How to (Finally) Quit your Job

Posted by Bob Corlett on July 23, 2012

As you wait for the elevator to arrive after another mediocre day at the office, you give yourself an all-too-familiar pep talk. "I'm better than this, and I've completely had it with this job," you tell yourself. "I'm outta here for good."

Does this sound familiar to you, asks Daniel Gulati, writing for the Harvard Business Review? If so, did you end up quitting like you knew you should have? Chances are, the answer is no.

Here's the cold truth, he says: Deciding to quit is just the first move in a sometimes long and arduous cerebral chess match. The reasons that over 70% of Americans stay in jobs they hate are not external (e.g., economic condition), says Gulati, but are due to our own psychology.  “We overthink decisions, fear possible failure, and prioritize near-term, visible rewards over long-range success.”

So how are the smart and savvy ones able to break free? Gulati says there are three things he has seen repeatedly that allow people to overcome the psychological barriers and quit with conviction.

  1. Quit for a better long-term trajectory, not a quick win. The first step in making the leap is to recount your career goals and visualize a life-changing leap forward, not an incremental hop. One consultant said, "I don't want to be a serial quitter, so I'm very focused on the long-term goodness of fit." Why the emphasis on a long arc? Studies have shown we overvalue near-term growth and are irrationally receptive to relative improvements in position. If you're looking to quit your job just so you can avoid that micromanaging boss or break free of a tedious daily task, you are shooting too low. Quitting your job for minor improvements could leave you equally dissatisfied a year in. Take a longer term (5+ years) view of the professional mountain you actually want to climb. You get an average of 10 chances to quit in your lifetime, and each step should bring you significantly closer to your true passions.
  2. Quit after hitting calendar milestones, not performance-based ones. Time your resignation around calendar milestones, not performance-based ones. For example, one analyst quit on his one-year anniversary with the firm, which "created a clean break in my mind, and allowed me to position my time as a one-year stint." If you wait until you've been rewarded with a "pellet" — commendations, promotions, or other rewards — you may look at your job with gentler eyes ("Maybe this isn't so bad after all!"), and before you know it, you've talked yourself into staying until your boss drops the next pellet. How do you avoid this endless cycle? Commit beforehand to quit on a particular date, not after a reward.
  3. Quit discreetly and avoid the Facebook fireworks. While it may feel gratifying to post a dramatic Facebook status update announcing your departure, hold back until you put proper roots down in your new role. Changing jobs contains elements of risk, and if you falter or fail, word will spread fast. Ignore social media and quit quietly. Settle into your new role privately, and gradually update your friends in person, not over Facebook. If you don't share it, they can't spread it!

Topics: Career Advice, First Steps For Getting Your Search Started, Job Search