What I Learned When I Quit A Job For The First Time

Last year, I did something I hadn’t done before: I resigned from a job. Sure, I’d excused myself from part-time jobs while studying, but this was a job job – one that happened in an office with a contract and everything that comes with that.

When you’re a fresh graduate or early in your career, the focus tends to be on getting a job. But knowing what to do when it’s time to quit that first job (and consecutive jobs after that) is just as important. Here’s what I learned.

#1 Make sure you definitely want to leave

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to really think about why you want to leave. I left my job because I wanted to pursue a different career path, and this gave me the confidence to know I was making the right decision. If you’re simply unhappy, however, talking to your employer might help you find a solution that doesn’t involve resignation.

Being sure of your decision means you’ll be less likely to buckle when your boss starts bargaining with you through a token pay-rise or the option of moving teams. It will also allow you to launch into whatever comes next with full commitment – be that a new job or “funemployment.”

#2 Avoid knee-jerk actions

Walking out on the job à la Tom Hansen in 500 Days of Summer might be a nice idea, but try to think of your career in the long term. You might regret the decision (and impact on your reputation) later.

Are you sure it’s what you really want?

Leaving can be difficult if you’re not sure how to make your next career move, so it’s OK to take your time. Try reading up on people who inspire you, chatting to contacts who are pursuing careers you’re interested in, or even meeting a career counsellor for advice. Knowing what was next was something I struggled with. By being patient (most of the time), and chatting to friends and family members who I trusted, I slowly worked things out.

#3 Tell your direct manager first

You see your workmates most days of the week, so building close connections is inevitable. It’s tempting to vent to your work friends, but be careful. News can spread quickly, and the people professionally affected by your resignation might get the wrong information.

If you want to control the way you end a job, resign to the person most affected first. In my case, this was my direct line manager, and giving her this information empowered her to manage my resignation through the official channels.

#4 Don’t leave before you leave

Whatever your reason for leaving, not “checking out” in the final weeks of a job can be difficult. Avoid gratuitously long lunch breaks or weekly “sick days”. Try to work with the same level of detail and commitment as you would if you weren’t leaving by writing comprehensive handover notes and resolving any issues within your control.

aaaaaaand I’m done.

Those final weeks can be particularly hard if you’re leaving on not-so-great terms. You might feel like The People’s Crusader by letting colleagues know how hard done by you are, but remember that they’re staying in their jobs and you aren’t. Despite the large size of the industry and city I was previously in, people have turned up in surprising places. These contacts have been helpful in ways I previously didn’t realise, so it helps to be discrete.

#5 Everyone is replaceable

No matter how much good feedback you’ve received over the years, there’s someone who can fill your space in the future. When I left my first job, there were customary farewell events and people were sad to see me go, but nobody died over it.

People move on. The company you once worked for isn’t going to crash and burn because you left it. You might feel guilty about leaving or somehow indebted to the organisation, but make like Sheryl Sandberg and “Lean In” to what’s best for you without burning any bridges.

#6 Diplomacy and positivity are your best friends

Whatever the circumstances of your resignation, some dissatisfaction or bitterness may play a part. But feelings aren’t forever. Once your decision to quit has been made, unproductive ranting or moaning is not going to be productive for anyone. If your colleagues or superiors genuinely want your feedback – say, in an exit interview – only share suggestions that will actually make the situation better for your colleagues and the person who replaces you.

Bye, Felicia.

Whatever hang ups I may have had about my first job, it taught me skills that I find beneficial now. This has become more obvious with the benefit of hindsight. So before sabotaging your career completely, consider the bigger picture. One day your grey-haired self will look back on this job and see it as a mere stepping stone in a fulfilling and ever-changing career.

Lead image: AMC, Mad Men.

Chelsea McIver is a freelance writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her work appears in titles including VICE, Junkee, Broadsheet and The Big Issue. Tweet her @ChelseaMcIver.