How to quit a job like a professional

Research from the end of 2018 suggests that almost a quarter of employees are currently considering quitting their current position. So if you’re thinking of leaving a job, you’re not alone.

The bad news is that there’s no such thing as a simple sayonara. You have contractual obligations to fulfil, a reputation to protect and a network to maintain. Plus, a melodramatic mic drop is never as satisfying as you imagine.

The good news is that, with proper planning, you’ll be in a great position to leave with your head held high and your image intact. Play your cards right, and you could even negotiate a shorter notice period or an improved contract with a new employer.

Whether you're planning to quit in order to change careers, escape a tough workplace, or increase your salary, it pays to plan how to resign. This guide will help you do just that, covering what you can expect from the process, your legal rights and obligations as well as top tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

Introduction

Know your value

How to resign

How to renegotiate your notice period

How to quit a job the right way

Know your value

Understanding your market value is crucial to every aspect of changing jobs. It will help you decide if your job is paying you fairly, find out where your skills are most appreciated and negotiate a great deal with a potential employer. 

Knowing your value can even give you a good idea of how the resignation process will go once you decide to quit. Why? Because the specifics of your contract and resignation process will depend on industry standards, your level within the company and, most of all, your value on the job market. In other words, you can’t really know how to quit a job, only how to quit your job. 

Let’s take a look at how to calculate your market value, and what that means when you hand in your notice.

Supply and demand

The job market is dictated by the laws of supply and demand. If there is a shortage of certain skills and experiences, then employers will have a much greater need for them – and they'll have to offer higher wages or perks to attract the best talent (that’s you). At the moment, the hospitality, information and communications and construction industries are facing the biggest skills shortages. This means that workers in these industries, or with the right qualifications and transferable skills, are in a strong negotiating position.

The flip side is that when lots of workers with specific skills are looking for jobs, businesses can offer lower salaries. This is often the case in the creative industries, where entry level workers are expected to complete unpaid internships or build up portfolios before being taken on with a salary. Without experience, you'll need to find a way to show you're as dedicated as the candidates who put in the hours early on for love, not money.

As well as affecting pay and benefits, the laws of supply and demand also impact on contract terms. The most in-demand workers will frequently have contracts with a longer notice period (more on that later), and possibly even clauses preventing you from joining a competitor for a set period of time. So before you accept a role or hand in your notice, you'll need to check your contract to see how long you're tied to your current role.

Market factors

To see whether you’re in demand, you’ll need to do a little research. First, use a salary calculator to get the going rate for someone in your position. Next, drill down into the detail with the following factors:

  • Industry. Look at whether your sector is one of those currently struggling to find good workers. Industry publications and trade bodies, as well as financial news organisations like the FT, are great resources for this.
  • Skills. Your role isn’t all about the industry. If you’re a manager, it’s about people skills. If you’re in logistics, it’s your knowledge of systems. Make sure to look for roles across multiple sectors to see where your skills are most valued.
  • Experience. Senior roles are often only available to staff with several years of experience, so don’t sell yourself short – find the roles which require workers who’ve done their time in the trenches and are ready to step up.
  • Location. Skills shortages vary dramatically by region. Just because you earn £25k in the South East doesn’t mean you’ll earn the same in the West Midlands. Search similar roles across the country to find out how earnings in your area compare to jobs elsewhere.
  • Job adverts. Finally, assess those laws of supply and demand by seeing how many companies are looking for employees like you. This will change based on the time of year, developments in the industry and politics – so check in regularly to find the right moment to make the switch.

Bargaining power

All that research will tell you your market value. However, your true worth lies with what you can negotiate. That means using the data you’ve gathered to seal a great deal.

If you're still at the stage where you’d consider staying in your job, it’s worth bargaining with your boss before you hand in your notice. You can bet they’ll be sceptical about your findings, but if you have specific examples that show your worth, along with clear, fair comparisons of jobs elsewhere they will listen. Just don’t exaggerate or embellish the truth – it’ll come back to haunt you.

If you're negotiating with a potential new employer, wait until an offer’s on the table. You’ll be in a stronger position because you'll already know they want you on board. Next, weigh up the terms based on your research to see if they’re fair. They’ll usually have a salary range in mind and could have some leeway, or be willing to throw in extras like bonuses or perks like parking for the right candidate. As long as you’re realistic, there’s no harm in asking.  

