“Should I quit my job” asked my client after 2 months into a 1-year contract. She did not have a job lined up, but believed she would be in the right frame of mind to search for a better gig if she were not working full-time. She needed the money, so felt caught in a bind.
I think she wanted me to give her permission to quit. Instead, I gave her a number of suggestions to optimize her sub-optimal situation.
Shortly after our conversation, she quit. She then discovered that her hasty decision to quit took her from a bad situation to a worse one: job search hell.
Is your job feeling like an uphill battle – immense effort, no reward? Boss treating you like an indentured servant? Hours of work preventing you from experiencing daylight? Skills going downhill faster than an Olympic snowboarder?
No matter how clear and compelling the fantasy of quitting, the decision reality for most of us is messy and complicated.
Some days, we desperately want to quit. Others, we genuinely enjoy some aspects of our work. We treasure some relationships, while avoiding others. We see a glimmer of light and hope around the next project corner, as we struggle valiantly to put out the fires of our current ones.
The gremlins of “quit” and “stay” duke it out in a constant inner battle.
Some days, It can be very tempting to throw caution to the wind while convincing yourself you’ll find another job in no time. That’s ok, I guess, if the stakes are low and you have nothing to lose. But when there are high stakes involved – such as paying down big debt or your monthly rent, putting food on the table and clothes on your children – caution can be your best friend.
I’ve been there – struggling with the tension between knowing I was leaving and not being quite sure yet where I was going. My story of realizing the dream job had become a day job had a happy ending. But it began with a plan.
What’s my advice as a career counsellor having been in your shoes?
Don’t leap blindly and risk losing what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Don’t burn the bridge that might get you to the other side of whatever uncomfortable situation you find yourself in. But don’t live with the tension forever and completely forego your plans to move on.
Before you quit your day job, allow that tension to exist long enough to sort out your options, set out a plan, secure your finances and build bridges to your next work destination.
Am I just being old fashioned?
At one point in writing this blog post, I wondered if I was being old fashioned. Perhaps the adage “don’t quit your job without another to go to” was a thing of the past. An outdated concept in a world of mobile telephones, free agents, vicarious work and contract arrangements.
So I consulted the Google Oracle to see what other writers had to say on the subject of “leaving your job without another to go to”. As I suspected, opinions in these posts varied from:
- I did it, it was the best thing I ever did. So you should do it too!
- I did it. It wasn’t the best thing ever. Eventually, after pain and suffering, I landed ok. So it wasn’t a total fail. And I learned from it what not to do the next time.
- Do it only if you’re prepared to face the job search from hell.
- Are you nuts? Don’t do it! Here’s what you should do instead.
After scanning several articles from personal and professional bloggers, I came across one that I thought was worth printing out as a model for me to follow. I liked it because it had a very pithy but balanced answer to a question from a disgruntled job searcher who had quit her job and now was unsure how to answer interviewers who kept asking her why she quit.
Though I was looking for pith, imagine my surprise when I went upstairs to collect my print job:
65 PAGES OF COMMENTS!
Quitting your job is one hot topic! I discovered there were legions of people in the job market who experience some or all of impossible workloads, unethical job demands, deranged bosses, unpleasant colleagues, and toxic environments. And no time or energy to do a proper job search. Their solution: I quit.
Three good reasons to quit with caution
As I went through page after page of comments, from future hiring managers and those who had risked resignation reward over workplace revulsion, three themes stood out that made me think maybe I’m not just being old-fashioned after all.
1. Unemployed candidates risk losing subtantial bargaining power in a hiring process.
If you are gainfully employed, even in a job you hate, employers will be scheming how to pry you loose from your current situation. They’ll see your employment relationship as a surmountable obstacle to their hiring you. Even if it means they have to sweeten the offer with a little extra money or time off.
If on the other hand, you’ve already left your last place of employment, and are now unemployed, you have effectively eliminated your negotiating leverage while raising the bar of employers’ expectations. You have zero financial leverage, because you are currently earning, hmmm, zero.
Filling their minds are the unasked questions and the assumed answers about your judgement, relationship skills, work ethic and potential for success. You may be the best candidate for the job, but you are now a risky hire and it’s their job to minimize risk.
More often than not, the candidate who is employed is perceived as a less risky option. Unfair, maybe. But very real in the minds of risk-averse employers.
2. Unless you are in a high demand job market and are a smokin’ hot commodity, the time to your next job can double if not triple over someone who is gainfully employed.
Do you really want to be in job search for the next 3 to 12 months with employers looking at you with that “I know you stole the cookies from the cookie jar” look? All because you quit your last job without having another one lined up?
Depending on who you ask and a whole range of personal and demographic factors, a job search can take from 3 months to 2 years. A US report took a comprehensive look at the dilemma of job search duration for the unemployed, summarizing recent research and opinions from top online publications. Their conclusion – the longer you are unemployed, the harder it will be for you to secure employment – comes with great suggestions to shorten the path to employment.
Canadians can expect similar trends. This OECD site compares labour statistics in OECD member countries. Our average unemployment duration in Canada remained reasonably stable from 2001 to 2015, with a low of 3.5 and a high of 4.9 months. It shot up in 2016 to 19.8 months, possibly an anomaly explained by the impact of the oil crisis in Western Canada.
3. You expose yourself to a dark and lengthy tunnel of uncertainty in which you second guess yourself constantly and experience a decline in happiness.
Though you are asked 20 questions in interviews, and excel at answering 19 of them, you fear it is this single question that killed your chances:
Why did you leave your last job?
Your discomfort with the question might make you ramble a long and unnecessarily detailed story in which you, the hero, face your previous employer, the villain. You try in vain to enlist this future employer in believing you were wronged. And you can tell they’re so not buying your story.
