Avoiding a Goldman Sachs Moment

Is the very public resignation letter from Goldman Sachs Executive Director Greg Smith in the New York Times this week making you wonder about how to pull off your own (hopefully less scathing) resignation when the time comes? Assuming you’re not planning to enlist a national media outlet in your departure, what doyou say when you quit your job? Do you put it in writing or talk with your manager face-to-face? What if you can’t give two weeks notice?  Don’t worry; we have all your questions answered here!

What should you say when you quit your job?

First, talk to your boss in person. This isn’t a message to send by email or by leaving a letter in your manager’s in-box. Ask for a meeting, and tell your boss face-to-face that you’re moving on. Say something like this:  ”I think you know that I’ve really loved working here. But after a lot of thought, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on, and my last day will be ___.”

Do you need to write a formal resignation letter?

You don’t generally need a written letter unless your employer asks you for one. Resignation letters are a formality, and many people don’t use them at all. They’re really just there to document that you did in fact resign your job. If you areasked for a letter, it can be very short – just a statement that you’re resigning and the date that resignation is effective, and perhaps a sentence to soften it. So it might read something like this: “After three years at XYZ Company, I’ve made the difficult decision to move on, and March 31 will be my last day. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here, wish the organization every success, and stand ready to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Do you have to explain why you’re quitting?

While you’re certainly not required to explain why you’re leaving, it’s probably going to be a little awkward if you don’t. After all, when someone resigns, at some point most managers (and coworkers) will ask, “So what will you be doing next?” And because it’s such a normal question to ask and such normal information to share, a refusal will probably come off as odd and a bit chilly. And if you end on a chilly note, that’s going to be the most recent memory of you in your boss’s mind when she’s called for a reference at some point in the future. You don’t want that!

What if you can’t give two weeks notice?

If at all possible, you really should give at least two weeks notice, because otherwise you risk burning bridges and tarnishing your reputation. However, if your circumstances just don’t allow that, talk to your boss and explain your situation. If she won’t budge on expecting two weeks and you really can’t give it without significant hardship, all you can do is be sincerely apologetic and explain why you can’t. Sounding mortified is helpful here.

What if your employer usually has people leave immediately the day they give notice?

If your employer has a policy of telling people to leave the same day that they give notice, then it’s reasonable to wait to give your notice until you’re ready for it to be your last day. There are some employers who do have a legitimate business need to have resigning employees leave immediately (for instance, those worried about trade secrets), but aside from those exceptions, smart managers will create an atmosphere where good employees are welcome to work out their notice periods … since that ensures that employees will continue to give them that notice!

What if you need to give notice but your boss is on vacation?

If your boss is away, it’s fine to give your notice to someone else — HR or, if you don’t have an HR department, your boss’ boss. It’s less than ideal, but people will understand why you wanted to alert them right away and not wait – and most of them will appreciate it.

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  • immargarita

    What if during your tenure at a company, you have worked in two divisions and had two supervisors? Collectively I have given the company 4 years… 3 in one division and 1 in a different division at a different location. Please HELP! Thanks so much!

    • What exactly is the question you’re wondering about?

      • immargarita

        Sorry, should’ve been clearer. How do you address a resignation letter in such a case? Is it okay to include both supervisors on one letter? If so, do I have to include both their addresses in the same letter? Thanks so much!

        • You’d just address it to your current manager. However, don’t resign via letter; resign in person by talking with your manager one-on-one. If your company requests a letter, you can follow up with one, but they’re often not necessary.

          • immargarita

            Thanx a ton!

