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I'm working my first job and would like to have my current boss as a reference if possible. But if I leave, it's almost certainly going to be a resignation to move to another job. I feel like I'm abandoning them and I feel suddenly my previous employer's opinion of me is going to drop substantially.

I work in a small department so my leaving would be significant, but I feel my employer knows people in my position often leave; young workers, no real path for upward mobility. The last three employees in my position have moved on. It seems there's a good relationship left with those employees and my coworkers/boss.

How can I leave gracefully and maintain my current employer as a reference when I'm "abandoning" them? What do I need to do before and after I leave?

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    Some managers will feel "betrayed" no matter how you leave. For these folks, there is nothing you can do to maintain a good relationship with them. – Tangurena Apr 11 '12 at 4:21
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    I don't think that's true. With time they will probably get over there betrayal, especially if they can see that you did everything possible to make things easy for them (cf bethlakshmi's answer) – Benjol Apr 11 '12 at 11:20
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    Most managers will get over it, but some never will. @Benjol and Tangurena are both right! – Tech Lover in NYC Jun 2 '12 at 2:25
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    You provided the answer yourself: the young employees leave. It looks like there is high employee turnover in your outfit, so when you leave, you are acting no different than anyone else. When you take off, they'll just get somebody else. If you like your boss, then make sure to say "Hey, I'd like us to stay in touch and maybe help each other down the road". Make them feel as much as possible that your departure is a win-win situation for them - Because it could be one: they get networking support from you and may be new career/business opportunities as you make your way up in the world :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 11 '14 at 20:30
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The best possible scenario for you is for you to leave in a situation where they agree that the thing you are leaving for is the best decision for you.

In other words: you have an offer in hand that they can't beat. Or, that you are moving to a new area that is more desirable to you. Or, that you moving to a job doing something that fits your skillset/goals better than they can.

If you leave on a disagreement, it will be on bad terms. You may be leaving because you "just can't stand [blank]"; if so, don't tell them (at least in those words) — you need to be more tactful about it and give them a reason that they can't disagree with.


Since you mentioned specifically that you might be leaving due to lack of upward mobility, I'll give you an example as I would imagine it:

  • Good: I've found an opportunity to work at/in [company or industry] and pursue my goals of gaining leadership skills and experience.

    This shows that you are forward-thinking and puts the onus on them to have shown that they have leadership skill learning opportunities.

  • Bad: There seems to be a lot more opportunity for promotion over there.

    This makes it look like you are just waiting for a promotion to come along (every company believes they have promotion opportunity), as well as displaying "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome.


Never under any circumstances bad mouth your former employer. That is not saying you can never relate specific issues you have had in the past but never blame the issue on your employer. If at worst they put food on your table for a certain amount of time. Show them respect for that if nothing else. Future employers will respect that in you.

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    In other words, you're 'going', not 'leaving'... – Benjol Apr 11 '12 at 11:17
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Write up a very respectful letter of resignation, and give it to your boss only after you tell him or her in person that you're leaving.

Make it clear in both the letter and your sit-down that you've enjoyed your time there, but are just moving on to another opportunity that's a better fit for you. And, needless to say, give at least 2 weeks notice.

If your boss is any kind of decent person, he or she will understand.

  • 3
    Emphasis on "decent person". – Subby Jan 29 '14 at 8:47
  • Why "only after" ? I'm not saying I disagree, but I'm really curious about the reasoning here. – Radu Murzea Jun 8 '15 at 13:59
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    @Radu - because you should tell your employer face to face before giving him/her a letter. – Adam Rackis Jun 8 '15 at 17:37
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Depending on the trust you have with your boss, you might consider the radical idea (not for everyone or every situation) of talking to your boss BEFORE you accept an offer. Your level of security with this concept can range from gutsy (talk before putting resume on job search sites) to conservative (talk when offer letter is in hand, but before saying "yes"). But it doesn't always hurt to have the conversation of "I don't see what I want in the time I want it if I stay here... am I right?"

