The Proper Way to Leave a Job

Everyone is faced with the daunting task of leaving their job sometime, perhaps multiple times over the course of their career – especially in the midst of our ever-changing economy. However, no one likes delivering their resignation. No matter how much you hate your job, or how excited you are about your new one, leaving a place where you’ve worked for years is an enormous and difficult task. Yet whether you’re a fry cook or a vice president, leaving your job in the proper way makes it easier for everyone involved.

Leaving your job in the proper way means leaving your job with grace – it means being positive, responsible, and respectful through every step of your way out the door. No matter what your reasons for leaving may be, whether you just need a change, found a better job, or have been forced to walk the plank, you don’t want to be the guy who made a scene and left covered in disgrace. In the end you’ll appreciate the dignity that you kept intact, and your future employers will appreciate the glowing recommendations of your previous employers.


First things first, you should be absolutely certain of your decision before you take the leap and vacate your cubicle for good. If you’re leaving for a new job, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both your current and prospective jobs. Consider things like:

• Salary
• Benefits
• Work environment
• Job duties
• Flexibility
• Opportunity for advancement

If you’re still not sure, try asking the potential employer if you can spend a day at their office shadowing your potential coworkers; it can help you get a better feel for the workplace and make a more informed decision about your future.

If you don’t have a new job lined up, you may want to just gut it out where you are until you do. It can take anywhere from three to six months or more to find a new job, depending on the current economic climate. Take stock of your family’s financial situation – could you survive that long without your income? Would your savings last? Does your spouse make enough to live on? While unemployment is technically available even if you resign, you won’t receive any unless you’ve quit for a good (i.e. qualifying) reason – a work related injury, for example.

After you’ve taken stock of your current situation and you’re confident with your decision to move on, you’ll want to take care that no bridges are burned on your way out. In fact, you’ll want to leave on the very best terms possible. Advancing in a competitive job market is difficult enough, the last thing you need is a poorly handled resignation following you around in your employee file and turning up in the hands of potential employers.


One of the most important things you can do to make this transition easier for both you and your employer is to give proper notice before you leave. Giving proper notice gives your employer the time needed to find an adequate replacement for you, and may give you a chance to help train your replacement. The proper amount of notice to give depends on the position you hold, and any contractual agreements you, or your union, have with the employer.

Two weeks is considered to be the standard amount of notice to give your employer before leaving. If you’re in a management position, however, the standard lengthens to anywhere from one to three months, depending on your level of seniority. In any case, if you’re working under a contract or union agreement you should give the amount specified in that agreement, whatever the standard may be.

If you have a new job lined up, be sure that the date of your resignation agrees with the start date of your new job. For example, if you’re obligated to give a month’s notice and your new job starts in two, wait a month to give your notice. This will help you avoid any additional discomfort at your current workplace.

Should your employer ask you to stay longer, you’re not obligated to do so. Instead, you might offer to help during your free time by means of e-mails or phone calls. On the other side of the coin, if you’d like to leave earlier than the amount you’ve given, it’s polite to ask permission first. Disregarding your notice and leaving early may also hurt your chances at receiving any benefits, etc. you may be entitled to.


While it’s best to resign in person during a private meeting with your boss, you should have a letter of resignation ready to hand to him or her at the end of that meeting. This letter is often required by employers, if for no other reason than to have a written record of your resignation for your employment file. You’d do well to keep in mind that this file will follow you throughout your career, so this letter is not the place to vent your frustrations.

Your letter of resignation should be polite and professional, as well as concise and straightforward. Simply let them know that you’ve decided to resign, give them the date you’ll be leaving, and where you’ll be going. You do not need to include any extraneous information, such as your reason, or reasons, for leaving. Writing as if you plan to return to the company someday will help keep you in the proper frame of mind while you’re writing.


Keeping all of your loose ends tied will help make the process as easy as possible. This is a major change in your life, and it’s in your best interest to handle it with polish and grace.

• Write farewell letters to co-workers, perhaps one of them will return the favor with an opportunity in the future.
• Ask for a reference. People change jobs, and careers, often these days, and there’s no telling where your boss may be when you need a letter of reference from him or her. It’s best to ask before you leave, that way you’ll always have it on hand when you need it.
• Take what you can. Look over your contract for any benefits you can collect on before you leave. If you have some vacation or sick days left over, you may be able to benefit from them. If you have a 401k or similar pension plan, be sure to ask about keeping it, cashing it in, or rolling it over.

For better or worse, you will be remembered for your exit. Handle it responsibly. Everyone wants to tell off their boss from time to time, but resigning with grace will garner far more rewards than letting the door hit you on the way out.