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How to Quit Your Job (onlyonceblog.com)
34 points by hunterwalk on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

This may actually be true at Return Path, but in my nearly 20 years of software developer experience, I've only seen a couple of companies for which I believe this would be good advice.

At most places the common wisdom holds and you should keep your job seeking activity a secret until you are ready to resign and give your two-weeks (at least, I've given more than two weeks in a few cases where the circumstances warranted it).

As soon as you even hint that you're thinking of leaving you will be seen as "the other" and a bit of a traitor up and down the chain except perhaps by your peers who will envy you (in most cases the things that drive you away are likely making their job overly stressful as well).

A lot of companies (even dedicated software shops, which is kind of mind boggling, but true IME) like to delude themselves into thinking programmers are just human resources like box lifters and with the proper amount of process you can just easily fit someone else into the role being vacated. They maintain this illusion even while knowing their people are thinking about leaving. In my experience it isn't until you make it official with a resignation letter that they snap out of this and go into "oh shit" mode and then attempt to offer real change. But by then it is too late, you've probably already accepted another job and mentally prepared to leave and unless the concessions are extremely, extremely substantial (and guaranteed somehow in your favor) you should virtually always just stick with leaving.

Agree with this advice. There are many immature, egoistic, self-absorbent founders (consciously emulating wrong traits of Steve Jobs) that it is always better to play it safe, and leave like a professional instead of risking back-lashes, burning bridges by being open and forth-coming. What if you get fired immediately on the spot? People with work visa's should play the cards even close to their chest as their immigration status is tied to their employment. It takes a lot of courage, self-awareness, emotional maturity and discipline from management to handle situations like these. Most people cant handle a rejection. I am privy to two cases where people were fired on the spot when the management got to know they were actively interviewing or openly communicated that they are planning to move on. If you have a family to support, children and a mortgage err on the side of caution. Don't be naive.

At a smaller tech company (not sure how big Return Path is) it feels like so much investment is put into each hire that they don't really have the "replaceable parts" metaphor - and I know I'd rather know someone was unhappy and try to fix the reasons why, than suddenly learn they were going.

I agree that the last-minute counter-offer can be way too late. (It's also pretty unfair if you've already accepted another job - I've heard of several cases of startups trying to hire people employed at larger companies who had the hire fall through due to a generous counter-offer.)

I personally think it's always a bad idea to accept a counter-offer even if the only reason for your departure is money.

Most of the things that drive you to leave are unlikely to change, and if you have to quit to get the money you think you deserve, what will you have to do to get raises in the future?

So I should tip my hand and let people know I'm looking for other opportunities? If I'm looking for another position chances are I've already spoken to my managers about things I'd like to see changed and they haven't listened. Telling someone I'm looking for another job offers no strategic advantage to me. If I get an offer and there is a counter-offer and I accept, I'm still the guy with no loyalty to the business and seen as expendable. Someone to be punished for daring to look outside the organization. Nothing good can come from that. I might give you two weeks if I think it will be honored and we can gracefully part ways.

But let me tell you a little story about giving two weeks notice. I quit a startup this year because I wanted some things addressed and they were never addressed. Mainly dispute over equity and control of IP I had brought to the business from my previous startup. I laid this out in conversations, meetings, and in emails. They knew I wanted something done. But nothing happened. So I put my two weeks in and got an email back from the CEO almost instantly - I wouldn't have to wait two weeks they were letting me go immediately. And he cc'd almost everyone in the company. That's what being a nice guy gets you, a walk out the door.

On the flip side, I had a junior dev quit without ever addressing any of his issues with me. Even in reviews where I asked him if he had any issues and even when I made it clear that he could come talk to me with any problems he had.

We still had him work out his last two weeks and took him out to happy hour his second to last night... and then his last day he never showed up to do an exit interview and finish some handoffs.

I don't know the particulars of the case you're talking about, but sometimes even if you're working at a place that you like and you aren't actively looking for work, other work finds you and you wind up with an offer that is far more attractive than your current place.

