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This question is intended to be a canonical question, see Make that answer a canonical answer to "how to quit gracefully in a professional way"


I am currently working in a full time capacity at my company in a white collar professional position and I would like to leave for another opportunity.

I want to search for and accept another job but I would like to quit this one in a professional way, meaning:

  • in my best interest
  • not burning bridges with coworkers/manager/company
  • not being dragged down by my soon-to-be ex company.

What would be the best way to prepare to leave from my company job?

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It depends.

I almost voted to close this question as too broad as what "professional" means can be wildly different depending on one's profession. But I shall try to keep things concise.

Some things that may go into the decision:

  • How senior you are. A graceful exit looks a lot different for the CEO of a Fortune 500 compared to a junior analyst. These exits can be months in length. My Dad would have a far longer exit period as CFO of an investment company than I would as one of 50ish developers at my company.

  • How replaceable you are. This in an opinion that some will disagree with, but if you want to have a good relationship with the old company it is worth considering. If you are the only tech guy, document nothing, and then decide to give your two weeks while not really putting together a transition plan, that is not a graceful departure. Some say that is your manager's problem. Perhaps, but it can still leave a bad taste in the mouth if you do not consider it.

  • Past company history towards resigning employees. Some companies immediately walk out employees who resign, i.e. as soon as you get your notice, your time there is done. Others have you work until the day you leave. So you could have no role in the transition in the former case or be completely responsible for it in the latter case.

  • Project status. If you are staffed by project, then leaving a few days before a big deadline can really throw things off course.

I resigned from a job a few months ago. Here was my process:

  1. Have a new job lined up already. Optional if you are retiring, but just generally a good advice and safe practice in order to avoid longer periods of being unemployed (Especially in regards to financial liquidity and work-history).

  2. Decide when you plan to leave. This is going to be a combination of factors between contractual obligations, family requirements (especially if you need to move), time off before your next job, project status, bonus eligibility periods, when the new job wants you to start, how the company treats resigning employees, etc. The more senior you are, the more this is negotiated. I chose to leave a month later so that I could finish off my current project.

  3. Develop a transition plan. Basically lay out what needs to be done for the team you work on to continue without you. In my case, that included documenting key bugs I identified, transitioning two sales and support conversations to another developer, and focusing on delivering the pieces I need to deliver to keep the project on track. If your company escorts those who resign out the door, then this is mostly about moving your stuff home beforehand. I put it before because I like to be prepared, but there are plenty of reasons to put it after the next step (like if you are a CEO and your transition involves 100 people and an executive search team).

  4. Resign. Schedule a meeting with your boss and do it then. Have a formal resignation letter available to give to them for record purposes. Include your last date of work. Sign it. I am the type to print it, but that is not required.

  5. Implement transition plan with manager. If you need to create it, now is the time to do it. If you have already created it, see if it covers everything. Then follow through on the plan.

  6. Check up on loose ends a week before departure. Plans often miss things. This is just meant as a note to be sure you got everything. I forgot to include dealing with an API key in my plan. A lot of things are attached to emails nowadays, so spend some time making sure everything attached to that is transitioned.

  7. Return technology and wipe accounts. You probably logged into some personal accounts while at work. Wipe your browser from top to bottom to ensure that nobody starts ordering strange Amazon parcels to your home. Send your laptop and your access card back if you are working remotely.

  8. Add everyone on LinkedIn/write them recommendations. Not required, but something I do when exiting a job. One of my forms of goodwill building. I also did not have everyone on LinkedIn at that point. Presumably if you are concerned about not burning bridges, you want to keep in contact with these people.

  9. Wrap up exit paperwork. Submit your remaining benefit claims. Collect your final paycheque. Sign pension documents.

I am very much at the bottom of the pyramid. There are plenty of other steps if you are a manager or executive.

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  • As this question is intented to be canonical, you could say it aims at the most common jobs, so more at the bottom of the pyramid. – Walfrat Nov 9 '20 at 10:20
  • Also, consider your vesting period for stock options and bonuses. Do not assume they will honor your notice period if it means they can save money by letting you go earlier. Make sure to only give your notice after you've qualified for any options or bonus you've earned. The same goes for heatlh insurance. Wait until the cycle of your insurance has already started. Paying for insurance through COBRA is expensive. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 10 '20 at 5:30
  • Note about #4: in some cultures it's generally expected to still send a letter of resignation by signed post to confirm delivery - unless you can get your manager to sign a paper confirming that they received your letter of resignation. That doesn't mean that it's likely for them to lie about receiving it, but it's just a CYA in case anything funny happens. – Flater Feb 16 at 16:07
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When voluntarily leaving one permanent white-collar job for another, you perform these steps in this exact order for safety and professionalism:

