It's finally come to the point where you're thinking about how to give two weeks notice. You’ve had it. No, I mean, you’ve really had it. Read every book. Gotten lots of advice. Poured over career guidance websites. Compromised. Collaborated. Even fought the good fight now and then.
But there’s no longer any denying it — youhate your job, and there isn’t anything left to try to transform it into one you love. There comes a time after giving it a real try that you may have decided there's simply nothing left to do and it's time to go. While some of you couldn’t be happier about your decision, others may have mixed feelings or even may simply be experiencing outright dread.
For example, perhaps you have a completely different story. You really like your job. Maybe you even love your job. You’re happy – or at least happy enough. You’re fairly, or even well, compensated. Your boss is supportive, the work is interesting, and your peers are colleagues if not friends.
But someone else may have come calling, and they offered you greater challenge, more money, increased flexibility and better benefits. It’s the proverbial (job) offer you can’t refuse. So, you didn’t. You said yes, and now you have to tell your current employer that it’s time to say goodbye.
Regardless of your situation and feelings, your emotions and circumstances should be kept separate from the problem of figuring out how to tell the company you’re going to resign. In fact, in an ideal world, the way you resign might look identical regardless of whether you're the woman who is reluctantly resigning or leaping right into that decision. After all, resigning a job is a business decision and the end of an employment contract. Even for at-will employees, this is a transaction with legal ramifications and significance.
You’ve heard that old cliché about not burning any bridges, but what does that really look like in practice? How should you approach your resignation? How do you give your two weeks notice?
What two weeks notice means
We started with the tales of two different women, but they essentially have the same task: to quit in a way that preserves their professional reputation by being gracious to the current employer while still making an exit with two weeks notice.
There’s no law that says a resignation actually has to be preceded by two weeks notice. It’s merely a tradition, a sort of accustomed practice which will help you if you want to play it safe in terms of giving a reasonable notice period. If your new job can wait a bit, you can quit your current job without too much of a guilty conscience if you hew close to norms and give advance notice of your impending resignation.
Of course, there may be no period of time your company likes that is going to work for you. Many companies hate a two-week notice period if you are a valued employee who is leaving on good terms. Good employees are hard to find, after all, and many times they probably wish you would stay until they find and hire a replacement for your position. A month, or more, sounds good to them. In fact, how about if you remained for several months while you train your replacement?!
Take it as a compliment. And, if you are in a senior role, or the company is at a vulnerable or crisis moment, consider how flexible you have to be to accommodate them. You do need to lock in a notice period, or the date you’ll leave, but do resist the urge to bend to the organization's desires over your own schedule and next steps.
Steps for giving notice
If you do stay with the tried and true rule of thumb that says two weeks or choose to give even longer advance notice, here are some tips to make that off-ramp as gracious and professional as possible:
1. Don’t be picky about vacation and sick days.
No matter what your employee handbook says, consider whether the circumstances call for a little leniency on your part with respect to formal policy matters. Some resigning employees like to say, “Well, I have a week’s vacation left, so you can pay me for that and I’ll just leave the end of this week!” That’s great for you, of course, but not so great for your employer. Take your vacation time before you give your notice rather than seeing it as money in the bank that they owe you. It will help your departure go more smoothly if they have a better impression of you not trying to nickel and dime them.
2. Tell your manager privately about your plans.
No matter what your prior relationship with your boss has been like, this is a time to make things as positive as possible. You’re leaving to explore other opportunities or to accept an offer that you couldn’t resist. You’re very excited about it, and hope that she or he can be excited for you, too. This is no easy conversation to have, of course. But doing so face-to-face and in private shows respect, boldness, and maturity. You’ll feel better for having had the conversation in-person (versus in an email or over the phone, which can feel impersonal and even tacky), and your boss will appreciate you all the more for it.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with a formal email follow-up note announcing your resignation but in a digital age where so much is communicated without the traditional human touch, this is not the time to hide behind your keyboard or phone. Your manager may surprise you in their reaction, and be more understanding than you expect them to be, particularly if they realize that the company or industry circumstances are such that you are simply seeking a better opportunity to build the career that will serve you better in the long run.
