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How to leave a job the right way

Leaving a job is hard, and oddly enough, it gets harder each time you do it.

When you’re new to the workforce, you don’t know enough to appreciate what you might be leaving behind or worry about what you might be going to.

As you get older, that changes. You know how hard it is to build relationships and find your place. You know how stressed out you’ll be for the first six months in the new job, fighting against imposter syndrome and the uncertainty of new territorial politics and personalities.

If you’ve been a manager, you know the heavy feeling in your gut when someone gives you their notice and it’s impossible not to think about making someone else feel that.

You’ll lay awake at night trying to navigate to the “right” decision. You’ll worry about being happy, about your family being happy, about your coworkers and their families being happy. You’ll worry and stress over things you’ve never even thought of before.

It’s painful. It sucks, but hopefully, it makes you handle things the right way. It may even change how you approach jobs altogether because leaving a job the right way starts on your first day of work.

Say “no” to ego

I know people who have given months’ worth of notice when quitting. Most of the time, this was coming from a good place. They cared about how their coworkers would be affected and wanted to make sure business could go on as usual with minimal pain.

It’s impossible for me to not see the role of ego in giving that much notice though. Even if it’s coming from a good place, there’s an element of “The work I do is so important/complex/special/whatever, that it requires weeks/months of additional work to get someone else even minimally ready to take over.”

I say this as someone who has given a month’s notice before. If I’m honest about it in hindsight, that’s exactly the reason I gave so much notice. Well, that, and I hadn’t done the right things to prepare for me leaving along the way.

Generally, if you leaving a job requires weeks worth of knowledge transfer sessions and documentation work, you have done something wrong. You haven’t made yourself dispensable.

Prepare to leave every day

Don’t wait until two weeks before you leave to start removing yourself as a critical path to getting things done. Even if you never plan to leave, do you really want that anyway? The only award you can count on getting from being indispensable is being permanently on-call.

  • When you design something, document the high-level design and keep those docs updated when you make changes.
  • When you write code, write it as if you are immediately handing it over to someone else to maintain. And then actually hand it off to someone else instead of making it your baby.
  • When you setup apps and infrastructure, and anything else that has “access”, make sure someone other than you has access too.
  • Communicate. Make sure the team knows what you’re working on and how it works. You’re not bragging, you’re keeping them informed. They’ll appreciate it when they get tasked with taking on the things you’ve worked on.
  • If you’re worried about job security, focus on being good at what you do, not keeping secrets. Being “good” is way more effective at securing your job than acting like a hermit wizard.

The last one is a big one. When you do eventually leave, what feels better? That others miss your input and capabilities, or that they think “I sure wish they would have written more stuff down”?

Where you’ll end up

Doing these things will make your day-to-day job better (you’ll have more time to work on interesting things instead of solving the same problems) and it will make your eventual departure a lot more pleasant.

Imagine a scenario where you give two weeks notice and aside from having meetings with managers who don’t want you to leave, you spend the rest of your time just doing your regular job.

You’re not doing knowledge transfer. You’re not scrambling to document things. You’ve already done all that. So, instead, you get to write a little more code and focus on saying goodbye.

This may not leave you feeling completely at peace with leaving for a new job, but it will take away a lot of anxiety. You’ll leave feeling accomplished and confident that you handled things “the right way”. You’ll have maintained good relationships with your coworkers and bosses. You may even have built a safety net, a place you could go back to if you needed or wanted to.