A guide to quitting your job (and why every 20-something should do it)

A guide to quitting your job (and why you need to do it)

An article I read recently urged young people to quit their jobs.

As someone who quit her first job out of college (a gig I stayed with for two years) to move across the country and go to grad school, I couldn’t agree more.

I still remember the day I told my boss I was leaving.

With multiple people on maternity leave, the company taking on new clients and other big changes, my department had been stretched thin for weeks and was about to get even busier. But I’d been keeping the news of my acceptance into grad school to myself for months and couldn’t contain it any longer—it was time to drop the bomb. So after one of our department’s weekly meetings, I asked my manager if we could speak privately—an uncommon request. Walking down the hall toward his office, he said jokingly, “I hope you’re not leaving us.” I started, “Well…” and told him my good news. And I quit.

The Atlantic article explained what a study on youth unemployment revealed about the benefits of quitting:

“Jumping between jobs in your 20s, which strikes many people as wayward and noncommittal, improves the chance that you’ll find more satisfying—and higher paying—work in your 30s and 40s.

“People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years,” said [Henry] Siu, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics. “Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches—their true calling.””

I certainly hope that’s true. And in my experience, I’ve found other benefits as well.

The act of quitting your job builds courage. There’s nothing scarier than giving up your paycheck—possibly the first steady source of income that allowed you independence—and telling your boss you’re leaving. It takes bravery to decide it’s time to move on to something else and then act upon that realization.

It also requires serious planning (and soul-searching). You’ve hopefully put a lot of thought and consideration into why you’re quitting your job and what you’re looking for wherever you go next. If it’s more money, no shame in saying so—identify exactly how much money and put into writing the steps you’ll take to earn it. If it’s room for growth, fine—make a timeline of where you expect to be in five years and talk with potential employers about how you’ll reach that goal. If it’s not having to answer to a boss, make sure you can be productive working on your own and are comfortable playing multiple roles in self-employment.

If you’re going to quit your job, a few words of advice:

Give fair notice. No matter how uninspired a job might be, unless your work conditions are unsafe or completely unprofessional, it’s not fair to walk out on a day’s notice. Don’t burn bridges by going out in a blaze of glory. Ask your boss for a private meeting (be kind—don’t do it on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon) and give at least two weeks’ notice. Because I knew the department would need me, I gave my boss seven weeks’ notice and helped train my replacement.

Don’t focus on the negatives. Unless you’re in the tough position of quitting a job you just started (only to realize it’s completely, 100 percent wrong for you), don’t talk about what you didn’t like about your job. Maybe you were bored as hell, maybe the job wasn’t what you thought it’d be or maybe your boss’ managing tactics grated on your every last nerve—quitting time is not the time to offer critiques. Unless specifically asked what about the job could be improved or convince you to stay, speak only about what you learned or got out of the experience in a positive way. It’ll soften the blow of your departure and make you look like a class act.

Say thank you. Handwrite letters to your manager or boss, the coworkers in your department, the CEO and whomever else you worked closely with or for as a way of showing thanks. These are the people you’ve worked alongside in an important stage of your life. Thank them for being part of it. The handwritten part will floor anyone who thinks Millennials don’t value old-fashioned etiquette.

Above all, don’t quit your job if… You’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. You don’t have something else lined up. You genuinely love your job. (If so, congrats! And why are you still reading?! Go to happy hour with your coworkers already.)

When I quit my job, I realized no one is irreplaceable.

After what felt like an eternity (but was probably only a minute or so) of my rehearsed resignation, I was relieved to see my boss smile as he congratulated me on getting into school. He was sad to see me go but said he pegged me as someone who was itching to do something a bit more creative and might not stay around forever. And I realized then that quitting isn’t more of a shock to anyone else than it is to you. Do good work and as long as the industry is sound, you can probably hang on to the same gig for a while. (And in an economy like this, we should be thankful for any job.) But unless you’re lucky enough to land the dream gig—or close enough to it—in your 20s, if you can afford to risk it, why not try on a couple of things until you find the right fit? You’ll never say you wish you did when you had the chance. And if it leads to bigger paychecks in the future, even better.

Have you ever quit a job? What did you learn?

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  1. Yes! I did this about a year and a half ago – the heart knows what it wants, and I knew it was time to go. After that, I took a sabbatical to launch a couple of creative side projects that had been floating around in my head forever, thought about what I really wanted, and eventually ended up finding what for now feels like my dream job. I love this because while it’s about knowing when to quit, it’s also about being active and assertive in figuring out what your goals are, then being brave and pursuing them. And your tips for how to leave are fantastic – exiting with grace is so important, and the company will remember you for it. x

    • Cassie Paton says:

      That’s so amazing, Julie! It’s really encouraging to hear you found the dream job not long after. And you’re right, the heart really does know what it wants and will tell you if you’re willing to listen. I’ve done this a handful of times with some tough decisions since I quit my job, and I’ve never regretted it.

  2. This is crazy timing! I made the decision about a week ago to apply to grad school, and if I get in, that means I will be quitting my job of almost 2 years and moving halfway across the country. I think this is a sign!

