How to Quit Your Job (The Right Way)14 October 2021 / By Nathan Falde Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 14, 2021
People seek jobs or accept job offers for all kinds of reasons. If everything goes well, they may make the perfect career choice and choose a job that allows them to fulfill their dreams for a long time. If they made the wrong decision, however, they may be looking for a way out within months of starting. In other instances, jobs can offer some legitimate benefits, but lose their appeal after a few years.
If either of the latter two scenarios describes your current situation, you’ll likely be quitting your job eventually, and perhaps sooner rather than later. Knowing how to quit a job, and when to quit a job, is important, because you don’t want to approach it in a way that offends your previous employer and damages your employment prospects. Conversely, if you know how to quit a job in the right way, it can ensure a smooth life transition and set you up for immense future success.
The First Principle of How to Quit a Job: Have a Long-Term Plan
If you’re a naturally future-oriented person, you’ll likely plan ahead to make sure your coming career transition is as smooth and pain-free as possible.
You’ll investigate other potential options based on your personal interests. You’ll look more closely at educational opportunities that might improve your resume. You’ll reach out to friends, neighbors, former co-workers, and any other potential contacts who can put in a good word for you or steer you toward promising opportunities.
Ideally, you’ll already have something lined up before you leave your current job. But even if you don’t, you’ll feel comfortable leaving knowing you have a great career transition plan that is well-thought-out and thorough.
Personality types that are generally known for their long-term planning aptitudes and orientations (ENFJs, INFJs, INTJs, ENTJs, and ISTJs are a few that come to mind) would never dream of doing anything so radical as quitting a job unless they had a good idea of what they’re going to do next. Everyone, regardless of personality type, should learn from their example.
The Second Principle of How to Quit a Job: Avoid the Spontaneity Trap
You should never tell your employer that you’re leaving before you’ve had time to really think about it or plan your next move. You might end up unemployed without a solid plan for career change or advancement in place. You might also end up alienating your employer, manager, or co-workers if you quit suddenly or at an inopportune moment. This could guarantee they won’t give you good reviews if contacted by other potential employers.
If you’re the spontaneous personality type—as those who fit in the ENFP, ENTP, ISFP, and ISTP categories sometimes are, for example—you might be strongly tempted to offer your resignation on the spur of the moment. The impulse could overtake you, in response to some small incident or disagreement that pushes you past your breaking point.
Even if you’ve been thinking about quitting for quite some time, this is a foolhardy and self-destructive choice. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by waiting, since you’ll have a better chance to channel your desire for change in a meaningful direction if you’re exceptionally well-prepared for what comes next.
Saying Goodbye to Your Old Employer: Some Dos and Don’ts
So, you’ve just arrived at your workplace and are ready to enter your employer’s or human resource manager’s office to let them know you’re leaving. How exactly should you proceed?
Here are seven dos and don’ts to remember if you want to know how to quit a job the right way:
#1 Don’t give in to your people-pleasing instincts
It’s possible your employer will try to change your mind and talk you out of quitting. If you’re the people-pleasing type (those who combine the feeling (F) and judging (J) traits often possess this characteristic) you might be tempted to surrender to their pleas. But you shouldn’t, because you’d be acting out of a sense of duty or obligation to someone else instead of to yourself.
When it comes to something as important as your career, you have to put yourself first, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. If you waffle even once, you may lose your nerve permanently and never escape.
#2 Tell them, “It’s not about you, it’s about me”
Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t use those words exactly. But however you say it, it’s important to take full responsibility for your decision to quit and not blame your employers or co-workers for somehow driving you away.
If you’re an overtly frank or brutally honest person (those who combine the thinking (T) and judging (J) traits frequently fit this description), the temptation to tell your boss what you really think of them might be strong. You must resist that temptation, however, since no good will come of it for you or anyone else.
#3 Be as generous with your time as they need you to be
It goes without saying that you must give at least two weeks’ notice before leaving. But regardless of when you plan to officially quit, you should offer to stay on a while longer if it will help make the transition easier.
You don’t have to stay indefinitely, or let yourself be exploited (that’s good advice for the people-pleasers out there). But to preserve goodwill you should be as accommodating as possible when you’re creating a sudden vacancy in someone else’s workplace.
#4 Accept their critiques of you with good humor and grace
If you plan to offer your now ex-employer an honest assessment of the workplace environment they’ve created, you should expect to hear an honest assessment of you and your performance as an employee in return. If their feedback includes negative elements, you should try to learn from them instead of reacting defensively.
It is especially important to take this approach if you tend to be overly sensitive to perceived criticism (as INFPs, ENFPs, INFJs, and ISFPs often are, for example). If you can’t help feeling hurt you must try hard not to show it, that might make them less willing to recommend you to another potential employer.
#5 Be diplomatic, but not too diplomatic
This advice is targeted at INFJs, ENFJs, INFPs, ENFPs, and to others who are extremely sensitive to others’ feelings and don’t want to say anything overly blunt or hurtful. For the most part, your desire to avoid hurting or offending people is a nice quality. But if you hold back too much when your boss or manager is quizzing you about why you’re quitting, they may interpret that as being uncommunicative or even as slightly dishonest. It other words, your good intentions may be misinterpreted as being overly self-protective.
If they want and expect honest feedback, you should give it to them as diplomatically as you can—but you should absolutely give it to them, even if it pains you a little to do so.
#6 Be forthcoming, but not too forthcoming
This is ‘how to quit a job’ etiquette 101, and perhaps a special warning for more extroverted types. In your final conversation with your employer or their human resource manager, you should mention your real reasons for leaving. It’s perfectly okay to offer a polite and fact-based critique of your former job and the workplace environment as well. But you shouldn’t drown them in a torrent of explanations and opinions.
If you talk too much about workplace issues, it can make you seem like a complainer. If you go on and on about all the great things you plan to accomplish in the future, it can make you look like a narcissist who thinks they’re too good for the job you had. You should reign in your extroverted tendencies in this type of conversation (which is inherently uncomfortable for both sides), keeping it honest and informative but mercifully brief.
#7 Above all, be sincere with your praise, gratitude, and critiques
When you express gratitude for the opportunity your employer gave you, and you praise them for their positive qualities and explain how much you learned under their guidance, your words should reflect your true feelings. If you didn’t really enjoy your job that much, you should just keep it short and don’t try to embellish. If you tell them what you think they want to hear, unless you’re a great actor the insincerity in your voice and body language will give you away.
An employer speaking with a soon-to-be-ex-employee won’t be impressed by excessive flattery. In fact, it will actually make them think less of you because of it. And of course, if they sense your critiques are more about axe grinding than offering an honest and helpful assessment, they will lose respect for you and likely refuse to give you a good recommendation.
Choose Your Final Words Carefully
Going out gracefully and with class when you quit a job is important. Leaving a positive last impression may determine whether or not your former employer will recommend that others hire you.
However, there is more to it than that. Your conduct when you quit should leave you feeling proud of yourself. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty because you took the opportunity to settle scores, air personal grievances, or use words that caused employers or co-workers to feel rejected, hurt, or unappreciated.
How you quit your job can impact your future employment prospects. But it will definitely influence how you feel about yourself. That’s why you should strive to quit your job in the right way, with your dignity and self-respect intact. Whatever your personality type might be, preserving both should be a top priority.