Quitting a job is almost never easy.
Along with all the personal challenges that come along with it — it is a huge decision that will change your life as you know it right now, after all — there is also the fear or uncertainty of how to tell your boss you’re quitting.
Any breakup, even a professional one, has the potential to get messy.
For a lot of people, this is the hardest part of the process. And there are lots of reasons why.
Maybe you love your boss (or know that they love you) and you don’t want to disappoint them or hurt their feelings. Maybe you have tension with your boss, and fear that the conversation could turn ugly.
But if you are going to leave your job, at some point you will need to communicate with your boss about your plans. Here is a guide to handling this really challenging-feeling situation with grace and professionalism.
1. Reflect on why you started this job
You took your present job for a reason. This could’ve been the pay, the resume line-item, the experience, the team, excitement about the goal, etc.
At one point, you chose this work. This job was a valuable stepping stone on your path. Take a moment to consider what you’ve learned in your time with your company. You may have learned:
- How employees should or should not be treated, further cementing your personal values and how you deserve to be treated.
- Whether or not the activities at your job are a part of your great life path – or if the demands hindered your true calling.
- What your actual emotional, intellectual, and physical capacity are, as opposed to what you thought or what was expected of you.
- That you are ready for the next chapter in your life.
To make the most graceful exit, it’s important to reflect on why you took your current job and what value you gained from your experience. You may choose to include snippets of this reflection in your resignation communication.
The weeks and months leading up to the decision to leave a job are often really fraught and emotional. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated, bored, or angry, and those emotions helped you decide it was time to go.
Now that you have made the decision to quit, it is time to return to the long view.
You don’t want to seem frustrated, bored, or angry in your conversation with your boss. You want to seem professional. Don’t throw away years of experience and good work by burning a bridge with your boss at the last second.
The trick to preserving the bridges you’ve built – even if you no longer want them – is appreciating them for what they are: bridges.
When it comes to leaving your present job, consider the future job interviews you’ll have. It’s likely you may need re-address your professional experience with this company. If you can be positive and constructive about how this job was an important step on your career path, you’ll have more success in landing your amazing new job because you’ll maintain a positive rapport with your former boss.
2. Get clear on your motivation
Being able to easily, clearly, and positively explain why it is time for you to leave this job is key; even if the reason is not so nice, maintaining a level of professionalism that will help you keep a positive relationship with your boss is important for your future success.
They could be a letter of recommendation or a reference for a future job. You could end up working with them again. The world is often smaller than we realize.
In your journal, jot down all the reasons why you are leaving your current job. Get clear on exactly why you’re leaving, then put it into words you think will make sense or be meaningful to your boss. You could bring this paper with you to your meeting with your boss too, to help you communicate clearly if you think you’re likely to get flustered.
The more clearly you can express yourself, the easier it will go — because don’t forget, this news will probably come as a surprise to your boss and surprising news can be hard to process. It will be easier for both of you if you can be clear!
3. Give (or be prepared to discuss) a timeline
How long is long enough? This may be something you can find in your company handbook or online HR portal, but 2 weeks is the standard.
Depending on how high up you are in the organization (if you manage a lot of people, for example) your team may need (or at least want) you to stay on a little longer than the standard 2 weeks.
Any less than that and you’re putting your company at risk of being understaffed, scrambling to fill your vacancy. The easiest way to burn a bridge is to leave your team struggling after your departure.
4. Write your letter of resignation ahead of time
The easiest way to prepare for the “I quit” conversation with your boss is to have your letter of resignation ready to submit as soon as the meeting is over. Clarifying your intent, your gratitude, and your closure in writing will help ease your nerves and clear the way for direct communication.
Your resignation letter needn’t be long or personal, even if the boss is a close friend. They need only a few key components:
- Declaration of your intent (to resign).
- Gratitude for your experience and time with the company.
- Timeline for transition and exit (aka, 2 weeks notice).
- Optional: Offer to assist with the training and/or transition of the person who will fill your shoes once you’re gone. Only offer this if you really intend to follow through.
- Your signature.
Having a paper copy of your resignation letter is highly professional and recommended, and having a signed and scanned copy for digital delivery is expected.
Give your letter to a trusted friend or family member to read and review for errors. Once we’ve written something, it’s tough to see our errors as we quickly read the words in our heads. Sometimes, it helps to read the letter aloud to be sure it flows, sounds kind, and doesn’t ramble.
5. Schedule a meeting with your manager or boss to have the resignation conversation in person
Unless you work remotely, you need to tell your boss you’re quitting in person. Do not send it in an email. Definitely don’t tell anyone else and just hope the news gets to them so that they have to bring it up with you.
As uncomfortable as it may be to have a face-to-face conversation with your boss, every other option will actually feel worse. I promise.
Schedule a meeting in person with your boss to discuss your resignation and prepare to be concise, direct, polite, and grateful.