For the record, I actually had exactly that discussion with a former boss this year just before I left. Not only did he provide good thoughts at the time, but when I decided to leave the company he was a rock of stability in a very hard descision and we've kept up correspondence since.

If you don't feel comfortable with that, I say:

  • have a polite offer letter that you deliver in person with verbal notification first. You may even want to schedule a half hour on your boss' calendar so they have time to talk it over with you.

  • be ready to give MINIMUM 2 weeks notice, but if possible, be open to considerations. The company may or may not want more time from you - know what your new position can handle. Also- be aware of any huge balls in the air in your current assignments as you communicate with upcoming offers. It's commendable to lay out a time line with the new company that reflects a graceful hand off in the old place - it tells your new employers that you will extend the same courtesy to them shoudl you ever leave.

  • in the time remaining between resignation and departure - be a class act. Get any lingering commitments solidly completed OR train someone on the team to pick it up confidently. Figure out key areas you are the expert in and volunteer to do training. Don't take on new work - offer to mentor others. Avoid slacking off on the work, don't be late, continue to be engaged. In most healthy organizations, it's likely that you will not have useful work in the last few days, so make yourself present and available to be a sounding board for crises.

  • be aware of the resignation processes in your company - vacation time, health benefits, etc. - each company has their own rules about the weeks after you give notice.

  • hand in everything the company gave you. Be ahead of the curve - have a checklist that you vet with your boss so that you both agree that nothing got misses (laptops, USB sticks, books, cell phone, etc.)

  • work with your boss to identify and notify external groups you may work with. It may be that the boss wants to make this notification himself so he can manage the handoff - so be respectful of that.

  • send a nice, well thought out good bye letter on the last day. It's usually acceptable to provide personal contact information if you feel comfortable with that.

  • be sure to make personal contact with anyone you want to remain in touch with to exchange info (ie, don't just send your personal info and hope they write... ask for theirs and write yourself).

A smart boss will see that a departing person is not an enemy, but a future employee. If a smart person goes away and gets a great new job, then it's likely that they may be available in the future, with even more great experience. So a smart boss will not see it as a betrayal, but as a way to expand their own network.

The "Two Weeks"

In the US a common norm is to give 2 weeks notice - regardless of what's legally required by contract or by law in most positions, this is the standard for what's considered polite. Other countries have other norms, but I've noticed through Workplace threads, that there is quite often a norm for what's "abrupt" vs. "normal".

To address the comment thread that grew up around this answer - it's good, if possible to be ready and able to give the standard polite length notice. Don't put yourself deliberately into a position where this is absolutely impossible if you avoid it. Realize that mileage will vary remarkably, and it's hard to address a single unified rule here, there's only a few guidelines:

  • High risk, high security type positions - like system administrators, people working on highly classified work, or in particularly vital business areas may give the standard two weeks, and then be terminated THAT DAY. Quite often, when the company chooses to do this, it also chooses to pay those two weeks, but it isn't a given. Sadly, word of mouth may be the best way to find out if this is the standard in a given company.

  • Good reasons do count for something - provided they are real. Dramatic family problems that require relocation (very ill family member), once and a life time opportunities (getting cast on America's Next Top Model) - things like this can count with a good boss or a caring company - but realize that lying is just not that hard to discover, and lying about a reason for leaving to avoid giving two weeks won't make you look good.

  • Variations on the "I just don't want to stick around" don't count for much. Two weeks isn't all that long to wait - for either you or your new employer - and it can make a big difference to the hand off process. In a large enough company, it can even take 2 weeks to tell everyone that might want to know and say good bye to them. Cutting it short for a less than serious reason is somewhat remarkable and may well stick in the minds of those you work with as "he didn't care enough to give us two weeks to make sure we got his work covered". Not an impression that I would wish to leave on my fellow coworkers.

It's a courtesy, not a requirement. But saying "hey, it's not required, so I don't need to do it", is rather like foregoing most other social courtesies - no, you don't have to do them and skipping a few here and there makes you merely quirky. But this is the last impression of you. People remember. And it is more than just your boss who get affected here - you're part of a team, and the team wants to continue to do its work well after you leave.

