One day my company’s CEO announced a new policy. It was unreasonable, so I violated it in front of him and I told the head of my department I would continue to break the rule. She declined to take any action, but I assumed I would be fired soon, so I resigned. That way, even if I was fired during my last two weeks, I could truthfully say I quit on future job applications, since my resignation came first (there’s a resume trick for you).
The details of the policy and name of the employer are not important, but here’s the rest of the story: The CEO ignored my rule-breaking (and eventually changed his mind on the policy). I worked another month at the request of my department head, because she had always treated me well. When I finally left, she shook my hand and said I was welcome back anytime.
After leaving dozens of jobs over the years, I have become a job-quitting expert. And leaving that job gave me the time needed to begin this much-more-satisfying career as a freelance writer. So it seems only natural to share my expertise, starting with the obvious advice…
Avoid quitting a job impulsively.
Carefully consider a few questions first. Are there alternatives to quitting? Have you made preparations? How can you leave on good terms in case you need the job back? Are some bridges meant to be burnt? Can you comfortably lose the income, even if the loss is temporary?
To help you answer these questions, I put together this guide on how to quit a job.
Position Yourself as a Job-Quitter
It’s great to have the freedom to quit a job when you want to. Even if you love your work and have no plans to leave, that could change at some point. And job security is dead. So why not put yourself in a position where you can lose a job without losing much else? Here are some of the things you can do to get there:
With enough money in the bank, you can quit a job you don’t like anytime, even before you line up another one. Many financial authors recommend six months of savings in the bank, but I prefer to have enough money saved to pay the bills for a year. If you can’t manage to put aside that much, there are still ways to safely quit a job, but you’ll have to be more careful, and your options will be more limited.
To boost your savings, pay off debts and reduce your expenses, and then use the money that was going to those to fund your “job quitting account.” If being properly positioned is important enough, you’ll find a way to cut some expense and set aside the savings.
Develop Other Income Sources
If you have more than one stream of income, quitting a job is easier to handle. You don’t need to diversify as much as my wife and I — we made money 25 different ways last year — but if you have a side hustle or two and some investment income, you’ll be in a strong position to make job decisions without worrying too much about paying the bills.
Maintain a Current Resume
Keep a resume ready and up-to-date. If you’re qualified for several types of positions, make a resume for each.
I like to keep a stripped-down resume handy, with another document full of various possible sections to include. Then I copy and paste the relevant material into it the resume when applying for a job, and modify each section to fit the job description.
Keep Your Fixed Expenses Low
It’s easier and safer to quit a job if your living expenses are low, but the type of expense matters greatly. For example, it’s not necessarily a problem if you spend a fortune eating out and going to movies every night, because you can immediately cut those discretionary expenditures when you’re between jobs. Your fixed expenses are the ones that will bleed your bank account when you leave a job. Those include:
- Rent or house payments
- Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
- Property taxes
- Health insurance
- Car payments
- Credit card payments
- Student loan payments
- Any other regular expenses
Work to pay off your debt and find ways to reduce your other expenses, but also avoid adding new fixed expenses. For example, rent a boat rather than adding payments and the other regular expenses that go with owning one. Even if you are spending everything you make, you’ll be more financially secure if you minimize the size of the bills you have to pay.
Consider Alternatives to Quitting
Maybe you don’t need to quit your job. Think creatively about the alternatives. For example, when I was young enough to not know things aren’t generally done that way, I simply told my boss I was demoting myself to a one-day-per week shift manager in order to start a business — and rather than lose a good employee, he agreed!
Depending on the reason you want to quit you might look into any of these possibilities:
- A different position in the company
- Fewer days or hours
- A change in your job duties
- A transfer to another location
- A raise that makes you want to stay
Of course, if you can’t get any of these accommodations, you have to be ready to quit.
Prepare to Quit
Being in a generally strong position to quit any job is ideal, but even then you’ll need to make specific preparations when the time comes. Why you are quitting will help determine how you prepare. For example, if you just want a better job, find it before you quit to avoid any significant interruption of income.
If you’re going to have to quit soon no matter what, try to spend at least a few weeks preparing. Cancel extended cable and other luxury expenses. Add to your savings account. Make a list of replacement jobs you’re qualified for, and freshen up that resume.
If you’re planning your exit with more time, you can make other important preparations. For example, if you’re planning to buy a home, do it before you quit. A new job looks bad on a mortgage loan application, especially if the position is in another industry.
If you’re quitting to do work you’ll enjoy more, but that pays less, first work on lowering your expenses. Get your spending down to the level the new job will provide before you quit your current job.
You might want to increase your credit card limits (if that’s possible) while you still have your current job. That can come in handy if you run into cash flow trouble and don’t want to break into your retirement account.
How to Quit Your Job
Your boss might deserve to hear “take this job and shove it!” as you walk out the door in the middle of the day. But it’s usually a bad idea. I’ve quit without notice twice, and the employers did deserve it, but I (mostly) held my tongue, and I walked out suddenly only on short-term jobs I could leave off my resume.
Unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, give at least two weeks’ notice, and tell your employer what you liked about working there (c’mon, there has to be something). You might want the job back someday, or a future employer might talk to this one. To the extent possible, leave on good terms.
More importantly, do a good job while you’re still there. If you’re tempted to slack off because you hate the job or your boss, it’s time to go. You deserve to be treated right, but your employer deserves to get what he pays for. And if you are a good employee, quitting doesn’t have to mean burning any bridges.
Put your resignation in writing. If you’re not sure what to say, look for templates and examples of resignation letters online. Essentially, you want to explain, give a time-frame and thank your employer for the opportunity to have worked there.
Time your announcement properly. If you want to leave on good terms, don’t tell your boss you’re quitting when she’s in the middle of a crisis or you’re in the thick of your industry’s busy season (like tax time). Give her your letter of resignation when she’s comfortable, feels good about your work and has room to breathe.
Finally, if you’re ready to quit and you think there are layoffs coming, talk to your boss and volunteer to be let go. Unlike when you quit, if you’re laid off you’ll probably be eligible for unemployment compensation. That will help your transition to whatever you’re doing next.
What About Your Resume?
Yes, your resume and future job applications may look less than ideal if you quit too many jobs. But there are a few tricks to making them look as good as they can.
First, leave a few things off the resume. A job you had for a week isn’t relevant, is it? If you have many past jobs to choose from, include the ones that are most relevant to the position you’re applying for, and don’t mention the others.
What about that part on the application where they ask why you left a previous position? No problem; as a complex human being you always have multiple reasons for quitting, so just choose one your new employer prefers to hear. He doesn’t need to know you just get bored with jobs after the first few months (yes, I’m talking about myself).
What about those gaps that employers hate to see in a job history? The fact that you took a year off to read poetry won’t impress most employers. You need to fill those gaps with something else.
One solution is to always have a small business on the side. Then, if there is a gap in your employment record, you were “focusing on your business.” If your business is incorporated, you can even put yourself down as an employee during those otherwise blank stretches.
It also helps to round off the dates of previous employment. For example, if you quit a job in January and started another in November of the same year, writing down just the years you worked at each will make it appear as if there is no gap.
I’m not suggesting lying, but employers who look at your resume probably won’t tell you the bad things about working for them, so why should you volunteer negative information?
Of course, no matter how many tricks you use, if you quit too many jobs, your resume will suffer. Just consider that part of the price you pay for job-quitting freedom.
Your Turn: Are you ready to quit your job? If you’ve quit jobs in the past, what strategies have helped you?