Value vs values

When weighing up your offers, remember that money isn’t everything. If your boss is willing to look at other job satisfaction concerns like training, promotion opportunities or work-life balance, seriously consider whether this is worth more to you than what a rival can offer.  

Likewise, if a potential employer offers amazing working conditions or experience of a whole new sector, you may find this more fulfilling that a bigger pay packet. A recent study suggests that more than a third of workers are unhappy because of bad management or feeling undervalued. A fresh start in a company you connect with could be all you need to put a spring in your step.

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How to resign

In theory, all you have to do when leaving a job is hand in your notice. In other words, formally tell your boss that you intend to leave, then work the required notice period. In practice, it's important to do so in a considerate, smooth and even productive manner.  

Get it right and you’ll find there are lots of long-term benefits. For example:

  • You might find your boss is ready to make changes to keep you. This could mean you get a better deal without even leaving, or that you can approach your new potential employer to see if they’ll make a counter offer.
  • Most employers require more than one reference, and the more recent, the better. It’s great to have someone who’ll vouch for you when you need it.
  • Your reputation always precedes you, especially in the internet age. You don’t want your old colleagues bad-mouthing you – it's much better to have them singing your praises.
  • A strong network is valuable. Leaving on good terms and helping your current colleagues prepare for your departure makes it more likely they’ll support you if you cross paths in the future.

Know your notice period

Every employment contract has a notice period. Put simply, this is the amount of time you have to continue in your job after you’ve informed them you’re quitting. It’s there to give the company time to plan for life after you leave. Generally, the more valuable you are, the lengthier your notice period will be. That’s because it can take longer to find and train a person in a highly specialised job.

Sometimes your contract will state a specific amount of time. This is referred to as a contractual notice period. Because it’s in the contract you signed when you took the job, it can’t be changed without agreement from management. If your contract doesn’t specify a time frame, that means you only have to work for the statutory notice period. This is a government-set standard, and is the same for every contract that doesn’t specify a notice period – regardless of the industry or role.

Statutory notice periods apply once you’ve been in a job for over a month, when you’ll be required to give one week’s notice before leaving. Once you’ve been in the job for over two years, that rises to two weeks notice, and another week is added for every year’s continuous employment after that. (So three years = three weeks notice, four years = four weeks etc.)

Pick your moment

Don’t tell everyone in the office you’re thinking about or planning to resign. It’s disruptive, it’s rude and it won’t endear you to your manager. Remember, you’ve still got to stick around for at least your notice period, and you have a reputation to maintain even after you've left.

When you're planning your departure, think about the following factors before handing in your notice:

  • Your notice period. When you're job seeking, your notice will factor into negotiations with potential new employers. They need to know when you’ll arrive, and may need you by a certain date.
  • Any projects you have underway. Bailing in the middle of something can leave your employer in the lurch and make your departure difficult. Avoid it if you can.
  • Staffing struggles. If you're the latest in a long line of leavers, you may want to hold off on the resignation to help out the team. If you're trying to renegotiate your contract, you'll be in strong position, but taking advantage of your company's weakness is unlikely to be forgotten.
  • Transition tasks. Already have an offer on the table and need to move fast? Think about how you can train or pass work on to colleagues. It'll be easier for your manager to take the news, and working your notice will be less stressful.

Hand in your notice

To officially quit, you need to hand in a resignation letter. However, that’s not how to quit a job. To do it properly, and get those long-term benefits we mentioned in the intro, you’ll need to resign in a more careful, considerate way.

Start the process by arranging a private meeting with your manager. Use this chance to explain the situation, briefly outlining why you’re thinking of leaving. You don’t have to say if you have a job offer, and you certainly don’t have to tell them who from, but if you’re open to negotiating the decision you can choose to reveal specific details.

Your manager may ask for feedback on why you’re leaving. Again, you don’t have to answer. You do, however, have to weigh up how you respond. On the one hand, you want to be useful and constructive to maintain good relations. On the other hand, you don’t want to say too much and risk offending them. You can use your considerate transition plans as a clear sign you’ve thought about their side of the situation too.