          • JMania

            I took a job and started July 1. A couple of weeks after I started I got called from my absolute dream job, that I had applied to 6 weeks earlier at this point. I went through the interview process, thinking it was a long shot and ended up receiving an offer and accepted the job. My start date is a couple of weeks away. I am a remote worker, working from home. My boss is 6 hours away in another state. I have no way of seeing him face to face, my only option is to resign via email. I want to give a 2 week notice, but have to give it via email and I am sure that my boss will tell me that the day I give my notice will be my last day. I was going to resign on 8/12. At that time I will be due my payroll check on 8/16 which is for work through 8/2. By resigning on 8/12, I will be owed from 8/3 – 8/12. I am concerned that I will not receive that pay for time already worked, also concerned that they will not pay me for the 2 week notice period. Are they required to pay me from 8/3-8/12 since I have already worked those days? When do you think I would receive that payment? On the regular pay date, 2 weeks from 8/16? Also, are they required to pay me for the 2 week notice time if they make the day I notify them my last day?
            Also, how do I resign and provide a 2 week notice and do it without burning a bridge since I have to do it via email?
            Thank you!

          • You should call, not email.

            They’re required to pay you for all days you worked, but they don’t have to pay your notice period if they have you leave earlier.

            Your state law controls how soon they must give you your check. (You can Google the name of your state plus “paycheck law” and will usually find the answer.)

  • dianna

    I want to put my 2week notice, but I want to know if I would still be entitled to my monthly bonus? Example..1st-30th of the month we work on our bonus…bonus is locked in at the end of the month.. We get paid for our bonus on the 15th of the next month…my last day would be last day of the month… Also…if they tell me to leave the same day I put my notice..would I qualify for unemployment?

    • At least in most states, the bonus question will depend on your company’s own policies; some companies have policies have policies about when they’re paid out. You should check your employee manual to see if it addresses it.

      On unemployment, in most states you’d qualify for the period between when you said your last day would be and when they told you to leave. So, if you give two notice tomorrow and they tell you to leave immediately, you’d qualify for unemployment for those two weeks, but no longer.

  • Reallady

    I have been with my current employer for 9 years but don’t have a written contract, do I have to give notice of my intention to leave or can I simply just leave.

    • Legally, because of at-will employment, you’re not required to give notice. However, in most cases, not giving notice will harm your reputation, burn the bridge, and potentially harm future references from that employer, so it’s not something you should do if you can avoid it.

  • Guest

    Hi, I’m hoping you can help me with an issue I’m having with my employer
    and vacation days. My company closes the office the week between
    Christmas and New Years. I’ve put in my two weeks notice which falls on
    the 28th, during the time the office is closed (paid time off for
    employees). (My new employer insisted that I start two weeks after they
    made me the offer, otherwise I would have give more time – otherwise I
    would have give two weeks of working days).

    My boss has asked me
    to re-write my two week notice to put the last day that the office is
    open as my last day (the 21st). I’m not sure if I am eligible for any of
    the pay during the time the office will be closed being that I will not
    be returning after the break. But it still seems odd to me that my
    employer is asking me to to re-write MY letter, and can I refuse and can
    I refuse while still keeping good relations with the employer?

    My concerns are:
    This will mean I am certainly would not get any of the paid time off
    for the time the office is closed because my last “official” day would
    have been before the office was closed.
    2) I do not know what my
    companies policy is regarding pay for employees for holidays if they are
    not returning after the holiday, but I would be available to them if
    they wanted me to be during this second week, so I feel I should be
    eligible for pay or paid vacation during this time. If the police is
    that you have to work so many days after the break to qualify I would
    rather accept it is a policy and just not get paid for it vs doing
    anything on my end (i.e. re-writing my letter) to make me ineligible for
    it. Are they trying to get me to change the date on my letter so that
    they don’t have to pay me?
    3) The resignation letter in my file will appear as if I gave one week notice vs two weeks notice.
    4) (this one is more of a value issue…) It’s MY letter. I should be able to write whatever I want.

    • You’ve given notice, and they can set your last day for any day they want — they don’t need you to revise your resignation letter to do that. They don’t need to pay you for the vacation time if your last day is before that.

      In many states, you could collect unemployment for the time between your actual last time and the (later) last day that you’d requested, but that’s the only real recourse you have here.

