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Don't make these mistakes when quitting your job

Key Points
  • More Americans are leaving their jobs by choice today than in nearly two decades. 
  • Experts say there's a wrong and right way to quit. 
Ricardo Mojana | Getty Images

She exits the stage gracefully. That should be your stage direction when you quit your job.

"The way you leave is really important," said Robert Sutton, professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of a book with an eyebrow-raising title, which you can find here.

Americans are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate in nearly two decades, according to the Department of Labor, showing that people are confident enough in the economy to move onto other opportunities. Here's how to take off.

Plan your exit

Don't leave your boss and co-workers in the lurch, Sutton said.

Try to figure out a way to at least complete your current assignments. You might even want to train your replacement, Sutton said. If you do, consider checking in with the person who takes over for you every few weeks to make sure all is going smoothly.

How much notice to give is a personal question, said Philip Pizzo, founding director of the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute. When he decided to leave his senior leadership role at an institution, he gave two years' notice. "I wanted the institution to have enough time to recruit my successor in a thoughtful and meaningful way," Pizzo said. Although that might be extreme for most, he said to consider going beyond the boilerplate two weeks.

"Most people will give anywhere from a couple of months to a year," he said.

Still, be financially prepared for your employer to reject your offer.

"You may suddenly find yourself out the door in a much shorter time than anticipated," Pizzo said.

The exit interview
Fizkes | Getty

Before you take off, many companies will ask you to talk about your experience at the job. Honesty isn't always the best policy, even if you've been promised that the meeting is confidential, Sutton said. "When people get bad news about themselves, they like you less," Sutton said. "So you've got to be careful."

You may need this employer to write you a reference for your next jobs, he said. "Be as gracious as possible," he said.

Save your more heated observations for anonymous online forums, such as Glassdoor, he said.

Provide constructive feedback to your employer without being offensive, said Pizzo.

"You might frame it as, 'If I were staying, these are some of the things that would have made my work more successful and meaningful'," Pizzo said.

Thank people

Sutton pointed to the work of behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002, which showed that people recall experiences largely by how they ended.

"The way you end things with a boss will have a disproportionate effect on how he or she remembers you," Sutton said.

Therefore, consider writing your former boss and even your employees a letter or email about how they positively impacted you while you were at the company. How did they help you? What did you appreciate about them? Did they help you grow?

Prepare for the uncertain
Narvikk | E+ | Getty Images

Even if you quit your job because you didn't like the company and you're excited about the next step, you should brace yourself for the transition. "Once you leave a role, you're basically past tense in the eyes of the organization, and that's a pretty scary feeling," he said.

Your sense of community and routine can be turned upside down.

"There's a sense of void," Pizzo said. "You knew who were but you may not have determined who you are going to be."

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