Exit Strategy

How to quit your job with grace and on good terms

Illustration by Tony Healey

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.


According to an economic news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees in professional occupations spend an average of 5.5 years working at a given company. The advantages of job hopping every five years or so are higher pay and the opportunity to increase your skillset.

But to follow this career strategy, it’s essential to learn the art of quitting with grace and on good terms, especially in a small city like New Orleans. It’s important to avoid burning bridges, to use the old cliché, because you never know when you might need a reference from a former employer or colleague or when you might end up working with people from that company.

It’s also possible that after gaining experience elsewhere you might come full circle and begin working for a past employer again in a higher-level position. With some forethought and planning, leaving with good references and eligible for rehire is an attainable goal.

First, consult your company’s handbook and/or your contract regarding notice. Two weeks is customary, but your company policy or contract may differ from the norm. Once you have the timeline figured out, be sure to tell your boss first before breaking the news to anyone else. Tell your boss in person and, even if you hate your job, try to keep it positive. If you are leaving because you hate it, there’s no reason to go into detail. Find the most truthful answer you can — ambiguity is your friend — because you may need to use this employer for a reference. At this point, your boss will likely begin wondering and worrying about hiring your replacement and getting that person trained. Let them know you are there to help ease the transition.

Next, it may sound redundant, but write a formal resignation letter. Send it to your boss and the human resources department to keep on file. The letter should be short, but it’s important to include the information that you are resigning, the date your resignation is effective and your departure date, as well as a thank you to your employer for the opportunities offered during your time with the company. Like your resignation to your boss, keep it positive. Most companies keep resignation letters to potentially share when companies call for references, so this is an opportunity to illustrate your professionalism.

Finally, it’s now OK to share the news with your co-workers and begin saying your goodbyes. This can be done in person or via email and continue with short, positive or neutral communications, because frequently potential employers will contact former coworkers for references.

Moving forward, once you have left your former employer — and including when interviewing for another job — don’t make disparaging comments about the company to potential or new employers and co-workers or out in the business community. Adhere to the old adage that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.