This is why companies should always be proactively adjusting compensation, perks, etc to retain the people they can't afford to lose, though very few actually do this. In the end though, even if a company does keep up on the retaining side there are lots of reasons (eg. more interesting technical stack, new project instead of maintaining old one, etc) why someone who is mostly happy may still leave a job for another.

Having said all of that, it sucks that the dev didn't show up for the last day. I hate exit interviews, but I'll still do them.

> This is why companies should always be proactively adjusting compensation, perks, etc to retain the people they can't afford to lose, though very few actually do this.

Precisely. It's amazing how quickly some companies will only take a reactive approach to retaining top employees, then sit stunned when they walk out the door.

The last job I left, my current employer counter-offered to match my new salary, and tossed out a "discretionary bonus" they supposedly had been planning to give me as an incentive to stay. I politely declined.

What's funny is if they had taken me aside before I even considered looking for a new job, and simply said something like, "Hey, you're doing a great job. We want to give you /raise|bonus|perk/ to let you know you're appreciated" it would have meant the world, at least in my eyes, and I wouldn't have begun considering other opportunities.

As was pointed out earlier in the thread, sometimes good work finds you, and in cases like that there really isn't much your employer can do, but I think the larger point is often there are a lot of things they CAN do to retain good employees and a lot of companies aren't doing them.

No, just no. There is absolutely no upside to the employee in doing an exit intervew; rather than going into details, Nick "Ask the Headhunter" Corcodilos lays it out very well: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/haexit.htm First graph:

"Exit interviews fascinate me like cockroaches do. An exit interview is the meeting a company's human resources department has with an employee who has been terminated or who has resigned. Like the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions, exit interviews are the cockroaches of the human resources world: no one knows why they exist, no one can justify or eliminate them, and they will likely survive into the third millennium."

Like I said, I hate them. I'll still do them, though. I don't mind jumping through the hoop and if the company really wants to hear the reasons I left, so be it, I will tell them bluntly and honestly. If they ask me personal questions I don't wish to answer, I will refuse to answer them. But I'll do the interview if they really want to do it (assuming, of course, I'm still living on their dime).

Personally, I'm glad I co-operated with my previous employer by delving into the specific factors that led to my decision to leave. Despite the fact that I obviously left, I really liked those people, and sometimes you go out on a limb for people you like.

My feedback provided a written-down justification for investing in some much-needed improvements to the way they built software. A few things tangibly improved as a direct result, and that is valuable to me.

Likewise, as an engineering manager and not an HR drone (my company doesn't even have HR yet), the point of my exit interview is to improve my team and company. The hope is that a departing employee can feel a little more free about giving feedback.

I suppose the flip side is that people will say I should be eliciting that feedback all the time, and I do, but there's a difference between giving feedback to your superior and your former superior.

This is something one has to make a judgement call on. E.g. in your case it didn't necessarily help you, but you judged correctly that it might help your friends.

At that point you have a risk/reward trade off, and an absolute "NO!" rule that's based on the generally correct perception there's no reward is less relevant. BTW, did you give this feedback to HR or to a manager type? Headhunter Corcodilos is particularly inveighing against the former, although a lot of his points apply in all circumstances. And he does allow for doing this with the right person, with a strong recommendation of waiting a couple weeks after you're gone.

To finish, there's always the question of "Why will they listen this time?", but, hey, I was born, raised and have retired to Missouri, where we're famous for our mules. And I was told the first rule in interacting with them is to get their attention with a sturdy piece of wood. I'm sure in some situations, especially the ones where you know all the players, that can actually work, even if it takes something even more drastic like resigning.

Hmmm, you might even point out that they should try playing this game before they lose the next person....

My view is that if you're still hanging around on their dime, you should do it.

If you think they're useless (which they are), there's nothing forcing you to give them honest or straight answers to their questions.

If the employer needs two weeks and an exit interview, the employer can stipulate a severance package that rewards two weeks and an exit interview, legally, right?

I expressly declined to participate in my last one.

After researching the topic online, I found that there's negative value to the employee in those interviews. For example: complaints will get back to managers, reducing their value as references.

