How to Quit Your Job

This post is by Phil La Duke, a partner in the Performance Assurance Practice for ERM. La Duke has over 20 years of training, performance improvement, and lean manufacturing experience.

As the economy continues to improve, more and more workers are contemplating leaving their current employers in search of greener pastures. The lure of better of a pay raise or just a fresh start has many workers who would otherwise be timid about changing employers ready to take the plunge. The pull doesn’t always stop there, and many workers fantasize about leaving their employer on less-than-stellar terms. And while most people are politically adroit enough to avoid overtly burning a bridge some—in their haste to move on to the latest adventure in their career —many squander once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to build the foundation of a solid professional network.

Building a quality professional network may be the single most important element of a successful career. Here’s how to quit your job the right way.

  • Connect. You should try to connect with the people at your current job before transitioning to your next—even those that you don’t particularly like. Sometimes today’s rival is tomorrow’s key contact. Some of the people  I wasn’t particularly fond of when we worked together became good friends, mentors, and important contacts.
  • Stay in touch. Social media makes staying in touch seem effortless, but if you never pick up a phone, set up a lunch, or express any sort of interest beyond trying to sell something or finagle a job from your contacts you won’t garner much success. Social media is just a tool, the real connection comes from social skills and old-fashioned networking.
  • Help people. Just like you, your contacts will have ups and downs in their careers. Be generous with your help; it will make you feel better, genuinely help someone in need, and deepen your friendships and professional connections. And don’t keep score, people remember when you do them favors and don’t need to be reminded that they owe you. In fact, if you do have to remind someone that they owe you a favor than you probably never were really connected in the first place.
  • Be gracious. Your relationship with your former employer, colleagues, and even vendors and customers is something that you will carry for the rest of your career. Telling someone off feels great for about 15 minutes, but leaving a positive impression feels good for a lifetime.

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  • Michael

    If youi are leaving a toxic environment/job – does one not tell the real truth to the company on an exit interview so they can work to improve the working culture in the future? Or does one bite their tongue and not be truthful?

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      Michael:

      It’s not so much a question of telling the truth in the exit interview as it is in how you tell it. I am all for having a mature, professional, and frank conversation about areas in which the company can improve, but I don’t think you have to be disrespectful or belligerent when doing so. There’s a big difference between outlining things that you didn’t like about your job and unloading a barrage of insults and gripes. Also, I think it’s important to show balance—surely there are things that you liked about the job—and remember to take the high moral ground (it’s too easy to get petty and whiney when talking about something as emotionally charged as why you are quitting). If you are saying things because you really want your ex-employer to improve than I would say it as diplomatically as possible but if you are simply saying things out of frustration, anger, or to get revenge on someone I would keep that to myself.

      Phil
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • John

    Then there are the jobs that was a mistake in the first place and did not last a year and will not appear on your resume. I have so wanted to “Burn that Bridge” and now that feeling is even stronger. I will be in touch with the few co-workers that I feel are worth knowing. I have more useful contacts at the previous job and remain in touch with them. Actually a few of them were my references again for my newest job. “You can’t fire me, I QUIT” …actually found a song that says that.

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      John:

      Often we are so eager to get a new and better job we lose sight of whether or not that new opportunity is right for us. When you are looking for a job it’s easy to get caught up in the positives—better pay, more opportunity, career advancement—and lose sight of the flags that might otherwise tell us that the job is a bad fit. It’s tough to back away from an opportunity that we think we want, especially when we are under employed.

      I think a lot of people would much happier if they concentrated on what kind of job would make them most happy instead of the pay and benefits of the jobs they are pursuing.

      Phil
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • Thierry Pagnier

    Phil,

    I really read your post with interest. And even if I myself have been in a bad situation wanted not to keep in touch with anyone working there, I have learned to change my mind. Most of the time you old co-workers are not the reason you left the job at first.
    But when someone forces you to leave, it is really hard to keep in touch. I am still trying to get over it today. And so far I did not make it.
    It is frustrating and not easy to forgive someone who made your professional life difficult.

    To conclude, I like your post and I think that we should follow your advice.

    Thanks and regards

    Thierry

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      Thierry:

      Thierry:

      I’ve had coworkers that ran the continuum—from people that I respected and liked from the moment I met them to back-stabbing creeps who I eagerly read the obituaries in hope of seeing their names. But mostly I’ve met people of whom I formed a neutral to somewhat positive opinion. I like staying in touch with them of course (not out of any sort of slimy “you never know what they might be able to do for me” ulterior motive, but out of a sincere desire to stay connected—it’s always nice to start a new job and see a familiar face.) but I have been frequently surprised by the number of people who I genuinely disliked in one setting who I became friends with once we were taken out of a toxic environment.

      As for forgiving someone who made your work life a living hell, boy have I been there. I was laid off from a job and treated (at least as far as I was concerned) pretty shabbily. There was a lot of hard feelings on both sides and I found myself resenting several of the people involved and it really bothered me. I decided that enough was enough and I invited the head of the company out for a drink and “to not talk business”. As I told people about what I proposed they alternated between thinking I was a saint (I most certainly am not) and thinking I was crazy (the jury’s still out on that one). So I met my former employer and we had a pint. He immediately told me how sorry he was for how things went down and how glad he was that I called and invited him out. It felt great. Now we get together about once a month. He’s a good friend and an important business contact. But mostly, it feels so good not to carry that negativity around.

      Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, and as much as we’d like to carry a grudge, it’s a heavy burden to bear. When I left that job, people remarked at how positive and upbeat I was. Truth be told I was angry, frustrated, and terrified, but nobody wants to hire or do business with someone who is filled with rancor and bitterness. The secret to forgiving an employer or coworker who has wronged you is time. You really can’t rush it; forgiveness comes according to its own timetable, but it’s important that you eventually feel the hurt and let it go. We aren’t hurting them by holding a grudge and it can really effect our relationships and ability to move forward.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks for taking the time to read and for commenting. Good luck in all your endeavors.

      Phil La Duke
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • PATRICK SENDWE

    By burning bridges along the way in your employment and, indeed,life you are creating enemies all over. In the African tradition, it is said that “when you leave without farewell, do not expect any welcome”.

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      Patrick:

      Well said. And while many Native American tribes gauged the greatness of a man by the power of his enemies, in my experience it’s best to have as few enemies as possible.

      Phil
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

    John:

    I couldn’t agree more. I have worked at one company for four miserable months and while I really felt abused and misused by the owner of the company, I learned a lot—mostly how NOT to do business. Fortunately for me, I left the company and took a position where I was able to source business that the old company sold. I felt good knowing that as much as they may try I wasn’t going to source them the business. Then the company went out of business and was sold. My old co-workers, most of who were great people (with whom I remain friends today) worked at the new place and I was able to source business to people I liked, trusted, and respected without putting money in the hands of the creep who had so mistreated me. The point is, things change, and while we might be tempted to storm off in a huff, often it isn’t just the object of our revenge who is effected and because I left on good terms, I didn’t alienate my coworkers and was able to have a long and fruitful work relationship with them (one recruited me to a job that really boosted my career. Another ended up an executive who mentored me and helped me through some difficult times. Still others were references or fed me job leads that resulted in much needed changes in my life. I have to balance that against the momentary and temporary satisfaction of telling the company owner where he could stick his job. So I can certainly sympathize with your view, I’m afraid I don’t share it.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for taking time to share your comments.

    Phil La Duke
    http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • Trish

    Never burn bridges. You don’t know if that person is acting on company peer pressure or directive; or maybe being treated the same as you; and away from that environment is completely different. I was recently contacted by an SVP from a prior bad-blood company who has moved on. He is now in my network and let me know what an incredible asset I was, but wasn’t allowed to say that to me (even as my direct co-oversight).
    At a recent event, the QA Mgr from that same company reconnected as well (no longer there).

    Although it’s difficult to take the high road of integrity when in a bad employment situation, the last one resulted in some very positive leanings. First, their reason for letting me go was that we just weren’t the “right mix”. They gave me 2 months pay with benefits to find something else. I’d had enough and chose to become a consultant so took that time to really network with clients and organizations. It’s been steady since then and the phone always rings for a project when it needs to. What’s amazing is how supportive my network is. They literally market me and send work to me. Of course, I do the same for them if they can take any on. Otherwise I keep them in the loop of information and fun opportunities.

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      Trish:

      Learning lessons the hard way is one of the most unpleasant aspects of life, but they are important lessons all the same. Sometimes the effects of a toxic workplace can last a long times—even years. If we decide to leave a workplace in a flurry of dysfunction we basically allow those who made our lives miserable in our former workplace subtly shape how we view our current environments. It is far better to confront our feelings and forgive those who may not deserve it; after all, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.

      Phil
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com

  • Robert McGee

    In an employment situation, if you are in a bummer of a job with lying, back stabbing co-workers and lying, punitive supervisors who are listening and trusting their favorites, the best advice is to communicate and work as effectively as you can under the circumstances, and be as helpful and as gracious as you can, while searching quietly and diligently for another job.

    It is probably a mistake to confront a toxic situation. Doing so implies that we can effect change and have influence, which, usually, is not the case.

    Your efforts to confront and correct a bad situation probably will be a mistake. You will most likely be misunderstood and you may only end up being labeled as a “disgruntled employee”.

    As such, you will be viewed as “negative, destructive and bitter”.

    Even being viewed as such (no matter how incorrectly) only hurts everyone around you.

    But they hurt you even more, since offering resistance to a “bad” situation makes it harder to keep your mind and energy on your goals and your focus on what brings you satisfaction.

    Instead, seek only to lovingly and intelligently control your own destiny and your own life. Only take responsibility for that which you have real control. Anything else is a waste of effort. You can constantly choose and work for a positive outcome for yourself. In that sense, you “luck” may run out. But your “love” never ends. And it will be enough to overcome “bad” luck and “bad” situations.

    Let go of everything and everyone else. Completely accept everything and everyone, just as they are, offer no resistance, and make no efforts to correct and change others.

    Instead, keep moving towards that which is personally satisfying and away from that which is personally dissatisfying. We can’t control our environment and those in it. But we can control our dreams, feelings and responses to situations.

    .

    • http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com Phil La Duke

      Robert:

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. You really hit on some important points. First, I think you’re right that one probably won’t have much success confronting a toxic situation. We can never forget that as screwed up and dysfunctional the environment may seem to be to us, it is probably completely normal for those who work there. When we confront the dysfunction we confront the cultural norms and it bites us—we become the “them” in a “us versus them” conflict; in other words we just can’t win. In their eyes we will always be the outsider and troublemaker (it’s a horrible way to go through life).

      I’ve been there, the common denominator between these workplaces is the tendency to make people feel as if they will never have it this good again. It’s criminal. Your dead on when you say that people need to focus on their life beyond the workplace, it’s easy to forget that there are things far more important than your job.

      Phil
      http://www.philladuke.wordpress.com