This is How to Quit Your Job

I learned some unforgettable lessons about how to be a successful working professional when I was first starting out. I’m talking high school; the first-job timeframe.

I worked at a popular hamburger joint in San Antonio. My boss’s name was Mike. That’s about all I remember of him on a personal note; except I also remember his mustache. It was lush and covered much of the space between his nose and his mouth. It left an impression.

Mike with the Mustache offered me my first piece of professional advice. It came on the heels of me handing in my resignation, which caused quite a stir. The first problem was I had only worked there one week. Just long enough to get trained and come to appreciate how hard it was to make burgers. Oh, and clean the entire kitchen at the end of a shift. Mad respect all the burger-slingers out there. The second problem was I gave him no notice. I was out the next day.

Not sure if my reasons matter; but for your benefit, I was a senior looking to bank some cash before college. I was already overcommitted with schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but for some reason, I thought I could handle a night job, too. As soon as the burger schedule went up, I realized I could not do it all. School was my priority and I had to quit making burgers.

These are Mike’s words that stayed with me: “A bit of advice as you go off to college and start your career. It is a professional courtesy to give your employer a two-week notice.”

Maybe that’s common knowledge for most high school students, but it was news to me. I came to understand that this allows the employer space to find a replacement and sometimes transfer knowledge and skills. For longer-term employees it provides closure.

I thanked him for the advice and handed in my apron after working another week. I never slung burgers again, and Mike eventually moved on, but each time I visit that restaurant I remember Mike’s words. And his mustache.

Ironically enough, I went on to work in Human Resources. Twenty-something years later and I’ve paid forward this advice many times. I’ve also discovered a truly polished exit requires more than just a two-week notice and that when someone quits a job they fall into one of three categories:

The Coaster gives notices but packs up and checks out. They drift through their final days, hardly doing any work, but still collect a paycheck to the end.

The Bridge-Burner disintegrates all goodwill they generated during their tenure. They job-abandon, quit without notice, or behave in senseless ways that make people say "shouldn’t they be gone already?"

The Finisher inspires co-workers to cry, “I hope we work together again.”

I’ve seen all varieties. Most recently I watched a coworker’s classy departure set what I believe is the standard for how to quit a job the right way. Here’s what the best Finishers do:

  1. Give a two-week notice or more.
  2. Notify close colleagues, internal contacts, customers or vendors.
  3. Make it personal; share stories of how others made an impact on you.
  4. Maintain respect and trust. This isn’t the time to start gossiping or sharing secrets.
  5. Keep attending meetings and completing tasks.
  6. Create job aids for your replacement.
  7. Make a list of outstanding action items.
  8. Swap personal information with those whom you wish to keep in touch.
  9. Leave phone and email out-of-office notifications directing people to new contacts.
  10. Allow closure. Your colleagues may throw you a going-away party. Show up.

In today’s volatile job market, talented people are evaluating their options. If that’s you, then you may soon find yourself uttering these two little words: “I quit.” Remember, though, announcing your intentions is only the beginning. While your legacy may be partly defined by your time on a job it may be redefined by how you leave.

When it comes to shaping a successful and enduring career, your final impression is just as important as your first. What do you want the coworkers of today to say about you tomorrow? How will you finish?

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.