      • Guest

        Thank you very much for your response! I appreciate that you are willing to help people that don’t go through this very often. Sorry that I posted twice, I was not seeing my post, please feel free to delete my repeat if you can.

    • LLGW

      This is my situation, too. I hate that the two weeks falls during our shutdown, but there isn’t much I can do about that. To add to the matter, I’d give notice today, but my boss is out on vacation today (got my written offer last night). So, it will have to wait until Monday and she’ll only get one week (and a week when people are out and job seekers are just not looking). This is not the sort of job that they can fill in two weeks let alone one pre-holiday week.

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  • Buyer

    Hi, I want to leave my job on the 22nd of feb 2013 an I have to give 4 weeks notice, so I don’t have to give notice until the 18th jan, but I have meetings this week with my director to discuss 2013 plans for my category, I’m a buyer and I have to give my 2013 travel plans to plan to visit my suppliers in 2013, so I don’t want to sit through the meeting saying all of this when I have no intention of doing any of it, but I need to leave on the 22nd of feb so I do t want to shoot myself in the foot and they take my notice from tomorrow and give me 4 weeks that way I will miss out on 3 weeks pay? Can I say I don’t want to leave until 6 weeks? Thanks

    • Sure, you can absolutely do that. Be prepared, though, for the possibility that they might want to set your ending date earlier.

  • wondering

    I just informed my boss, 5 days notice, orginally, but now its 4 weeks notice. My husband was notified that he was hired to work in another state and that the job would be starting in 12 days, he was in a situation where he didn’t need to give notice I was going to take off when he took off, to get things packed etc., so it would give us 4 days before moving 3 states away. She was so annoyed that she told me she would give me a terrible referral. I couldn’t believe it. I had several awards for excellent customer service, other awards for hugh sales within the NY NJ Regions, had excellent performance reviews. Clients always thanked me for the excellent service I provided them. I understand that she was so annoyed but honestly telling me this was extremely hurtful and so far from the truth, it sounded like black mail to me. I really liked my job and working forn the company, she was a difficult boss to work for, she took advantage of me on several levels, too many to list, but like I said I enjoyed working with the clients and my other employees. I was able to switch somethings around so now I will be leaving at the end of the month, Just thought she couldn’t possibly get away with giving me a terribly referral.I plan to stick it ou and I can and will do this for my client, employees and for myself. Any recourse or should I just reach out to HR after I am employed again with a new company? Thanks for your advice.


    • I think the problem is probably the original 5 days notice. While sometimes there are indeed extenuating circumstances, it’s not surprising that your manager wasn’t thrilled to only have half the normal amount of notice! I would just be pleasant during the remainder of your time there, leave your work in great shape, leave documentation for the next person, and keep the high ground. If your boss wants to be unprofessional, don’t let it impact your own behavior.

  • savvy

    Hello, what do I say if I want to leave a business partnership, we don’t have any formal written contract or anything. Its with a good friend of mine, but I feel I need to move on, and don’t know how to approach my partner without hurting feelings and sounding selfish for wanting to change my path.

  • savvy

    I forgot to add that my business partnership is a incorporated business and is 50/50 between myself and my partner. Our business isn’t through the roof in terms of business capital yet, so i don’t want any monetary compensation, actually the business is in the negative. I will definitely pay for my half of what I owe, I just want to save our friendship and move out of the business at the same time…how do I do that?

    • If you’d like, you’re welcome to email this to me (alison@askamanager:disqus .org) and that’ll get it in my question queue! (Probably a more nuanced answer than I can write out in a comment!)

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  • Noor

    I gave my boss two weeks notice but just verbally because I was offered a new job. He asked me if I can stay to work only week-ends until he hire a replacement. I told him first that l need to think about it and then told I him that I really can’t. Now he claims that I was fired when somebody call him for a reference. the worst think is I am in IT and I am going through security clearance and they told the investigator
    the same thing.

