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How to Leave a Job on Good Terms | Part 1

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

Illustration of how to leave a job, with doodles of a yellow hand, orange flower, sun, and cloud.
Illustration by Marian Blair

There’s no better feeling than accepting a job offer that you worked incredibly hard to get. That is, until you realize you have to tell your current manager that you’re leaving.

What can you say to your boss to preserve your relationship? How will they take the news? And once you’ve told them, what can you do next to ensure a smooth transition that benefits both you and the organization you’re leaving?

You’re not the only one who’s had to face these questions.

Drawing from career experts and social-impact professionals who have been in your shoes, this two-part series recommends several steps to leaving your job on good terms. In Part 1, we focus on what to say to your manager and co-workers, and how to say it.

Tell your manager and co-workers in person, if possible

Face-to-face conversations facilitate trust, which is an important component in any relationship. Telling your boss face to face that you’re leaving can reinforce the trust you’ve already established and remind them that you’re a team player, even if you’ve been less than happy in your role.

What if your manager is on leave when you need to deliver the news, or they’re impossible to get in touch with during working hours? In her Ask a Manager blog, Alison Green advises to consider what your manager would prefer before making any decisions.

Would they react well to their time off being interrupted by a work matter? If not, or if you’re unsure, you can start by giving your notice to the person you’re reporting to in their absence or to the HR department. For the busy boss, try to set an in-person meeting before resorting to email or another method. Make sure they know the topic is important and time-sensitive.

If you can’t get hold of your manager or don’t feel comfortable telling them in person, you can send a letter of resignation (an email works fine). In fact, even if you do give notice in person, most offices will want an official letter of resignation for their records.

Pro Tip: Use our resignation letter template to guide you through the process of what to include (and what to leave out) of your official letter of resignation.

Just remember that talking to your manager should be your first priority. While you may be eager to tell direct reports or colleagues that you’re leaving, you’ll want to respect how your boss prefers to handle your offboarding. If they want to be the one to share the news with others, make a list of people to follow up with in person—preserving relationships with your soon-to-be-former colleagues will serve you well in your notice period and as you continue in your career.

Express gratitude for your time at the organization

Figuring out what to say to your manager can feel as hard as figuring out how to say it. As in many situations, “thank you” (or something like it) is a good place to start.

In your conversation, you can use or adapt the language from our resignation letter template: “I can’t begin to tell you how much I have appreciated all of the opportunities I’ve had here at [ORGANIZATION NAME], and while I’m eager to embark on my next step, I know that the camaraderie and support that I’ve enjoyed as a part of your team will not be easily matched.”

A few more pointers to help this conversation go smoothly:

  • Be firm and confident when you give your notice so you don’t feel pressured to stay longer.
  • Resist the urge to over-explain yourself. While it can be helpful to mention that you’ve accepted another job (so your manager knows you have a firm date by which you need to leave), you don’t need to go into the details of your new position.
  • Anticipate the questions your manager may ask, such as what you’re doing next. You’ll also want to be prepared to handle a counter-offer, if it comes.

Give at least two weeks notice

The notice period is a courtesy to your employer and co-workers, since they will need time to determine how to handle your workload without you, and possibly hire your replacement.

Two weeks is the standard notice period, but you’re not required to give that amount. If you’re working in a hostile work environment, or there’s a personal matter that prevents you from staying any longer, you may decide that two weeks is too long to leave. One thing to keep in mind: giving less than two weeks notice could negatively impact a future reference from your organization, so make sure you truly want to cut ties.

On the flip side, you may want to give more than two weeks notice if you have a big project that is wrapping up in the next month or if your employer has accommodated—and expressed appreciation for—longer notice periods in the past.

Another thing to consider: A long notice period can make it harder to take time off between jobs (which is highly recommended).

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll talk about how to make the most of your notice period and ensure a smooth transition.


What if you’ve realized the job you just started isn’t right for you? Check out our post, How to Quit a Job You Just Started, for tips on how to leave professionally.

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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