NEW YORK (
) -- The job market may be better now than during the peak of the recession, but that doesn't mean workers should feel too confident about quitting their job abruptly without having something else lined up.
"Right now, we are still in an economy where you really need to look for other jobs before you leave," said Samantha Zupan, spokeswoman for
, a job search engine.
is stuck above 9% with nearly 14 million Americans out of work and eager to land whatever few jobs are out there. That doesn't mean quitting is completely off the table, but as Zupan puts it, "you really need to do your homework before you quit."
With that in mind, MainStreet spoke with several career experts to find out just what that homework is. If you are considering quitting, these are the steps that you should follow before, during and immediately after you give notice to your employer.
Be honest with yourself
Perhaps more than anything else, employees need to be honest with themselves about their motivations for wanting to leave. While there are legitimate reasons for quitting a job -- if it interferes too much with your family obligations or proves so stressful that it negatively impacts your health -- some argue employees often look for an exit for the wrong reasons.
"In general, people quit their jobs because they are delusional and think they need more time for something, like writing a novel or traveling," says Penelope Trunk, a popular business blogger and CEO of the Brazen Careerist. "These are not actually good reasons to quit your job." Instead, she argues that these workers should be more realistic about how much time they need to pursue these passions and figure out a way to do so on the side.
Consult with your boss and HR
If you continue to feel strongly about quitting your job for these or any other reasons, your first step should be consulting with your friends, family and close co-workers to get feedback on your concerns before you make any decisions. Should they agree that your problems warrant taking action, Zupan argues the best thing to do next is schedule a meeting with your boss or human resources.
"It's important to have an open and fair discussion with your boss," Zupan says, during which you express your concerns in a constructive way. If you feel stifled in your work, have a discussion about what other opportunities there may be. If you feel particularly
and stressed, offer suggestions on how to best modify your workload so you can improve your work situation rather than give up on it completely.
It may sound counterintuitive to offer your boss any hints that you are dissatisfied where you work, for fear that he or she may try to replace you, but according to Zupan, the trick is to frame the discussion as being constructive rather than full of complaints. This way, you leave the boss with fewer concerns about your future at the company, and what's more, if and when you do leave, your boss will may be more willing to serve as a reference since you maintained a dialogue throughout this process.
Get a job offer in writing
If your dissatisfaction at work continues even after meeting with your boss, you should try to stick it out long enough to line up another position elsewhere. Once you are accepted for another job though, make sure you receive a formal offer in writing before you put in your notice at work.
"Always get every detail of a job offer in writing, especially if the offer includes extras like relocation assistance or your new employer's agreement to give you an additional week of vacation," said Alison Green, the writer behind the well-known
blog. "That covers you in case there's a misunderstanding later."
Otherwise, you may end up in a situation where you quit one job in favor of another only to find out the new position doesn't offer quite as much as you had been led to believe.
Get on firm financial footing
For those who are unable to secure a job offer but can't bear working much longer at their current job, take a long, hard look at your bank account.
"You need to think about what your financial situation looks like and whether you can afford to take the time off," Zupan says. "A lot of people who want to quit really don't have that option."
In general, financial advisers recommend having three to
six months' worth of income
set aside in the event that you lose your job, but given that more that nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been without work for at least six months, it might be good to have a few months of extra income on top. Unfortunately, half of all Americans fall so far short that they wouldn't even be able to
come up with $2,000
if they needed it.
Tell your boss face to face
Once you have either secured a written job offer or saved up enough money to justify leaving your job, be mindful of who you tell your decision to and how you tell them.
"Tell your supervisor first. You want your boss to hear the news from you, not from someone else in the department," says Alexandra Levit, author of
And when you do tell your boss, make sure to do it in person.
"Unless you have virtually no personal relationship with your boss, this is not a message to send by email or via a letter left in your manager's inbox," Green says. "Request a meeting and say it face to face."
While this meeting may feel tense or awkward, Green recommends staying professional and emphasizing that you enjoyed your time at the company but need to move on.
"The correct way for a boss to respond is to congratulate you and tell you how sorry she will be to lose you, and to ask what could have been done differently to make you want to stay," she said.
Don't slack off in your final weeks
After workers give notice, it's not uncommon to want to slack off during the final weeks, but according to each of the career experts we spoke with, this could prove to be a serious mistake.
"Don't check out during your remaining time on the job. It will show, and it can damage the reputation you might have spent years building up," Green says. "Stay engaged, don't start coming in late and leaving early, and care as much about leaving your work in good shape as you cared about your performance up until now."
As part of that effort, Green recommends carefully going through any unfinished business, making sure to answer any unread emails, organize files and, perhaps most importantly, offer to train or advise whichever employee will be taking on your tasks. It may not be a requirement, but according to Green, it can easily generate "substantial good will," which will serve you well when asking for job references later.
Start a new business or project
For those workers who have successfully lined up another job, the checklist ends here, but anyone who quits without having a backup plan must be particularly savvy about their careers in the weeks after quitting.
At the very least, Zupan says the hunt for a job must become your full-time job to stop yourself from joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed, but this is only one part of your new responsibilities. The great struggle for anyone who quits their job is to find a way to put a positive spin on their decision.
"When you quit, you always want to set yourself up to put that decision in a positive light in your next job interview," Trunk said.
The way around this, she argues, is to start your own business or take on a new project. This can be as simple as launching your own website or taking classes in a new subject area.
"By doing this, you can tell people you quit to try building something new," Trunk said, "rather than just saying you quit because you hated your job, which makes you sound terrible."
Who knows, taking these steps might turn that period of unemployment into an
that eventually leads you to a better job or career down the road.
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