  1. While you're interviewing, do quiet pre-research to figure out details about timing when you want to leave your current job. What is your required notice? (Two weeks is customary in the US if there is not a notice period specified in a contract or other agreement, see Do I owe them a two week notice?) Should you take some PTO or will it get cashed out, are there any option/RSU or bonus or 401k matches or medical insurance complexities that dictate when you should actually make the move?
  2. Find a new position and accept (ideally by signing and returning) a written offer letter. Don’t trash talk your current employer in interviews, it will cost you job offers. If there are any contingencies in the offer letter (passing background check, drug test, security clearance) negotiate that being done on their end before you give notice.
  3. When planning how much notice to give and agreeing to a new start date, you will be tempted and/or guilted into giving more notice at your current job because "you are so important" or "the project you are working on is so important." Don't, unless it is clearly in your best interest to do so. Try to plan for a week or two of downtime to mentally free yourself from baggage from the previous job and have time off because you may feel like you shouldn’t take a lot of vacation in the first part of a new job. Unless you can't afford a couple weeks without a paycheck or the new company says "it's absolutely required you start by date X," do it.
  4. Give the required notice at your current job, by telling your direct boss face to face if at all possible and then sending it in writing to him or her and HR. Serve your notice period in the way they want you to. They could walk you to the door, or ask you to focus on training, or just do your normal work, or slack, or make you do junk tasks no one wants to do - all are fairly normal, just do it. You don't need to go above and beyond, see Can I work just what I'm paid for while leaving?. In the very rare case they get super hateful and yell at you all day or make you lick their yacht clean or something else you can't cope with mentally, call in sick or just ghost them - the bridge is already burned.
  5. If your current company presents you with a counteroffer, you can consider it but usually that's not a good play, even if the offer is good the well is poisoned going forward. Certainly do not share your offer letter, specific new employer, or new salary with anyone from your current employer under any circumstances.
  6. If you get an alternate employment offer from other prospective employers in the meantime, you can consider them, just keep in mind there's increased risk with timing and you need to be careful you don't end up with no job. "Retracting your notice" usually doesn't work. But pulling out of a new job before you start it is just like quitting your current job for another, it's fine. (Unless you have actually signed a contract that limits notice already - not an offer letter, a contract.)
  7. Be pleasant to everyone at your current employer in the meantime. Give nonthreatening answers to "why you are leaving" - just say "I came across a good opportunity" or "I think it'll build my career" or whatever. See Should I tell colleagues I'm leaving and Do I have to tell my colleagues that I'm leaving?.
  8. Attend and give light feedback in your exit interview, but don’t burn bridges by getting too stroppy, they are not going to change anything based on your feedback. See How much should I say in an exit interview?. Do not sign any new legal agreements after you give notice unless they pay you separation $ to justify it and you're comfortable with what it says (lawyer review as necessary).
  9. Leave, showing appreciation and saying goodbye to close coworkers. Don't do anything unethical (take customer lists, steal code or stuff).
  10. Start your new job, ideally after a brief break. Until your first day, it’s OK to consider and accept better offers that come in late - it’ll make the company sad but doesn’t cross the line to unprofessional (or unusual). Once you've started the new job, however, it is considered unprofessional to take it and will generate hard feelings up to about a year. See I have 2 job offers A & B. A starts soon and B starts in summer. Is it ok to accept A, starting working and quit before B start date?

Don’t overthink it. This is the professional process adhered to by thousands of people a week. You do not need to give extra notice, see Is it naive to tell my current employer that I'll be leaving, months in advance?. You should do a professional job of documenting and cross-training at all times, and it doesn’t hurt to be extra scrupulous about it while you’re gearing up to leave, but not unusually out of your job responsibilities. See How can I prepare for getting hit by a bus?. Responsibility for business continuity is on the company, not you (except in special circumstances, like if you are a significant shareholder in a very small organization and it might tank your shares). See A coworker beat me to resignation. How can I resign in a professional manner? and Is it acceptable to quit in the middle of a project, when I am the only team member?.

Other specifics of what's going on don't affect this much - the importance of the project you're on, where you are in your career - this is the accepted way in all white collar jobs with exceptions only as weird contracts, local laws, or truly exceptional circumstances dictate. As a hiring manager, I expect all of this and while I might advocate for longer notice or whatnot in my role as an extractor of value from employees, I wouldn't take offense at it and would consider anyone who did to be acting unprofessionally. Deviating from it in most cases would be considered unprofessional. You can't control the fact that some people will freak about you quitting, but that's a them problem not a you problem. See How do I deal with my current employer not respecting my decision to leave?.

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  • #4 is the only one related to the core question. I know that there is a movement to get this answer to be the canonical answer. But most of the questions we get on this site on this subject just want to know how to write the email/letter. – mhoran_psprep Nov 10 '20 at 11:11
  • Nope, the scope of the question includes every step to "gracefully" quit a job, which means avoding bruning bridges when possible (boss, colleagues, exit interview,...). – Walfrat Nov 13 '20 at 14:18
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Simply put in your two weeks notice, explain you can help with any sort of documentations or training during that time frame. Do your two weeks, tell everyone good bye, then leave to your new job. Will it burn bridges? Who knows. Some places might go about it badly.

I know a lot of folks feel like they're the one holding the company up. They feel like if they left, it would all fall apart. That's a sign of good management that instills such thoughts on their worker. Truth is we're all disposable. We're not indispensable and every management has plans where everyone gets ran over by a bus one day.

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  • Be carefull, what you say apply only with at will employment. I have a mandatory 3 month period notice here. – Walfrat Nov 13 '20 at 14:16

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