The 7 Steps to Quitting Your Job Without Burning Bridges

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Resigning with class is critical for every professional who takes that step, which most of us do at some point (usually several times) in our careers. “But who cares?” you might be wondering. “I’ll never see these people again!” 

Well, that’s not necessarily true. You never know when you might encounter someone with whom you used to work at a networking event or industry party. And you never know who might know someone who knows someone — for example, a future hiring manager or colleague might well be in contact with your current boss at some points. Connections are wide-reaching in the digital age, after all, when professionals can easily maintain work and personal relationships from afar. Plus, it's important to resign with class for your own growth as a person and professional.

Maintaining and cultivating your professional reputation means knowing how to quit gracefully. How do you manage to do that? Follow these seven steps.

1. Give ample notice.

Generally speaking, two weeks’ notice is considered the standard amount of time you should remain at your job after informing your employer that you’re leaving. This is often enough time to allow them to search for a replacement and get everything in order. But some employers will want or expect more notice. This is especially true if your position requires specialized knowledge, you’re critical to the organization functioning smoothly, you're a high-level leader and some other situations and circumstances.

Does that mean you have to give your employer as much notice as they want? Certainly not! Your manager could try to take advantage of you and attempt to keep you there as long as possible. Ultimately, it’s really up to you to determine how much notice is reasonable and feasible. In some cases, your employment contract will also state how much notice you’re required to give prior to leaving. In that case, do your best to follow this rule.

There are some exceptions to following the two-weeks’-notice guideline or whatever is noted in your contract. For example, if you’ve endured harassment or discrimination at your job and believe you would be in danger were you to wait out that period of time, then it’s entirely reasonable to forgo it. At that point, your safety is far more important than extending this courtesy.

2. Tell your manager in advance.

Before you issue your formal resignation letter, give your manager a heads up. It’s best to have this conversation in person, but if you’re unable to due to COVID or other circumstances, over the phone is fine as an alternative. Just make sure to ask them when would be a good time to talk ahead of time so you don’t catch them off guard during an inopportune moment. 

This is a professional courtesy. If you go straight to HR with your letter of resignation, your manager could feel slighted and wonder why you didn’t come to them first. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to discuss details, such as how much notice you’ll be giving, which projects you currently have on your plate, what you expect to finish by the time you leave, whether you'll be able to train your replacement and other important information. Also, let them know that you’ll help out with the transition, assuming you are, in fact, able to do so.

Make sure to express your gratitude. This is a good time to mention some aspects of the job and your working relationships that you particularly enjoyed. (You can keep it vague if you have to dig pretty hard to find something you liked.) 

Your manager will probably be curious about what’s coming next, but don’t go into too much detail — just briefly explain where you’re headed.

Example (remember that this will be a back-and-forth conversation, not a monologue; this is just the gist of what you might say):

“Do you have a moment, Sam? I wanted to let you know that I’ve accepted an offer with X Company, so, unfortunately, this means I’ll be leaving. I really appreciate the opportunity to work with you, and I’ve learned so much during my time here. You’ve given me a lot of tools and guidance that I’ll definitely be able to use in the future.

“I have projects X, Y and Z on my plate right now, and I anticipate being able to finish at least two of the three before I go. I’ll be sure to leave detailed notes about anything I can’t finish, too. You can let my replacement know that they can feel free to contact me if they need help.”

3. Write a formal resignation letter.

In addition to discussing your resignation with your boss, you should submit a formal resignation letter to your manager or HR (if the policy on resignation letters isn't stated, ask your employer to whom you should submit it). This is mostly to create a paper trail (and many employers will also ask for one). You should give them a hard copy of your letter, not just send an email. If you’re working on-site, you can do this in person; otherwise, you should send it in the mail.

Unless your employer asks you to include specific information and details in your letter, you can stick with the basics:

• Your current position

• Your contact information

• The fact that you’re officially resigning

• Your last day of work (date)

• Specific tasks you will accomplish prior to leaving and/or general assistance you’ll provide with the transition

This will vary based on your role and individual responsibilities.

Keep your tone positive and optimistic. Remember: this creates a permanent record of your departure, so it’s not the place to air grievances.