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    All excellent advice, particularly on giving notice/being open to longer transition periods if possible, and on wrapping up any loose ends. – voretaq7 Apr 28 '12 at 21:26
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    I disagree with the giving notice thing with regards to the USA at least. Almost all States in The USA are an "at will" State. You can be fired or quit at any time for no reason. This goes both ways and an employer should respectfully accept and understand when you resign "then and there" in a correct and polite manner. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_will "any hiring is presumed to be "at will"; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals "for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all," and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.[1]" – aseq Oct 5 '12 at 21:56
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    @aseq While you're legally entitled to leave on the spot, you may find that word gets around and your industry is smaller than you think. You'll carry your reputation around with you much longer than 2 weeks. – huntmaster Mar 25 '13 at 15:24
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    +1 for "A smart boss will see that a departing person is not an enemy, but a future employee.." Excellent point. – Shyju Dec 5 '13 at 19:19
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    @aseq if you leave without >= two weeks notice, you absolutely burn a bridge with that employer. It's legal but unacceptable professionally. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 15 '14 at 23:31
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There is no shame in leaving a job to peruse new opportunities. Most companies will understand this. Just make sure that if you are leaving, you make sure you give them plenty of time before you are done. I know 2 weeks is the common, but I would say give them a month. This will allow them time to get someone in to replace you and maybe even have a bit of a crossover between you and the new person.

If you do all this on a good note,

  1. give plenty of notice
  2. offer to do a crossover/training with new person

You will leave on good terms with the boss. I am sure they will be willing to give you a good reference as long as you have done good at your job.

UPDATE: Also a good thing to do if possible and the job allows is to create some sort of "handover notes" which could be a binder of tips for the job, things the new person should be aware of with the job, and any and all advice you would give to the new person.

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    The only thing I would add here is to cross all your t's and dot all your i's while you check out. In the two times I've changed jobs, I worked overtime on my last days to ensure there were no outstanding issues. On the contrary, I've been the victim of someone who shirked their last two weeks and that leaves a very bad impression. – ray023 Apr 10 '12 at 20:27
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    "handover notes" are a very good idea. – weronika Apr 12 '12 at 2:48
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    While providing a month's notice is good for your relationship with the employer you're leaving, the employer you are joining may not like it. – GreenMatt Mar 4 '16 at 16:11
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I think the wording of your resignation letter is important. After you've told them in person that you are leaving, and why, you might just write:

This is to confirm our conversation of today that I am resigning effective Jan 12th.

However, writing something a little longer makes a big difference. Last month a young chef I know resigned for a job in a larger restaurant, with opportunities that are not possible at the old job. The resignation letter was carefully written, and expressed gratitude for specific things and wished the restaurant success in the future. It also acknowledged that this was a family business and the leaving employee had a relationship with the whole family, and wished them all the best. Remember that if you write "I have enjoyed working with you" or "I have enjoyed learning from you" it doesn't mean that every single minute was a joy and a delight, just that there were times you enjoyed. Surely that's true?

The owner was originally a little ticked on receiving the verbal notice, since he was losing one of his best workers, who he scheduled on the busy nights and relied on to carry a lot of the weight. But after the letter was delivered, he was delightful and friendly for the rest of the notice period! The young chef has visited and eaten a few times since and everything's been friendly.

You can say whatever you want verbally, even "I just couldn't work with D any more and I think it's best for all of us that I have found something else" or "I knew you would never give me the extra responsibilities I deserve". But your letter will stick with them. In large companies it will be filed forever, of course, but even in small ones it has an impact. Write something nice. Make the reason for leaving all about yourself (I’m ready for some new challenges and am excited about the next steps I am taking) and thank them for something, however small, they have given you over the years. Wish them well.

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Bosses expect that employees will quit sooner or later. So just the fact of quitting will not make them think less of you. What will make them think less of you is how you behave during your notice period and what things break after you were gone that are a result of something you did or did not do (or let them know about).

