How not to quit your job

Here are six pitfalls to avoid when you’re leaving a job. Spencer Platt / Getty

Most likely, you’ll switch jobs quite a bit over the course of your career, and that’s okay. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average worker stays at his or her job for 4.6 years.

But quitting is rarely fun, and employees often find themselves in uncomfortable positions that could burn bridges at their former workplace. The work world is smaller than you think (especially in Boston), and it’s always best to leave a job on good terms – you never know who you’ll need as a reference.

We spoke with local recruiting experts John Todd, a partner at Downtown Recruiting, and Ben Hicks, assistant managing director of WinterWyman’s software technology group, about what not to do when resigning.

6 poor moves to make when leaving a job for greener pastures:

1. Only writing a resignation letter.

Though some people consider resignation letters “outdated’’ and no longer write them, Todd said employees should write a concise letter and meet with their boss when resigning.

“When I was in corporate America, I would sit down with a boss and discuss [my resignation] first, then follow it up with a letter,’’ Todd said. “When you’re personal, you need to have that open dialogue with your manager and explain why you’re leaving. I would never put that in a letter – the letter should be short, to the point, and very factual.’’

Just writing a letter could make you seem callous, while just meeting with your manager could make you seem indecisive about your choice to leave. Do both.


2. Using “gray’’ language.

Hicks said one of the most common problems his candidates faced when resigning was failing to make clear to their manager they were actually leaving.

“One of the largest pitfalls in resigning is not being black and white,’’ Hicks said. “People soften their language and use ambiguous gray terms. It invites the act of their manager trying to keep them there, making a counter offer. Most people go into that situation not wanting that.’’

The best way to avoid this awkward situation is by using clear-cut, confident language, like, “I have accepted another position,’’ Hicks said, and letting your boss know when your last day will be. (But this doesn’t mean you should forget to express gratitude.)

3. Dropping the ball.

No one will remember you fondly if you leave teammates shouldering a huge project with your void to fill.

“In your two or three week notice, keep giving it your all,’’ Todd said. “Don’t just hang out. That burns bridges as well.’’

Todd advises candidates to leave their position with as many loose ends tied up as possible. Any material your manager or teammates might need should be organized and easy to find. “Take ownership,’’ Todd said. “There’s nothing worse than someone leaving a job and just being excited about their going away party.’’

4. Throwing stones.

It can be tempting to let your manager know everything wrong with your work environment, position, pay, etc. as you’re headed for the door. But don’t be that person.


“A resignation is not the time to be critical,’’ Hicks said, comparing quitting a job to breaking up with a significant other. “ You should be doing that up to the point of resignation, not at the time of. You wouldn’t tell a person all the things you don’t like about them when you’re breaking up with them.’’

Not only will this behavior leave a bad taste in your boss’s mouth, but also word could get out to your future employer that you have a bad attitude. “Just be positive about what you’re leaving for, not negative about what you’re walking away from,’’ Hicks said.

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5. Giving less than two weeks notice.

Two to three weeks notice is protocol, Hicks said. “It’s still seen as really unprofessional to give less than that,’’ he added.

But be wary of accepting to stay beyond three weeks, which Hicks said could lead to “a really awkward situation.’’ He again compared the situation to a breakup.

“If you break off a personal relationship with somebody but continue to cohabitate or go out on dates with them, it’s a massive mistake,’’ Hicks said. “Even many people say just the final two weeks is awkward.’’ Tie up loose ends, finish your projects, and rip the Band-Aid off.

6. Using another job offer as leverage.

Never, ever, ever exploit your new job offer as leverage in getting an increase in salary or a better position at your current company, Hicks said.


“If you’re unhappy with your salary or something in your current environment, or looking to advance, go to your boss prior to your job search and address those things,’’ he said. If you don’t actually want a new job, your search was a massive waste of time, and you’ll never be trusted at your current company again.

“No one likes to be held up for ransom,’’ Hicks added, mentioning that most candidates he’s seen do this end up leaving their job within six months anyway. A slightly higher raise or better position probably won’t drastically change your workplace satisfaction in the long run.

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