3. Follow up with a resignation email or letter
Once you’ve already notified your boss of the upcoming change, it’s still wise to shoot them a two-week notice letter over email simply recounting what you discussed in person, as well. That way, in the event your resignation does turn sour, you at least have a paper trail to back you up. And in some cases, a formal resignation letter may be company protocol anyway. The important thing is to send this notice letter after you’ve spoken with your boss (by the end of the day, or within 24 hours, is ideal).
Your letter should formally announce your resignation and stipulate when your last day will it. And it should be positive, touching on growth you achieved and opportunities you had in the position. This will help end things on a good note.
4. Leave everything in tip-top shape.
Spend those two weeks cleaning all the debris from the files and finishing as many projects at your current job as possible. Give it 110% — including detailing and documenting any critical to-dos for the month after your departure. It can be tempting to mentally check out once your two week notice is in, especially if you weren’t happy at your job. But now that you have a new opportunity, pay it forward by ending on a high note and cementing your reputation as a high-quality worker. You’ll be thanked for it, and this will help even a temporary successor stay the course until a replacement is found.
This is also respectful to people who are on your direct team and who may be the ones absorbing your extra workload. Whether or not you hated your job or manager, you probably built some meaningful collegial relationships and if you want to make sure you're a welcome contact in the future or have the foresight to realize that any one of them could be a potential future reference or put in a good word with you somewhere, you'll realize how foolish it would be to end a long relationship on a sour note by leaving them to clean up your mess.
5. Don’t trash talk to Human Resources.
That kind of mean talk will follow you. When explaining your reasons for leaving in your exit interview, keep it brief and keep it positive. Don’t lie to the HR manager, of course; just gently sidestep and keep talking about the next step ahead of you and how grateful you are for everything you’ve learned from your current boss and organization.
Of course, this advice is only applicable if there wasn’t something genuinely wrong about the way you were being treated. If you experienced discrimination or harassment at your job, you should, by all means, feel empowered to speak up, particularly if the topic or opportunity presents itself during your exit interview or exit process. If this is something you wish to do, you can follow standard protocol to report abuse.
6. Make plans to stay connected.
This is the perfect time to go through your LinkedIn and other social media accounts to make sure you haven’t overlooked any of your current co-workers who you want to keep in touch with, for either personal or professional reasons. Maybe you were previously holding off on adding co-workers to your Facebook account out of a desire to keep your work and personal lives separate. Now’s a good time to add those people, however, as if you wait until after you’ve left, you’re liable to forget in the excitement of your new position. And who knows which past connection may prove invaluable to you in the future? Similarly, you should make certain your co-workers have your personal email address, too.
What if you can't give a full two weeks notice?
Under some circumstances, you may not be able to provide your employer with a two-week notice period. Or perhaps you don't want to, because you've endured harassment or abuse or have personal reasons for being unwilling to work there any longer.
While most employment contracts are "at will," meaning both you and your employer may sever the relationship at any time, doing your best to give two weeks notice will help ensure that you leave on good terms. If providing a certain amount of notice is part of your contract, you could miss out on receiving compensation for accrued vacation time and other benefits.
However, if you absolutely can't give a certain amount of notice, be as courteous as possible, and inform your manager and HR of why you can't give the established period of time.
An example letter of resignation
Your phone number
Company contact (manager or HR representative)
Company phone number
Company email (general or contact)
Please accept this as my letter of resignation from my position as [role]. My last day of work will be [date].
I feel fortunate to have worked for [company] and appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of this team.
I will do my best to complete all my responsibilities by my last day of work and ensure that the transition process goes smoothly. I truly appreciate having had the opportunity to work for [company] in this role for [length of time in role].
A final word
These kinds of transitions can be emotional for you and for those around you. Change is difficult for everyone, of course, but remember that you're making this choice for a reason. Acting graciously will ensure you leave with your reputation intact and your future that much more secure. Good luck!
Nancy Halpern is an executive coach with a proven track record in helping senior leaders and their teams reach their full potential. She's been quoted in The Financial Times, The New York Times and other publications, as well as appearing on both NPR and the PBS NewsHour.