Best Way To Give an Employer Notice and Leave a Job

CN_Marc_v1_eIf you’re thinking about quitting a job you can’t stand, you may have questions about exactly how to do that. While it feels great to just stand up and say “I QUIT” (I’ve done that early on), it’s not exactly the smartest career move. Not that you always think about that when every fiber of your being is itching to get the heck out of there!

So, assuming you can tough it out for at least a few more days, what is the best way to give your employer proper notice? And what kinds of things should you be thinking about? How much notice time? Best method? Burning bridges? Here’s some of what the conversation and more of my thoughts:

Notice question from a reader who wants to quit

I want to start by sharing parts of a comment from a reader who decided her job is not going to work out. Most people write to tell me they are miserable and want to quit immediately, without notice if possible … so this was particularly interesting to me:


I have been at my current job for 4 months, and it’s clear to me it’s not a good fit. I feel no connection to the work whatsoever, it’s extremely lonely, my work ethic and working style don’t mesh with those of the department I find myself having to respond for other people’s oversights and missteps which is ethically troubling for me. Although I know I don’t owe anything, I am someone with a lot of integrity and my biggest concern is the effect my leaving will have on my department. I am considering giving a month’s notice to try to ease the process… do you have any advice?”

Some of my response:

“I think that sounds great, if it also works for you. It shows what a considerate person you are. My only advice is to speak with them about this, discuss details of your leaving and your preferred end date (they may even go for less), offer to add training notes if that feels right, and leave with the best feelings possible on all sides.

In the end, we give our best to the world when we also are happy.”

So what about those other readers looking to run off into the sunset —  and as far away from a job they can’t stand as possible!

Burn no bridges!

Early on in my career, I once had the absolute pleasure of walking up to a horrible boss (and not just horrible to me) right in the middle of a busy work area and, with relish and gusto, saying those magic words “I quit!” I left with a big smile and a wave to all my co-workers.

It feels like a giant weight is lifted to do that, especially when you’ve been suffering in silence for a while. BUT … as good as it might feel, you still have the next job and the rest of your career to deal with, and there is no reason to hurt yourself with your bridges burned and bad references to follow you to the next job and beyond at the same time you release the giant boulder you’ve been carrying.

So, if at all possible, your first choice should be to consider your boss and co-workers and give ample notice — ideally after you’ve found that next job, but only you know if you can wait. And, as best as possible, do it in a way that shows respect and lets you leave with the best feelings possible on both sides, even if you would rather scream and dash the way I did. And even if you think they are all horrible.

The way you carry yourself carries forward.


How to give proper notice

People have written to me many times asking whether they can quit by email rather than a phone call or in person. You can understand why — it’s hard to confront a boss with the news that you’re (1) deserting them; or (2) can’t stand them; or (3) are so miserable in the job your stressed to the max.

While there are times when email or phone is all you can manage emotionally, the best way (especially if you’ll want references) is to ask to speak with your boss privately, and tell him face to face. Never go on and on about how awful they all are or use that moment to unload every bit of stored anger. It’s too late for that. If you want to discuss issues, do that to try to save your job, not after you’ve decided to quit.

Of course, if you do have any hesitation at all about leaving, then speak to your boss about what isn’t working and what you would need to stay (think about this ahead of time). Also ask if he has any ideas about how you can work together to make it better. If you’re not sure, it’s worth a shot.

More about giving notice

But if you are sure, be clear, direct, and professional. Prepare a good reason that explains why you need to move on, without dumping a load of pent-up hurts and disappointments on him.

You want to leave in a way that helps him want to give you a good reference. It also helps prepare him if he is asked if this new job would be a good fit for you.

This is also the time to discuss your official end date. Two weeks is the customary amount, but once again best to discuss this with your boss. If you have flexibility and they need extra time to replace you, you can figure that out together.

Follow up with a formal letter

I think it’s a good idea to put the key things you discussed in a formal email to your boss, so that you both have a record of it. When you speak, you can ask him if there is anyone else you should copy or anything else you need to do at that time.

NOTE:  Remember to keep copies of any written correspondence from both sides for your records.

How quitting without notice can hurt you later on

When you just can’t stand one more minute of a truly horrible job, logic is not always the ruler. As I said, I’ve been there done that. But I was very young and didn’t need the reference, since I was still in college and not going to work in that field ever again.

But the career world is funny thing. The person you may want to tell off now, not only may deny you a reference or give you a damaging one, but they could also wind up being in another company you want to work in years down the road. Or they could be friends with someone in that company.

Plus, co-workers rely on you and may be hurt by your choices. The respect we give to others comes back to us. And we also grow from it. Better to take the high road and see it through if at all possible.

More articles to help

♦    Is It OK To Quit A Job You Just Started?

♦    Are You Feeling Overwhelmed and Incompetent In Your New Job?

♦    Job References Guide

♦    Networking Tips Checklist for Job Search