They serve no higher purpose other than to make things easier for the employer in the event of a post-departure lawsuit.

>> For example: complaints will get back to managers, reducing their value as references.

Isn't it a good practice to only use references who are already in your back pocket?

>> They serve no higher purpose other than to make things easier for the employer in the event of a post-departure lawsuit.

In my mind, the only purpose they serve is to justify the existence/value of the HR department.

> In my mind, the only purpose they serve is to justify the existence/value of the HR department.

You guys must not have any management or team lead experience. I'm an engineering manger who does a lot more engineering than managing but that said, if someone is leaving my team I'd like some time to sit and discuss why for my own benefit. Feedback on things we can improve, things that work well, etc. I'm sure big companies have shitty exit interviews but if you're a team lead or manager and you don't want to discuss why your employee is leaving then you seriously need to reexamine your management philosophy.

Well, I've got more than 10 years of management and team lead experience.

You don't need an exit interview. I usually know when people are unhappy before they even quit. While I do not try to be friends with people who have worked for me, they've known me to be straightforward and honest and to not be a puppet of the higher ups. Most of them have had no issue letting me know their grievances as they occur during normal working life, and they have a good idea of what changes are within my scope of control and those that are not.

Also, the best time to ask those questions is when you're being handed the resignation letter. If your track record with the employee is good, i.e., they know you don't get bitter about them leaving, you'll probably get pretty honest and truthful responses. A formal exit interview in my mind is a waste of time.

In my own experience workplaces simply don't change based on complaints from the bottom up.

A junior dev that perceived everyone else as being okay with the status quo probably thought it was easier to find another opportunity than to rock the boat. Add to it that strategic job hopping virtually guarantees a raise or promotion faster and better than waiting for your current employer to do so and I would totally do what your junior dev did.

I'm sure you realize this now, but the right time (really, the only time it's possible) to resolve equity and IP issues is before you start. And get it all in writing.

If you start working as an employee without getting this done, you have zero leverage.

Exactly my thoughts. I think in majority of cases people try a lot before they decide to quit. Why should people suddenly start listening to your ideas now? Isn't that like blackmail? Unless they get an offer that is out of this world by chance in which case they can't give the notice anyway.

Some companies really do have a policy that if you quit (especially if you're leaving to work at a competitor, say for example you're quitting Microsoft to go work at Google) they will call security on the spot and escort you out.

They always have policies in place to protect themselves. That's why I have my own policies and don't pretend they are my friends. And just like them, my reason will be: It's just business.

That's a pretty stupid policy. If you wanted to steal the company's proprietary information, you could easily have done so just before resigning, when you would have been under no suspicion. And if they escort you out immediately, they have no chance of getting an orderly transition from you to your successor: you walk out with all the useful knowledge in your head and they'll never have access to it again.

Might be a stupid policy for the company-- but depending on where you live, it can be a win for the person leaving.

Where I live, if the employer waives notice and walks you out, you end up getting some free paid time off, without the drudgery of writing documentation and doing other boring transition tasks.

I'm in Texas and we have at-will employment. You want super-easy hiring and firing, that's great. But because you can fire me at the drop of a hat, I cannot take the risk in tipping my hand. Feeding my family is more important to me than the health of your company. I'm not going to rage quit, and I'm going to try to change jobs when we're in a slow part of a cycle, but I cannot discuss it before hand.

Sorry. That's just the reality of the situation. We could move back to employment contracts and you would have a much more stable employee base. I would openly discuss my plans for the end of my contract ahead of time. But that would probably be too stable and rigid.

In looking up at-will employment for Georgia I realized that's pretty much every state FWIW. Luckily it's a two-way street. You can fire me for anything but I can also leave for anything. A two-weeks notice is just something I do out of the goodness of my heart not at all a requirement for literally any state. To that point, it shouldn't be frowned upon if for whatever reason you simply don't or can't (i.e. the offer is too good and they want you there yesterday) provide one.