There’s no easy way to start the conversation. Here is an email template you can use to set up the meeting with your boss:
Subject: Quick meeting?
Are you available for a 15 minute conversation today? I can come by your office whenever you are free.
6. How to tell your boss you’re quitting
This conversation is not going to be easy or comfortable. But you have to get through it, and the more clear and professional that you can be, the easier it will go.
Having a close relationship with your boss might make this conversation even more difficult, since you don’t want to let them down or hurt their feelings. However, you must remain clear and honest.
The most important thing to remember is this:
This news will most likely come as a surprise to your boss. A negative surprise. People do not always have the best reactions to negative surprises. Your boss is only human. And so it is important that you be prepared to be professional and to guide the conversation in the right direction.
Here are some steps for managing the conversation:
Get to the point. Avoid too many pleasantries and keep it simple. Don’t get sidetracked into a conversation about something else. Say something like: “I need to tell you that I’ve accepted another job offer” or “I am putting in my two weeks notice today”.
Refer to your list of lessons learned with this company as you share your gratitude for your experience. Gauge your boss’ response, and if they seem open to a conversation, you can share some thoughts with them like: “My time at [company], working with you, has helped me to grow and taught me so many valuable lessons.” However, if they seem upset or like they need time to process, you can skip this step and share these thoughts with them later.
Listen to what your boss has to say, no matter how you feel about it. Avoid talking over them, arguing or debating, or disparaging other employees or company practices with them. Use phrases like “I hear you” or “I understand” if they express frustrations.
Keep the conversation short and ask if they have any questions or next steps for you to complete. “After I’ve submitted my letter of resignation, what are the most important things for me to take care of or wrap up?” If you have ideas already, you can suggest them. You can also suggest a meeting at a future date, so your boss can have some time to think about what makes most sense for the team. Remember, they may be slightly shocked and not thinking totally clearly or strategically in this moment.
After the meeting or call, thank your boss for their time and for their leadership. You’re maintaining a potential reference at the very least, and if you loved your boss but just need to move onto a new role, you’re maintaining a relationship or even friendship. Make sure you leaving a lasting positive impression on everyone you encounter.
Send your letter of resignation via email and, if possible, by in-office mail to the necessary recipients. Typically, this is your boss and your HR department. Most companies need a formal document on file about your departure, so if you aren’t sure what paperwork is needed, ask your boss or HR.
7. Prepare for the exit interview and the post-quit questioning
People are going to ask why you quit. Though you most likely told your boss your were leaving for a slightly polished version of the truth, it’s likely that some of your colleagues know the real reasons why.
If there is one thing you must do when quitting your job, it is:
Depending on the severity of the reasons why you left, it may be too easy to let criticism and harsh humor roll off of your tongue after the gavel has fallen. You’re on your way out, right, so who cares?
But what you say and do on your way out of a company has lasting impact of those around you and, most importantly, yourself. This is the last thing these people will remember about you.
Rather than espousing negativity at the closure of your working relationship, keep your criticisms polite and your reasoning rational.
However, in your exit interview, telling the truth is not gossiping.
Providing honest accounts and constructive feedback in your exit interview can be the last gift you can give to the company and your former colleagues. If there was fishy business or improper workplace behavior, HR needs to know about it.
That being said, this is not necessarily an opportunity to unload every annoyance you’ve ever had about a job. Remember you want to leave on a positive note, so try to keep your feedback constructive and brief.
8. Wrap up loose ends and transition with gratitude
Depending on how quickly you’re leaving your company, you may have projects and responsibilities that will outlive your transition period.
Wrapping up what you can, handing off client responsibilities and deadlines, and remaining in clear communication with your team will ensure a smooth transition for all. As great as it may feel to be departing, you’re leaving behind a still-functioning team that will miss you and the contributions you made to the team.
Take time to personally address and thank those you’ve had a positive working relationship with. Consider sharing a lesson they taught you or an experience with them you found particularly enriching. Share your contact information so that people can stay in touch.
9. Develop what’s next
Though this doesn’t specifically impact telling your boss you’re quitting, leaving your current role with a plan (and possibly a backup plan!) will make your transition so much less stressful. If you’re not leaving your current job for a new job you’ve already secured, either at another company, educational institution, or at home, here’s your extended quitting checklist:
- Give your personal brand a refresh.
- Learn how to write a career change resume [link to this blog post once it’s published]
- Get out and network.
- Know what you want from your next job.
- Look at making your hobby your side gig in the meantime.
- Consider going freelance.
It is never easy to know exactly how to tell your boss you’re quitting. But it is a step that just about everyone will take in their career. Focus on leaving with a good reputation and a good relationship, and see your boss as human. Have compassion and grace, and remember you are on your way to bigger and better things.
This step is hard, but it’s the last one you have to take before your next step up!