Thomas Barwick

How to spectacularly quit your job, according to Stanford experts


Picture the scene: You stand, resignation letter in hand, in front of your boss' desk. You set down the envelope alongside a string of choice criticisms, carefully construed over the years. You turn and leave, tossing a Molotov cocktail over your shoulder without so much as a backward glance.

It may make for a dramatic movie scene, but it's far from the recommended way to leave a job.

And the alternative isn't much better. You meekly present your boss with your two weeks' notice, then work quietly for the next fortnight before disappearing into oblivion. 

They're two versions of the same story, but neither is conducive to setting out the next stage of your career.

The first scenario — the "bridge burner" — can be downright dangerous, according to Stanford professors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, and the second — the "2-week lame duck" — isn't much more helpful.

The two most important moments are the climax of the action and the last five minutes. And the last five minutes is your quit.
Dave Evans
Stanford University professor

In their new book "Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work," the two career experts pioneer a third "radical" approach: The generative quitter.

Based on their combined 80 years' experience navigating their own careers and those of thousands of others across professional services and academia, Evans and Burnett say the "win-win-win" strategy will ensure you leave your current job on the best possible terms and set yourself up for the next stage of career success. 

"As any movie-maker will tell you ... the two most important moments are the climax of the action and the last five minutes. And the last five minutes is your quit," Evans tells CNBC Make It.

"An incredibly powerful memory and impression will be the way you left; the last couple of things you did. It's really important to get that right."

Ngampol Thongsai | EyeEm

Four simple steps

Quitting your job is not a decision to be taken lightly, and sometimes there may be opportunities to work with your employer toward an alternative solution.

But if you decide it's the right next move for you, Evans says politely handing in your notice should always be followed by four important steps.

1. Leave the campsite better than you found it

All good campers know the rule "leave the campsite better than you found it," but it's also a good rule for work, says Evans.

Take small steps to make your workplace better in your final few days on the job. Not only will this set your colleagues up for success, but it will also boost your confidence and improve your references for your next job. What's more, since so few people do it, it'll ensure you're remembered long after you've left.

2. Rev up your network

Your professional network is one of your greatest assets for future referrals and job opportunities.

Be sure to preserve and expand your network before you leave by taking time to cement existing relationships with teammates and reaching out to people you never got the chance to know while doing your day-to-day job. 

3. Set up your replacement to win

When making your next career move, it can be easy to overlook one important player: your successor. But setting them up for success, while seemingly counterintuitive, can pay dividends, says Evans.

You can do that by writing them a quick reference guide to your job, including key insights, procedures and contacts. Not only will this provide a feel-good factor, it's also an "incredibly easy opportunity to absolutely outstandingly distinguish yourself, like 'wow, I've never seen anything like that before,'" he notes.

4. Exit well

Finally, make sure that the final impression you leave is a positive one. You may have het up feedback you wish to impart, but make sure you do so constructively. Most importantly, highlight the positives you and the company have gained from one another. 

"It's not that hard to do this right. Just give yourself a good script, and most importantly, stick to it. You'll be glad you did," says Evans. 

A skill for life

While Evans says his four-step approach to quitting is useful for people at all career stages, he argues that's especially so for young to mid-career professionals.

With ever-extending retirement thresholds and fast-changing industries, young workers today are set to move jobs multiple times and "quit a bunch" over their careers, he notes, so it's important to get it right. 

"What you want to do as you move along is have an unbroken train of not only 'I was successful,' but 'I was successful and long after I went, they think well of and speak well of me,'" says Evans, noting that it's vital in today's "hyperconnected world."

"That's going to go as a deposit in your bank account of value as a credible professional for the rest of your life. So the younger you are, the better this is," he adds.

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