Also regarding your "rage quit" and "try to change jobs when we're in a slow part" doesn't always work. Sometimes your job never slows down and you're pushed to the very point of a rage quit.

I'm not saying all this to promote ill behavior as a life choice. I generally want to give 2 weeks notice and not be in a position where I feel rage but that can't realistically apply to every situation and I should never feel terrible if I chose either. If I made a habit of it? I would have to seriously question my ability to acquire jobs because you shouldn't want to rage quit from every place you've ever worked...

A solution could be to have a sort of tenure track for employees. Probably not as strict as university tenure, but still enough for neither side to worry about things changing unexpectedly.

That would let employers fire "mistake" hires (whose faults are obvious within a couple months) while getting stability in the long-term.

In Portugal, we have either contracts that renew yearly (where you are forced to give a two-weeks notice) or contracts that are "permanent", where you have to give a months' notice (under two years) or two months notice (over two years).

For "permanent" contracts, there is a 6 months experimental period where both the employer and the employee can terminate the contract with no notice at all.

This gives enough time to get to know a new hire and fix any mistakes. After that, both parties have a penalty for breaking the contract (an advance notice for the employee, or a severance pay for the employer).

Lots of companies do do this, you can become an Intel Fellow for example.

Got as far as - "if you're thinking about leaving, have a conversation with someone in management and discuss that you might be leaving".

Here's some, albeit free, advice. DO NOT do that.

This is horrible. Do this if you're looking to be fired unexpectedly in the future.

If someone gives this kind of ultimatum and the employer doesn't want to give in, the employer will drag along the conversion while they start looking for a replacement. I'm sure that's a wonderful thing for this CEO... he'll find a replacement, get the naive employee to train the new guy in his role, and then fire him first chance he gets. WIN-WIN for the CEO, huh? Well fuck that.

> If you are contemplating looking around for something else, you should let someone know at the thinking stage.

On behalf of your employees: If you are contemplating letting people go, you should let them know at the thinking stage. Wouldn't anything less be hypocritical?

I have done this the last 2 times I changed jobs. It worked out well for me both times. If you are considered to be a valuable employee, and you have management that is the least bit competent, you won't "just be replaced" for looking around. Why would they trade you, an employee who has proven herself to be valuable, for someone who just might be adequate? Also consider that we currently have a talent crunch on. No company with high standards for engineers is able to hire as many as they would like to.

It is a great idea to tell your employer that you're looking around, because it frees you to tell friends and former colleagues that you are looking for a job without having to worry that your employer will find out. In my experience you can get great job leads this way. This also gives you the opportunity to control the job search process such that you have multiple offers available at once, which improves your leverage.

When I do this I let every company that I am interested in know that I have a deadline by which I need to receive a job offer or not. Typically this deadline is my search start date + 1 month. After that I have a 2-week negotiation window, at the end of which I will accept 0 or 1 new jobs. This gives me a lot of leverage in soliciting counteroffers and minimizing stupid recruiter games like exploding offers.

Do be aware that if you follow this strategy some recruiters will bitterly resent you. This is because they know exactly what you are doing and how it minimizes the informational asymmetry that is one of their most important weapons.

The whole post talks about how hard it is for the company and how the employee should make it easier for the company. It doesn't work that way.

I wonder if Return Path were contemplating layoffs if they would be completely transparent and open a dialog with the target employees. Likely no, they would do the standard approach of a surprise meeting, a box to pack your personal items, and security supervision to the door.

I imagine they would drop obvious "hints". From my friends who've gotten laid off most of them said they could "see it coming".

I am not sure if that's being transparent though.

I can attest to this in countless examples from my own life. The problem is it's hardly quantifiable at all. It's a "feeling" that isn't always easy to pick up on and quite frequently you can be fed wrong information to make you think the ship is sinking when it's really just taking a new direction (that you may or may not be or want to be a part of).

The analogy I use is rats know when to abandon a sinking ship. If you're a pirate sailing along and see a shitload of rats jumping off your pimp ass boat, you better be joining them lest you actually want to sink with it. That's reserved for captains (CEOs) not us regular folk.