  3. My main quitting of a job that was part of my career came when I decided to move to England. I told my boss as soon as I got a Visa, which amounted to about 2 months notice. It’s interesting that you say “give at least two weeks’ notice” because this seems to be more of a North American thing. In the UK, for example, it is common for the notice period in your contract to be 1 month (although the notice period is 1 week if it’s not stated otherwise in your contract).

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Interesting! Big difference between one month and one week. One month sounds reasonable, though I can imagine it’d be tough if you already had another job lined up that wanted you to start as soon as possible. But then I guess employers in the UK would be more accustomed to new hires needing to give old employers fair notice.

      • Yeah, since it is the standard most jobs start a month from offer date. When I moved here I was a bit worried because I lived in a town 3 hours away and it took me a few weeks to find a flat in the new town but everyone was pretty chill because they were fairly used to new hires showing up about a month after their offer.

  4. There is some great advice here! I’ve quit several jobs throughout my twenties (all in order to take on better opportunities), and it’s always hard to do, but always worth it. Definitely helps when your boss is nice about it, though. I’ve had a few that weren’t so supportive of my decision to quit, which can be rough, but in the end you have to do what’s best for you.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yeah, my mentality has always been to be fair, be kind and do what’s best for me. (If you don’t look out for yourself, who will?) It’s too bad some employers weren’t nice about it. It’s no fun ending on a bad note, but that’s on them!

  5. I have read a similar article a few weeks ago and it just depends on the person. I think the best age to do it is in your 20’s when it is assumed you have limited responsibilities and obligations, but it can happen at any age. Many change their career focus mid-way in their lives. I quit a job I loved but wasn’t well-paying enough and never would be as the future potential was very limiting when I was 24 and moved to another state to find better opportunities. I had family where I went so security was there and developed great friendships while I was there but it helped steer me in the path I am today which is a secure field with way better pay. The risks are worth if it you’re clear as to your reasons for doing so and have a moderate plan as to what’s next. Great topic Cassie and glad it’s all working out for you! Have a great one -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      It definitely depends on the person and situation. In fact, I meant to add a bit about realizing that the perspective I put forth here is one of privilege – not everyone has the luxury to quit a job because they want to. But yes, whether you’re in your 20s, 40s or beyond, if the time is right and you’re ready for a change, it can be a wonderful thing. 🙂

  6. This was just what I needed to read! After graduation I haven’t been able to keep a job for over a year, moving all around on the West Coast and I was starting to worry that my moving and switching jobs so often would start to look poorly on my resume. And maybe that is true, but each move and switch has been a calculated risk and each time has garnered positive changes and a more fulfilling work environment that I never would have encountered if I had settled for what I had two years ago. Even knowing this, it’s nice to read it in your blog. 🙂

  7. I love this post! It really resonated with me, because I quit the job that I had through college and for a couple of years after over the summer. I didn’t quit to go to grad school, but I took a lower paying job at a place that I thought would be a great working experience and I was so right. When I made the decision I thought I was a little crazy, though, and I was scared that I’d regret it later. There was the opportunity to move up at my previous workplace and not so much at my current one. I’m so glad I took the risk and made the jump, though. I didn’t want to be in the industry that I was in previously for much longer and it wasn’t a natural fit at all. My boss wasn’t surprised when I talked to her about my new job. I definitely agree about making sure that you leave on a good note. That’s so important for any job! You don’t want to burn bridges. 🙂 Anyway, great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  8. This really resonated with me. I’ve never quit a job, but I was unemployed for almost three years after finishing my first two degrees. It took me until this year to find a path I really love. I’m freelancing about 85% and hoping to be full time by the end of 2015. There’s big changes afoot since I’ve decided to give up on school, but everything has worked out better than I anticipated. There are a lot of scary moments, but I love what I do and that’s the key for me – I have to have a passion project (I heard that phrase in a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie last night and loved it).

  9. I am the supervisor Cassie speaks about who sadly had to accept her resignation. I want to confirm that the way Cassie left made all of the difference. Were we really sorry to see her go? Yes we were, she was an excellent employee. However, her departure was a class act all the way. She gave us 7 weeks notice instead of the ” industry standard 2 weeks” ( By the way for a job like Cassie’s and for many jobs, 2 weeks is really not enough and it would have left us in a bind). Due to the long notice she was actually able to spend some time training her replacement. Cassie did whatever she could to make the transition as smooth as possible. Because of her effort she left on great terms. We have provided her with a glowing written recommendation and would do anything we could to help support her career. Bottom line, if you are going to quit, do whatever you can assist in the transition and leave on the best terms possible.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I was so, so happy and touched reading this message. Thank you, Bob (and everyone else at Network!), for fostering such a positive work environment and for the continued support in this new stage of my career.

  10. I love this! And while I also love my job. At 22, I know that it is not the end all be all job for me. It is a good fit for my right now, not for my always. So while I make my plans for the future, I’m staying put. My boss knows that he has me for two or three years and then I’l be moving on. It is hard as a teacher because you can’t decide in the middle of the year (or you could but that isn’t fair to the kiddos).

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