How to Leave Your Old Job Gracefully

WorkCoachCafeFinally it’s time to move on. The rest of your career is with a new and different employer. You can very happily kiss this old job good bye after you follow these steps.

Skip the Drama

Particularly if you hate your job and/or your boss, you may find yourself contemplating making a very satisfying and memorable exit, telling your boss and/or co-workers what you think of them and the whole organization and why you are so thrilled to leave.

Resist the temptation to quit dramatically. Don’t make an emotional announcement or slap your resignation letter onto your manager’s desk.

Sounds very satisfying, but…The drama usually has long-term negative consequences for you.

Keep Your Job Search Confidential

Understand that if your current employer discovers that you are job hunting, you may immediately lose your job. Employers are concerned with the quality of your work while you are job hunting, and they are also concerned about protecting their own organization and employees. Departing employees have been known to take customer lists, product plans, and other important information with them to a new employer when they leave.

Perhaps you can trust your very best work friend, the person you see often outside of work in circumstances unrelated to work. But, perhaps not. Be very careful about telling co-workers who may support your efforts but be unable to keep your job search private.

Recommendations for the New Job

Tell potential employers that your job search is confidential at this point so you can’t offer them a “current” recommendation. Most will understand your position. If they don’t, you probably wouldn’t like working for them.

If possible, offer written recommendations from previous employers and co-workers in previous jobs (see why being nice when you leave is so important?). Also, if you are a recent grad, your former college professors, teachers, and/or coaches can also offer a good perspective. Having some or all of these recommendations, usually two per job/employer, posted on LinkedIn is usually effective and a good starting point for most employers.

NOTE:  On your resume, disguise the name of your current employer to keep someone from contacting them about your job search before you are ready. So, for example, IBM morphs into “multinational info technology company” — or whatever is appropriate — on your resume.

3 Important Dos

1. Pack Unobtrusively in Advance

Before you give your notice, perhaps at the beginning of your job search, take home most of the family photos and any other of your personal items kept at work. One or two a day or a week, depending on how quickly you plan to give your notice. If possible, remove those items slowly so that the change in your work space is not abrupt.

2. Give Appropriate Notice

Quitting a job is often called “turning in your notice.” Two weeks is the standard time expected in the USA for most jobs.

Leaving without giving notice will not impress a potential new employer (even two jobs from now). Who wants an employee who walks away from their commitment to their employer? So, even though you may be so angry with your current boss that you don’t care if they are inconvenienced by your departure, another employer may see your actions as immature or unprofessional.

Often, your employer won’t expect — or want — you to stay those two weeks, but they do want the notice and the option to keep you in the job through the notice period.

3. Positive Attitude Check

You may need a recommendation from that employer some day, and those co-workers are part of your “network” for the future.

Be on good behavior. Try to leave things in good shape for your boss and who ever follows you in that job. You really don’t want them to be happy that you left — that’s not in your best long-term interest.

3 Important Don’ts

Keep these in mind while you look for your new job.

1. Don’t job search from work!

Even during “personal time” like lunch, or from home using your employer’s assets (email system, WiFi, computer), conducting your job search while at work is dangerous. Do not assume that you have privacy. If your employer discovers that you are job hunting, you may lose your job (and income) immediately.

2. Don’t leave until you have landed another job.

Employers are much more interested in you if you are still employed by someone else. The assumption, unfortunately, is that if you don’t have a job, the reason you don’t have a job is because you are not valued by an employer. So, if you don’t have a job, you are a less appealing job candidate/applicant.

3. Don’t leave without giving the standard notice.

If notice is required, you’ll pay a long-term price for ignoring this obligation. It will haunt you every time you need a reference, and every time someone getting ready to hire you checks with your previous employers, as they usually do.

If a new employer doesn’t understand the need to give your current employer two weeks notice, be a bit wary of them. Ask them how they would feel if an employee did it to them and if they would leave a job without notice.

Prepare for Quick Departure

You may be “escorted out” of your now former employer’s premises immediately after you give your notice. This is typically to protect assets and information and to prevent damage. In addition, often the assumption is that you won’t be fully committed to doing a good job during your final two weeks.

Bottom Line

Working in and leaving a bad work situation is very stressful and uncomfortable. But it’s not permanent. You’ll move on to a better situation (hopefully!). From painful personal experience, I learned that it is extremely important to focus on finding a great new job vs. finding any job to get away from a bad boss or job. Watch where you are going — that next job. If you’re not careful (as I was not), you’ll find yourself in the old out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation. Then, you’ll be job hunting again much too soon.

More About Leaving a Job

Should You Quit Your Job Before You Have a New One? NO!

Avoid the Exit Interview Trap

Ace the Exit Interview If You Can’t Avoid It


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoachCafe.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan also edits and publishes, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost.  Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.


  1. [email protected] says:

    Great advice! Preparation is key in order to avoid making your next decision a nightmare. If the standard notice requirement for your office is 2 weeks, are there circumstances in which you believe that you should give more notice?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      I can think of some situations where a longer notice would be required, like when you are a key employee in a major project that is nearing completion.

      However, typically, employers don’t want you around if you have accepted a job offer with a different employer. They understand that your interests are not with the current job, and they also don’t usually want you to have access to important and/or confidential information.

      Good luck with your job search!

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