This is ridiculous. If you're smart and not complacent, you're probably always looking around for something else, maybe not super-actively, but possibly doing a phone interview every now and then, writing back to recruiters, and a smart company should take that for granted, for all its employees. The job market is a market.

You don't need any "reason" to consider other options, except for the obvious one: there always might be something better out there, and you'll only know if you're looking.

Your satisfaction in your current job is its own issue, and you should talk about that with superiors/etc. whenever necessary and possible.

But there's no reason to tell your boss about a job-hunting unless you already have an actual offer and you're contemplating taking it. Let's not hide the fact that the job market is built on negotiation.

This is bad advice. Business is business no matter how many times you claim your team is like "family" or "friends". One place I worked at was very friendly and supportive. One day the founders, who are still my friends and mentors, faced an extremely lucrative acquisition offer that resulted in firing half of the team, myself included. They announced and completed the whole transaction in a matter of days, and I don't blame them - if they announced too early, people would have fled or leaked the negotiations, failing the deal of their lives. So when time comes, even the friendliest management will not give you any warnings, why should you? There is nothing to gain.

There's an old saying, if your boss is your friend, he's either a bad friend or a bad boss. There's nothing wrong with partitioning your relationships into work and play.

This arrangement sounds great, theoretically. At previous jobs I left, I constantly thought about trying to set up this sort of open conversation with my manager, and laying out my reasons for considering making a change.

I never did it. Not once. I conducted my search in secret, gave my notice, thanked them for the opportunity and moved on.

At the end of the day, despite all of the assurances from my manager and my employer about having an "open dialogue" about my concerns or reasons for looking elsewhere, there's simply no assurance that they won't walk out of the meeting already having me blacklisted as someone looking to jump ship. I have to take their word for it they will work to address my concerns, and there won't be any future resentment or even retribution. When it comes to something like my career, I just can't afford to make that gamble.

More often than not, this isn't nearly as much about employee satisfaction, retention and growth as it is protecting the employer from the potential impact of an employee leaving unexpectedly.

It's not always a good idea to this. More of than not, probably. Many times if you tell them you're going to start looking, they're going to start looking, too. And if they find someone and you don't? Well, the potential new hire may start to look really good while you, depending on your reasoning, are starting to look really shitty right about then.

I've had mixed results here. The one time I did this and it was well-received, the company was already in the middle of hiring a swatch of new people, including some in my direct product/line. The other time, the manager/COO/CEO didn't take it nearly so well, despite my reason for leaving having little to do with them at all. I just got a better opportunity that I knew my employer at the time could never offer, including a 50% pay raise (to start). I'm pretty sure if I hadn't of found something, I'd have been out the door in any case...


And I'm sure that you'd fully reciprocate. You know, give me a heads-up that sales were down this quarter and you're considering laying me off? So I can be adequately prepared? Because that would be VERY PAINFUL.

You should bring up the underlying issues with management or HR, sure. But this is essentially saying you've got to threaten to leave before your concerns will be taken seriously.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words. If you want employees to give you a heads up before leaving, you need to foster the kind of environment where an employee would feel comfortable giving you advanced notice.

Where I work now, the guy I replaced stuck around for a month or more to interview people (hiring me in the process) and transition and bring me up to speed. I'm not looking to leave but I've seen how (well) my employer treats someone in the "I'm leaving" situation so I would feel comfortable letting my employer know before hand.

I read a blog once where the author encouraged employers to treat past employees as "alumni", keep open future communication and even possibly hire them again at some point and benefit from the skills they've acquired in meantime.

Someone just alerted me to this thread, and WOW - there's a lot here! Instead of responding to each individual comment, let me just note two things.

First, my post was not intended to be general advice to employees of all companies on how to handle a situation where they're starting to look for jobs. Of course, many environments would not respond well to that approach. My point was just that that's how we encourage employees to handle the situation at Return Path, and we have created a safe environment to do so. By the way, it doesn't happen here 100% of the time either, by any stretch of the imagination. But I wish it did. When it happens, it's better for everyone -- the company as well as the employee, who either (a) ends up staying because we resolve some issue we weren't aware of, or (b) has a less stressful and more graceful transition out.