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  • SpudGunz

    I plan to resign in 6 weeks time and have informed my boss verbally. Under contract I am required to give a month’s written notice. He has been pushing me to hand in a letter of resignation since last week. It seems very odd to me. I’m starting to wonder if he wants to fire me before the 6 weeks to hire someone else and at-the-same-time avoid having to pay me unemployment benefits since I quit. Should I be concerned?

    • If he wanted to fire you, I’d think he’d just go ahead and do it. I’d assume he wants your letter because your company policy requires him to have one before he can move forward with recruiting for your position or something like that.

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  • Name

    I just accepted a new job and planned to give two weeks notice. I found out today that my new employer only does orientation once a month. The orientation for this month is scheduled for two days next week. My plan is to extend my notice by two days to cover the two days that I’ll need off for orientation. Does this seem reasonable? How should I present this to my boss? Should I include it in my resignation letter?

  • Soon-to-be-Mrs

    I have worked for a small Farm Management company for a little over three years. I am getting married May 9th, 2015 and moving to a town and hr and a half away. When I first got engaged I informed my boss I was getting married and would be leaving. When asked when would be my last day I verbally informed them it would be May 9th. Do I still need to give a written letter of resignation, or written two weeks notice? They have already started interviewing candidates for my position and have informed me I would be training the new employee.

    • None of that is required by law; it’s just about how your company does things. So just check with your manager about whether she wants either of those things from you!

  • Ariel

    Hi. I applied for another Job about 6 months ago and I just got the call that I landed the job on Friday February 12 2015. I m suppose to start the new Job on March 4th 2015. The problem is I reqested my vacation time 3 months ago. I’ll be out of the country Feb 19th-Mar 1st which is exactly 2 working weeks. It doesn’t interfere with the new job at all but it does interfere with the 2 week notice at my current employer. I plan to give it first thing tomorrow Feb 16th. My question is, is my 2 week notice valid even though I’ll be out of the country. I mean I’m still giving them the 2 week courtesy notice it’s just that I never expected the new employer to call me after so long. What’s the best way to handle this?

  • Jeff Alberico

    I tendered a resignation letter with two weeks notice given on a monday. The company official made me change the date to the Friday prior or else they wouldn’t accept it. Is that legal?

    • Hi Jeff, they can definitely tell you that they’re going to move up your last day and have it be earlier … but they can’t tell you that they won’t otherwise accept your resignation at all. You get to resign whether they prefer the date or not 🙂

      But yes, they can have the date be earlier than you chose.

  • Lillian

    Due to a hostile work environment, I quit my job on Monday morning. When I asked my boss what the next steps are, he said he was unsure and that he would get back to me. That afternoon, his superior came to me to explain the next steps, which didn’t include much more than a resignation letter. I’m an employee at will so asked her about 2-weeks notice; is it policy or courtesy. After dragging her heels she said she would prefer if I stay a until the next Friday to give the office time to transition my work over to my coworkers, which I am happy to do. I do not have another job lined up yet so I don’t want to work any longer than that so I have time to find a new position. However, today she sent me an email saying that the statement below is in our employee handbook and that the “expectation” is that I stay a month. Can they really hold me to this? They know I have not been happy with my boss and the extremely heavy workload they have placed on me. It doesn’t say “requirement” so can I still push to be done in 2 weeks?

    “If an employee must resign during the year, s/he should discuss it with his/her supervisor first and then the president. Once discussed, the notice must be put in writing. The company would appreciate receiving as much notice as possible. The expectation of the company is that at least two weeks’ notice for Support Staff and one month’s notice for Administrative and Senior Administrative level employees will be given.”

    • Assuming you’re in the U.S., that type of statement isn’t legally binding on you. It’s a preference, not a requirement. That said, declining to give that much notice could certainly impact things like the reference they give you — but they can’t force you to stay.