Jessica Smith
[email protected]

February 28, 2021

Alex Clark
Director, Sales and Marketing
X Company
[email protected]

Dear Ms. Clark:

Please accept this letter as a notice of my resignation from X Company. My last date of work will be March 15, 2021.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working as marketing manager for X Company and I appreciate the opportunity. I am happy to assist with the transition. Should you have any questions or need additional information, feel free to contact me at the above email address or phone number.



Alex Clark

4. Finish as much of your work as possible.

It’s tempting to submit your notice and call it a day, but part of quitting with class means demonstrating to your employer that you really are a team player. And that involves typing up loose ends.

During your conversation with your manager (you might need additional ones after the discussion about your resignation), determine your priorities for the period before you leave — which projects are most important, what you’ll plan to finish and so on. 

Don’t get “senioritis” (or the working adult equivalent). This is a time to ramp up your efforts, not decrease them. You want to demonstrate that you’re a valuable player, even though you’re leaving. Remember that your paths could very well cross again — and your professional reputation is at stake. You could even end up applying for a job at the same company or with the same manager in the future.

5. Get everything ready for your successor.

This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. A large part of helping out the organization, keeping your reputation intact and resigning gracefully is getting your employer ready for life and work beyond your departure. 

In addition to getting as much work done as possible, you should do everything possible to prepare your replacement for taking over your job. Leave detailed notes about the job responsibilities and tasks, including step-by-step instructions wherever possible. Include passwords and tips, too. If you’re willing, provide your contact information so they can ask questions should they arise. This isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice — and classy — gesture that will help you leave on good terms.

If you work in a brick-and-mortar location, you should also prepare the physical space for your successor. This is an important courtesy — no one wants to be left with a mess to clean up. Bring whatever belongs to you (and not the employer) home, and leave the necessities for the next person. Do some cleanup, both in the space and on your computer, getting rid of anything personal or unnecessary. Of course, you don't want to leave anything potentially sensitive on your computer, either.

6. Give close colleagues a heads up.

As with your boss, you don’t want colleagues with whom you work closely to find out about your departure from someone else. You also don’t want to send them the same blanket goodbye email that you send to everyone else.

Take your close coworkers aside to share your news personally. Like with your manager, it’s best to do this in person. If you can’t have a face-to-face conversation, make a phone call. 

These conversations won’t be as in-depth as the one you’ll have with your boss, but there are a few points you should hit (the content will vary depending on the particulars of your relationship with the colleague):

• The fact that you’re resigning

• When you expect to leave (the conversation should take place after you’ve officially submitted your resignation letter)

• The name of your replacement if you know it already

• How this will affect them in terms of projects, meetings and so on

• How much you’ve enjoyed working with them

• Your contact information, assuming you want to stay in touch

Of course, you may well have made some real friendships that will hopefully persist beyond your working relationship. Conversations with these individuals will be different from those with colleagues with whom you have a working relationship; they’ll be more casual and perhaps less of a goodbye and more of a “see you later.”

You should alert vendors and clients about your departure, too. Depending on how much contact you’ve had with them, these conversations should include similar content, although it’s generally acceptable to say goodbye over email. Make sure you give them information about whom to contact after you leave.

7. Say thank you.

This is one of the most critical things you need to do to leave on good terms. “Thank you” is a simple yet highly effective phrase. And you should use it generously, even if you’re not feeling wonderful about your employer. You don’t want to burn your bridges no matter what.

Take some time to reflect on what the best parts of your experience were. For which aspects of your job are you most grateful? Examples might include:

• The skills you gained

• Your positive relationships with your coworkers and manager

• Friends you made

• What you learned

• Particular projects you enjoyed 

Don’t limit your thank yous to your manager — although you should certainly express your gratitude to them. Include coworkers, too. Handwritten thank-you notes are always a nice touch and have the added bonus of serving as an enduring reminder of your work and relationship with the recipient.

Many people also send goodbye emails to their entire teams or companies. This is a good idea if you work with a large group of people and aren’t able to touch base with everyone individually before you leave. But make sure you thank your closest colleagues and manager individually beforehand.

Leaving a job, especially one you love, is never easy. But when you do decide to take the leap, it’s important to exit with as much grace as possible. You have a lot to think about, including the next stage of your career, but you should never neglect the job and responsibilities you’re leaving while looking toward the future and your new role. 

In the midst of packing up your belongings, sorting out your benefits, ensuring your receive your final paycheck and preparing for the next phase, don’t forget to hit every one of these crucial steps. They can make a huge impact on your professional reputation, your career and your entire life.