I think one of the most critical things you can do is to not leave them with a mess to clean up. Think about what you would want available to you on the first day of a new job about your duties, where things are, etc. and create a transition document that lets your boss know everything critical that will need to be passed on to others. Let him know the state of all current projects - whether they are complete or how far from completion they are, where any files that will be need to complete the project are, any admin passwords you might have (that will remind him to reset them).

I prepare this document and give it to my boss at the same time I give him my resignation letter typically and then we discuss, who to transition projects to and what I can get completed before I leave. If you commit to finishing something before you leave, then make sure to honor your commitment.

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I had the same concerns leaving my first professional job for a better offer. I had a lot of guilt for abandoning my peers and fears that they would be left in a bad hole with me leaving.

In reality, people leave jobs all the time, and your management should be able to deal with it professionally, even if a little disappointed to lose you. The company/department/team will survive without you.

To leave with a good relationship intact, I suggest:

  • Give proper notice formally via a short, respectful and explicit resignation letter. Keep it short, don't meander about all the reasons you're leaving, just say you're leaving, what day you're done, thank them for the opportunity to work with them, and maybe say something nice about your experience there. Don't write a 'Dear John' letter to your employer. 2 weeks is a good general rule, but this can vary a bit depending on your specific line of work and level of responsibility. Pick something that feels right for your situation.
  • Make a reasonable effort to either complete work assigned to you before you leave, or transition it to someone else. Don't work nights and weekends over it, you'll just be rushing and risk compromising the quality of the work you're doing, which will not help maintain a good relationship when a coworker has to clean up your rushed job. Make sure anything you were doing or responsible for is complete, transitioned, or explicitly known by your manager to be left uncovered.
  • Maintain a grip on your emotions. You're probably feeling a mix of both sadness, regret, grief, excitement, happiness, and fear. Be cognizant of how you present yourself to others during your last few weeks. It's okay to talk about how you're feeling, but excessive joy for leaving or repeatedly apologizing for what you're doing is a bad idea.
  • Do not entertain a counter offer unless you seriously are considering the possibility that you will accept it. You may or may not get one, but don't drag things out. If you've made up your mind to go, stick to your guns and be clear but polite that you won't be accepting it. Remember: Unless the only reason you are leaving is being under compensated, a counter offer will not correct any of your issues for leaving.
  • Remember that their opinion of you has very little weight in the grand scheme of things. As long as it's generally positive or better, that's probably good enough. Don't agonize about it, do your best without killing yourself to make it easy and clean to leave, and move on with your life.
  • Thank you so much for posting your answer. It really helps and I recommend everyone scrolling through to read this answer. – Kevin Xu Mar 28 '17 at 23:54
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Once I have the offer in hand, I would tell the boss that I am leaving the company. Assuming that I like her, I will thank her for having given me the opportunity to work for her and that I have had a happy, productive experience working for her. I would say that my reasons for leaving are purely personal and it would be incorrect to presume that I am leaving because I am dissatisfied with the way the firm is run or the way that I am being treated. I would say that while I am definitely out of the firm, that she still has my contact info and needs only to call or email me if she needs assistance on any specific issue. And further, if I know of anyone who is capable and who is looking, I will be happy to recommend that he get in touch with her firm.

By the time you are finished communicating with her face to face and in writing, five or six things should be clear in your boss's mind: (1) you are leaving and your act of leaving is non-negotiable; (2) you are not leaving for personal reasons - your professional career goals qualify do qualify as a personal reason; (3) you will do everything you can to have a smooth transition; (4) you will back her up after you leave, if she needs backup from you; (5) You could add that you will recommend her firm as an employer and she as a boss to your friends and acquaintances, but it's a lot easier to remember to say three things when you are under pressure than five or six :) If you write an email, you can put down all five or six things and mention just the two or three things that come to your mind when you talk to her face to face :)

Before you leave, ask your co-workers and anyone in management who knows about you for a reference for a reference. If not, ask a client who has worked with you for a reference. After a month has passed in your new job, contact your former boss and ask her if she is willing to be a reference :)

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