In desperation, after 12 interviews with 11 companies, you think you’ll never get a job again, so you take the first job you are offered. Then find yourself in an even worse situation than the one you left.
The uncertainty and continued unemployment lead to unhappiness. According to this 2-minute clip from a Harvard Business Review study: “Blue collar or white collar, one thing is for sure: unemployment is destructive to one’s well being. Around the world, individuals without a job report approximately 30 percent more negative emotional experiences in their day-to-day lives.”
7 Steps to Quitting your Job
My goal is to help you, eventually, be more, not less happy!
So what can you do, if you agree that conducting your job search from inside a job remains today a much more powerful place for you than from the unemployed rolls?
The rest of this post expands on seven steps you can take before quitting your job:
- Audit your present situation.
- Craft a vision of your ideal future.
- Get clear on financial implications of quitting.
- Research labour market options and realities.
- Make an action plan and work the plan.
- Line up some commitments.
- Resign responsibly.
1. Audit your present situation before you decide to quit
Get specific about what is causing you to want to make a change. Analyse your current situation. Your goal is to be certain that ultimate resignation is your only option.
Alternatives will be to change:
- the work,
- the unit,
- your attitude or
- your employer.
But don’t budge until you know which of these makes most sense for you.
Download the Auditing Your Current Work Environment worksheet to help you conduct your audit and get clear on what’s making you want to run away from your job.
And if you still want to quit, your next step will be to get clear on what you’re running toward.
2. Craft a vision of the future before you quit
You may not know exactly what you want but you will have clues. Set some broad goals: what do you see yourself doing in the next chapter of your life? Do you plan to:
- Find a similar job with a better employer?
- Search actively for the dream job?
- Change industries?
- Become a free-lancer worker or contractor?
- Start your own business?
- Pursue a major creative or athletic goal?
- Return to school?
- Take time off to travel?
- Take time off to be with family?
Think through the pros and cons. Set a direction. Then brainstorm the details.
Give yourself some time to formulate a vision. It will be hard to do this in one sitting. Write down what you know for now.
Then for the next few weeks, pay attention throughout your day to tap into clues about what you want your next career chapter to include. Clarify unknowns by talking to others you trust or conduct interest interviews with people in possible fields of interest.
3. Get clear on financial implications of quitting
Don’t crush your career dreams because you can’t afford them. But do get real.
Calculate the financial implications of quitting your job without having another one lined up.
Set up a monthly budget and include all of your living expenses. Establish a realistic timeframe during which you may not be earning income. Is it 3 months? 6 months? 12 months? You decide.
So you’ve calculated monthly expenses of $3,000. And you will need to cover yourself for 4 months? From where will that $12,000 come: Will you:
- Dip into your pension or savings?
- Take out a loan?
- Collect employment insurance?
- Earn free-lance income?
- Apply for a student loan?
- Move back in with mom and dad?
If you are planning to go free-lance, find out the going rate of pay and calculate the number of hours of work you will need to generate equivalent income to your salary.
If you are planning to return to school, do you know how much it will cost you and what loans and grants you are eligible for?
4. Know labour market realities and options before you quit
At the bottom of this page are 50 resources to help you research the labour market and fill in some of the many questions your planning has raised for you. The resources will help you:
- Research the labour market to brainstorm occupational possibilities, navigate industry sectors, and familiarize yourself with hiring trends
- Explore work in the creative or free-lance economy and get familiar with rates of pay
- Discover ways to combine work and travel
- Assess your small business ideas and create your business plan
- Educate yourself about salary and benefits by function and industry
5. Make an action plan and work the plan
So you’ve envisioned your next career step, got real about finances and researched the labour market. You have a direction and a good solid rationale. It’s still not time to slap your resignation letter on your boss’ desk.
What’s your plan? How many steps will it take to get you from here to there? What steps? Who do you need to talk to? What skills do you need to develop? What marketing materials do you need to put together?
While you still have a job and an income, implement any actions that you can. For example:
- Research other organizations and opportunities
- Take courses to test your interests
- Get assigned to projects to build needed skills
- Join associations to become aware of opportunities and build your network.
- Arrange meetings with contacts to explore possibilities.
6. Line up some commitments
If you’ve done all of the above steps, by now, you might have a firm job offer.
Or a commitment to do regular free-lance work.
You might have an admission offer to a full-time university or college program.
If you have these in writing, even better. Now you’re ready to resign because you know where you’re going, can support yourself financially and have some assurance of a committed relationship.
7. Quit responsibly
Your resignation can be an opportunity to build bridges with your supervisor and colleagues. You never know what role they might play in your future. So make sure you resign responsibly with no regrets.
First, anticipate how your departure might impact your employer. Plan your departure timing to ensure careful handover of important projects and tasks so you don’t let your employer down. Perhaps you know people who would be a great replacement for you; plan to offer to your supervisor referrals to individuals who would be interested.
Next, write a letter of resignation but deliver it in person. In your letter and in person, express your gratitude, desire to stay in touch and openness about your plans.
Once you’ve let your supervisor know, then let your colleagues know. Don’t be tempted to spread the word before your supervisor knows – you don’t want them to find out via the grapevine.
This 7-step plan is not for everyone – especially those in extremely toxic environments where your health and well-being are under daily assault. Follow these steps if you want to minimize disruption in your life, ensure your move is to a happier career place for you, and leave behind goodwill ambassadors for your future.
If you have comments or questions, feel free to add to the conversation here. Do you have a private question and/or need help crafting your vision or figuring out concrete steps? Fill in my contact form. We can talk.