After you’ve navigated the official meeting, you don’t have to hand in your letter of resignation immediately. Feel free to ask for time to think if you need it.  

Once you’re ready, draft your official notice. A good resignation letter will be short, professional and demonstrate that you'll honour your contractual terms (by working your notice, for example). Once that’s submitted and accepted, you can’t take it back without the agreement of your boss.

Work your notice

Even with the best laid plans, working your notice can feel awkward. You won’t be given new work and you’ll gradually have responsibility taken away. Although in some cases, you may be required to train up a replacement.

If you work with sensitive information, or have close client relationships, your employer may choose to remove your access. This is a precautionary measure to prevent you taking valuable clients or information to a rival, so you shouldn’t take it personally.

However it pans out, the key things to remember are to remain professional and understanding. It’s the best way to maintain a good reputation.

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How to renegotiate your notice period

Your notice is a legal requirement that’s laid out in your contract, but that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. There are a number of circumstances in which you and/or your employer may change, reduce or waive your notice period.

Contractual clauses

In some industries, it’s common to place an employee on ‘gardening leave’ when they move to a rival. This means that you'll remain employed by your company, and paid for your notice period, but you won't be allowed to work for them - or to join your new employer. It’s used as a way of preventing you taking contacts, clients or intellectual property with you when you leave.

Some contracts also allow for ‘pay instead of notice’. Usually applied in cases of redundancy, rather than resignation, this allows the company to pay your wages without you needing to come to work. It functions a little like gardening leave, but is often used when it’s felt a worker is a disruptive presence. If you think your job switch warrants it, you can negotiate this outcome even if your employer hasn't offered it. This may be useful if you’re going to work for a competitor.

Another useful tool in negotiating shorter notice periods is your annual leave. Contractually, your employer has to pay you for any outstanding leave. It’s not unusual to request that the leave be offset against your notice instead. So if you have a four week notice period and a week of holiday, you can ask to just work three weeks instead of getting the extra holiday pay.

 

Compromise

When you’re negotiating a more complex situation, or trying to navigate a long notice period, it may be that your employer will look to draft a compromise agreement. This is a fresh legal document that redrafts the terms of your departure.

In this case, you should be fully prepared to bring all of your arguments to the table. Show your employer how quickly you can train replacements, be ready to trade in that extra holiday pay and even play up your value as a future contact if you can. As long as you don’t oversell yourself, it will help you get the notice period you need.

If you sign an official compromise agreement, you should expect to see a 'right to waiver' clause in there. Essentially this is the text that confirms you’re waiving some or all of your notice period, in exchange for the terms you’ve agreed with your boss.

Common legal loopholes

If you really can’t reach an agreement, there are arguments of last resort that can affect how quickly you can get out of (or are shown) the door. They are:

  • Breach of contract. A contract works both ways, and if you can prove your employer has breached their side of the bargain, then all terms (including notice periods) are void.
  • Summary dismissal. If an employer is really riled by your departure, they may try to dismiss you without notice for gross misconduct. However, without a proper investigation and a fair hearing, you have every right to an employment tribunal to challenge their decision.
  • Counter-notice. If the cat’s out of the bag, and your employer dismisses you, you can still respond. After being fired, you are within your rights to give counter-notice and leave at an earlier date than your notice period.

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How to quit a job the right way

There’s no such thing as quitting a job, only quitting your job. If you’re considering or planning resigning, you need to take into account the full process, and what your next steps will be, before you set the ball rolling.

Here are our top tips on how to quit a job:

 

1. Get an overview of your market value.

2. Find out your available career options.

3. Draft a simple, clear letter giving formal notice of your intent to leave.

4. Arrange a private meeting to tell your boss about your decision.

5. Negotiate the terms of your notice period, based on the details in your contract.

6. Plan for the transition to help your boss and team cope once you’re gone.

7. Serve your notice diligently and professionally to maintain your reputation and keep good contacts.

Still in the decision-making stage of the process? Visit our jobs search facility and make the most of our filters to really drill down into your options. Remember to search for related roles and jobs in different areas to give you the best chance of finding that dream position. Or, if you’re in no great rush, why not upload your CV to our website and let the recruiters come to you?

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How to know when it’s time to resign from your job?