How to Leave Your Job Without Burning Your Bridges

The latest report from the Labor Department shows that slightly fewer people quit their job toward the end of 2018 than a few months earlier. But unemployment is 3.9 percent — a sign of a good market for workers who want to change jobs.

If you’re contemplating a job change, you might be filled with trepidation. No matter why you’re leaving your job, it’s stressful to think about moving on to something new. Just putting in your notice can be a nerve-wracking experience for many. Perhaps you’re not a person who enjoys confrontation under the best of circumstances — or maybe your boss is more than usually confrontational, or an outright bully. In these cases, you might worry about angering or disappointing your boss when you hand in your resignation.

Even if you’re not concerned about potential awkwardness, there’s a lot to do — and keep track of — when you switch jobs. Make a plan now, and you’ll make the transition smoother and save yourself a lot of confusion and trouble later.

1. Gather Your Personal Information Before You Quit

quit your job
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Obviously, in a perfect world, you’d keep all your data on your own computers (or in the cloud). But if you’ve been at your job for a while, you may have fallen into the habit of using your work devices to store most of your career-related info, including networking contacts, commendations, letters of reference, etc. Before you quit, make sure you have everything you need. Don’t assume you’ll be able to grab it later.

Why not? Because as drastic as it might seem, some employers still make a practice of showing workers the door as soon as they put in their notice. If your soon-to-be former company is one of them, you might not get another chance to copy those email addresses or move your personal files.

(And in case you’re wondering if that’s legal … unfortunately, yes, for the most part, your boss can let you go for any reason or no reason at all. In most states in the U.S., workers who aren’t members of a union can be fired without notice or cause, provided that there isn’t evidence of discrimination.)

2. Give Appropriate Notice

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Given the fact that your employer can let you go at any time, what I’m about to say might sound unfair: if you possibly can, it’s good idea to give at least two weeks’ notice.

Yes, you’re running the risk that they’ll ask you to turn in your lanyard and leave the premises immediately. But the reason you give notice is to preserve your reputation, as much as it is to be a team player. You might need a reference or referral later on, and you don’t want to give your former manager any reason to decline.

Beyond that, it’s important to remember that your team is bigger than your boss.

“Your boss isn’t the only person that matters,” writes Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, at BNET. “Your peers, your direct reports, your clients, and your boss’s peers also matter a great deal. They aren’t going to blame your boss if you leave with only 15 minutes notice, no matter how bad your boss was. They are going to be mad because you left them hanging.”

Most industries are small worlds. You’re almost certainly going to run into your former coworkers again later on in your career. Don’t sabotage future opportunities by ditching on short notice.

3. Write a Resignation Letter

In most cases, you’ll want to tell your boss in person when you quit. (A few exceptions: if you work remotely on a full-time basis, if your boss is chronically unavailable, or if you work for a bully and are worried about retribution.) But even if you inform them verbally first of your intention to quit, you need to write a resignation letter.

Why? Because it keeps things simple and civil. A resignation letter spells out the important details — when you’re going to leave, how you’ll help during the transition, etc. — and your thanks for the opportunity. It makes sure you’re all on the same page about what happens between now and your last day of work.

4. Have a Cushion (or a Plan)

Suze Orman famously advises workers to have an eight-month emergency fund saved up in case they’re out of work for a long time. But as good as that advice is, it can be extremely challenging to follow for many workers.

A shocking number of American workers live paycheck to paycheck. That’s not necessarily their fault — taking inflation into account, real wages are 9 percent lower today than they were in 2006. Less buying power and higher cost of living means that it’s much harder now to save than it was just a few years ago.

“The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation,” writes Robert Reich, chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, at The Guardian. “Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.”

That said, if you’re going to quit — and you’re worried about being shown the door — you need to think how you’d weather those two weeks without a paycheck if necessary. Are there areas where you can economize? Can you temp, freelance or pick up gigs while you’re waiting for your new job to start? Better to strategize now so that you won’t be surprised later.

5. Update Your Resume and Profiles

resume tips
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It might seem strange to update your resume so soon after taking a new job, but there’s no better time to do so. In fact, you should get in the habit of updating every time you change jobs, add a skill, or accomplish something that could help you stand out during a future job search or quest for a promotion.

The sooner you update, the better. You might find an amazing new opportunity sooner than you think — or stay at your new employer for years, in which case it will become harder to remember everything you’ve done during your time there.

“Trust me on this: the longer you are with a company, the harder it is to create a resume — if you are not continually adding to it, that is,” writes Michele Lando, a certified professional resume writer, at “I’ve worked with quite a few clients who were at a company for 10+ years. When it was time for them to start looking at new opportunities, they struggled to obtain information about their prior positions.”

Think you don’t have time to continuously update your resume? Bear in mind that it doesn’t need to be perfect until you’re applying for jobs. Keep a master file and tack on job titles, certifications, etc. as you get them. Then you can customize your resume for each opportunity — something you should be doing anyway.

When you’re done updating your CV, refresh your social media so that your profiles reflect your new title and employer.

6. Be Positive

Maybe you hate your job, your boss, your employer and everything about your work experience. Those are great reasons to move on, and good for you for doing so. But don’t let anyone else know about your secret feelings of loathing — not your soon-to-be former team and not your new coworkers once you get started at your next job.

Again, the world of work is small. You’ll run into these folks again, virtually if not in person. Beyond that, if you trash-talk your former team to your new coworkers, there’s a chance that you’ll come off looking like you’re the problem. Certainly, you won’t look like a positive person who’s trying to move forward, which is what you need to be if you’re going to be successful in your new role.

So, close out your old job on a high note. Try to think of a few things you’re sincerely grateful for – a new skill you developed, a chance to get started in a competitive industry, an opportunity to work on a rewarding project — and include those things in your resignation letter. Better yet, send a separate thank-you note.

A little gratitude goes a long way. It might even help you feel more positive about the experience of having worked there. (And if not, at least you won’t have to worry about having made things worse on your way out the door.)

7. And Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This One Thing

“The last thing you should do is give the company advice on how they could improve,” writes Robbie Abed, founder of Fire Me, I Beg You, at Inc. “Newsflash, you’re leaving! Nobody wants advice from someone who no longer works there. If you want to give advice, give it while you work there. Don’t be a superhero on the way out.”

That means resisting the urge to share your real feelings during the exit interview, no matter how much you want to help the company improve. The harsh truth is that they probably won’t listen to what you have to say, no matter how constructive you are when you say it. You’re more likely to burn a bridge than you are to save the company.

And anyway, you’re leaving. Be polite and professional but put the focus where it belongs: on your future, not your past.

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