ugly. (More to the point: leave before you hate the place with such a fiery passion you can barely breathe when you walk in the door.) Do it however you can. Hustle to secure a solid exit plan—one that preferably includes a challenging new opportunity. Be proactive in your search; master a smart, concise elevator pitch about what you’re looking for. Talk to smart people both within and outside your industry and let them help you.
Then choose from the following two options on your way out the door:
Quit and leave them wanting. Whether this job was a fantasy or a stepping stone, you’ve outgrown it. Take stock of what you got out of it. Once you’ve received a written offer for a great new position—or you’re firm in your decision to head into the great blue yonder without one—schedule time with your boss to speak in person. (Don’t quit over the phone or e-mail, though I agree it’s an appealing thought.) Calmly explain why you’re leaving, highlight all you’ve learned in the role, and offer an exit plan that will help ease the transition. Two weeks’ notice is standard; three is appreciated. And unless you’ve been seriously wronged at work, remain neutral in your exit interview. It’s likely your boss will read a transcript of it, and diplomacy will allow you to use your supervisor as a reference in the future.
Get fired gracefully. Oof, I know. This is a doozy, but you’ll live. Your first inclination may be to burn the whole place down—perhaps literally, hopefully figuratively—on your way out the door. And honestly, that may be warranted. But hey: don’t. How you handle getting let go is an opportunity to make a lasting great impression, especially in the face of adversity. Approach the conversation like a learning experience: listen, make respectful, firm counterpoints as needed, and seek to understand what comes next. Ask about severance, the plan for your last day, and how to communicate the news to your colleagues. (The narrative of your exit is important, and the more you can control the story yourself, the better.) If HR isn’t present during this conversation, schedule time to talk to your representative immediately. Your career will be long; chalk this bad fit up to what it was and keep it moving.
Here are a few more thoughts on the matter from Work Life: A Survival Guide for the Modern Office (Dovetail Press) on finding a new job, writing an exit memo, and what to do on your last day.