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How to Quit Your Job Gracefully

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So you applied, interviewed and signed all the paperwork to prove you officially landed the job you’ve been hoping to get for weeks. Congratulations! Before you go posting your good news all over Facebook, though, there’s one dreaded step to take before you can focus all your energy on starting your new professional life: It’s time to tell your current employer that you’re leaving.

No matter whether you love or hate your job, the idea of breaking this news to your boss and co-workers can be distressing. These people have come to count on you, and it’s never a good feeling to know that you’re letting someone down. In fact, quitting your job can evoke the same feelings of dread and guilt as breaking up with a romantic partner, except in this case the line, “It’s not you, it’s me” doesn’t sound like such a cop-out.

But while it’s usually not a good idea to try to maintain a friendship immediately after ending a relationship, it’s actually a very smart career move to keep your professional contacts after quitting a job. The who-you-know game is more important than ever to excelling in the professional world, so it will help you in the long run to maintain a positive rapport with the people you’ve been working next to day-in and day-out. So how do you go about quitting your job on a positive note without burning bridges? Keep these strategies in mind when it’s time to talk to your boss.

Give your current company at least two weeks’ notice.

It is customary for your new employer to give you time to tell your current employer that you will be leaving. And the general rule of thumb is to give at least 2 weeks notice before you depart your current job. If your new employer doesn’t need you ASAP, ask if you can give notice to your current employer even further than two weeks in advance. This course of action will win over both your present and future bosses. First, it will give your current employers plenty of time to find your replacement so you don’t leave them with an unfilled position for long. Plus, it will prove to your new employers that you’re a loyal employee who will give them the same professional courtesy in the future when it’s time for you to move on.

Don’t say anything negative about the company.

I don’t care whether your boss resembles Cruella de Vil or whether you think the pay is crap for the long hours you work. When you explain why you’re leaving, be appreciative of everything you’ve learned at the company, and state that your decision is simply a professional career move. It’s OK to give suggestions for improvements to the company in your exit interview with Human Resources, but leave the complaining and bad-mouthing for later that night over drinks with your friends.

Recommend someone to fill your position.

Working under the conditions of today’s economy, most of us unfortunately have several friends or acquaintances who are still looking for employment. If you know of someone who would be qualified to step into your position once you leave, recommend that person. Suggesting a qualified replacement tells your boss that you still care about the future of the company and want to help your employers expedite the hiring process. That said, if you work in finance and have an unemployed friend with a degree in fashion design, don’t suggest her just to give a recommendation. It’s better not to mention anyone than to waste your boss’s time with a candidate who is clearly unqualified.

Offer to freelance part time or help to train your replacement.

A boss’s main concern when an employee leaves is how long the training process will take for the new employee and how much daily work will pile up in the meantime. One way to make the transition easier on the company is to offer your extra time and expertise part-time until the new employee is fully acclimated. If your type of work lends itself to it (and you could use a little extra grocery money), you could offer to do freelance work on the side for a few weeks to maintain the company’s workflow. Or you could offer to conduct an evening training session or two for the new employee when he or she starts working. This is especially helpful if you’re the only one at your company who knows how to perform your day-to-day tasks.

Keep in touch with your old boss and former co-workers.

You never know when you’ll need a reference, so it’s a good idea to send your former boss a short email every once in a while asking about the company and giving an update on your professional advancement. Similarly, you may need a favor or some professional advice in the future from a former colleague, so set up occasional plans for coffee or drinks with a few of your favorite former co-workers. Just because you’ll no longer be seeing these people on a daily basis doesn’t mean your friendships with them have to fizzle out or that they shouldn’t be in your professional network. There’s not much you can do to keep your boss and colleagues from being disappointed that you’re moving on, but taking these steps will ensure that you leave on a positive note, and that you’ll always have a glowing reference (and maybe even a job) in case you find yourself in need of one in the future.

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