Second, the way we run our business is around a bit of a social contract -- that is to say, a two-way street. And just as we ask employees to start a dialog with us when they are thinking of leaving, we absolutely, 100% of the time, are open and transparent with employees when they are in danger of being fired (other than the occasional urgent "for cause" situation). We give people ample opportunity to correct performance and even fit issues. In terms of someone's question below about lay-offs, we fortunately haven't had to do those since 2001, but if I recall, even then, we were extremely transparent about our financial position and that we might need to cut jobs in 30 days.

Happy to jump in on other comments as well or respond individually at matt at returnpath dot com.

If a job is so bad that I see no recourse other than leaving, two weeks notice isn't going to happen. I'll leave whenever I feel like it and I won't tell a single soul other than HR as I walk out the door. This is my life and I decide what happens. Now, if I don't need to vote with my feet then courtesy certainly prevails. I don't need to tell my boss that I'm looking at other opportunities. Now, if I happen to mention that Google called and expressed interest in me, my boss has an opportunity to let me know my value. I can also return the favor and let my boss know that I turned down an opportunity at Facebook. Communication is key, but don't give up a strategic advantage by blabbing.

I have no doubt that the information in that posting, if followed, makes operations easier at Return Path.

I can not say the same about how that would benefit any individual employee.

The technique in this post doesn't account for an intrinsic people problem in organizations: butthurt.

Use "I quit" to quit your job and use whatever the author tells you to get fired.

Two weeks? It's a month minimum in the UK when permanently employed, and can be more depending on contract (I had a 3 month notice period at one job.) Oddly, the extra 2 or so weeks really makes no difference with hand overs!

In the US it technically varies state to state though most states are now "at will", you can leave at any time (you can just walk out one day and never return and that's legal though rude) and the two weeks is just a common courtesy.

The flip side of this is the company can fire or lay you off at anytime. So while 2 weeks notice may not seem like a lot, the system we have here is actually potentially much harsher for employees than employers.

As with the 2 week notice courtesy from employees to employers, most places will offer some sort of severance pay to soften the blow, entice employees to sign an NDA and smooth over any legal challenges that might pop up despite the "at will" employment situation.

In ths US, as far as I know in most places, two weeks is a courtesy, not a requirement (unless you have some kind of contract that says otherwise). You can tell your boss "I quit" and walk out and never return and it's perfectly legal (though probably not wise, depending on circumstances).

I don't believe it's at-will employment though in the UK.

You have to give a month's notice because your employer can't arbitrarily show up at your desk, say pack up your stuff and get out of the building within the hour (with security hovering around you and your computer locked down) and this is the last day we're paying you for.

Here in Sweden it's usually three months for any long time employment. One month for short term.

Reading about zero or two weeks notice here makes me thinking what that does for the job market. On the one hand it surely makes for more movement, on the other hand it must make for a more ruthless job market. One of the upsides that I perceive with the three months notice is that it makes you think long and well about quitting, and encourages you to work things out. You don't just rage quit, because you'll have some three uncomfortable months.

If however, things really don't work out and both parts acknowledges this, you often come to an agreement of parting earlier.

Exactly what does the "minimum" mean here? I always wondered that. If you just walk out the door without saying anything and don't come back, what will they do? Are the police going to come drag you out of your home and force you to sit at a desk? Do you get fined or something? I'm pretty sure that, everywhere I've worked, you're free to do that if you want to, and there aren't really any consequences besides your now-former employer being unhappy with you, along with any other potential employers that find out.

If you don't stay for the minimum number of days that you have to as an advance notice, I'd say that (if the UK is similar to other EU countries) you'd have to compensate your employer for that. And that would mean something like paying them what they would have paid you for the number of days that you missed, plus any damages resulting from those missing days.

This enforced by law, so if you don't pay, they would just throw you in court.

> We invest heavily in our people.

Is not the same as loyalty.

They will drop you faster than you would drop them.

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