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How to Quit Your Job and Dealing with Counter Offers

Copy of Thanksgiving

Over the course of my career, I’ve had three “Hey boss, I’m quitting” talks. One involved tears (of sadness), one involved tears (of happiness—though I saved them for after the meeting), and one involved my boss asking if I could take him with me.

All of them, though, involved a gut-wrenching feeling that was equal parts terror, fear, and guilt (and OK, maybe a little excitement). Sound familiar? Whether you’re thrilled to be leaving a job you really love, having that conversation is rarely easy.

There’s plenty of advice out there on the basics of how to quit your job: Break the news, express gratitude for all the opportunities you’ve received, and show that you’re committed to transitioning your responsibilities. But let’s go one step further and talk about how to make having that conversation a little less painful.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Remember This Happens All the Time

You’re not the first person who’s ever quit, and you won’t be the last. So, if you’re scared your boss will be shocked, throw a fit, or be personally offended, take a deep breath and repeat: This is a totally normal part of the working world. Not to mention, your boss might not be as blindsided as you’d think after weeks of “emergency dentist appointments” and your Monday-morning “Hey, can we chat for 15 minutes today?” email.

That said, you’ll also want to prepare for the reaction you might receive when quitting a job. It probably won’t be a screaming fit (I hope), but it might be a counteroffer or a guilt trip to try to get you to stay longer than the notice you’ve given. These are pretty normal, too, and Muse expert Katie Douthwaite Wolf walks through each of these reactions to your resignation, and exactly how to plan for each one.

Speaking of planning…

Remember You Should Lead the Conversation

I’ve definitely been so worried about the initial “So… I’m leaving…” line that I didn’t prep for anything else—and had to bumble my way through the rest of the conversation saying things like, “Um… I’m going to freelance? Maybe take some classes?”

So take it from me: Before you go in, make sure you’re armed with and have practiced:

The Answer to “Where Are You Going?”

The trick to answering where you’re headed is to be honest, but brief—no one needs to know all the details of your new company’s awesome perks or just how much more you’re making.

If there’s a reason you can’t be totally open—you haven’t signed your offer letter, you’re going to a competitor—that’s OK, but give as much information as you can: “I can’t be public about it just yet, but it’s a marketing position at a startup where I’ll be doing highly creative social campaigns.” Or, if you’re quitting with nothing on the horizon—I’ve done that too!—something like, “I have several possible options, and I’m taking a few weeks off to recharge before I land.”

The Date of Your Last Day

Two weeks notice is the bare minimum, though if you have a high-level role, are in the midst of an extremely busy season or complex project, or aren’t easily replaceable, it’s worth thinking about giving a bit more. If you’re not sure how to decide, Muse career expert Jennifer Winter DeRome offers some good guidelines for following two weeks’ notice etiquette.

An Overview of Your Transition Plan

This, ultimately, is what your boss is worried about most: What will he or she do next? You don’t have to have a detailed transition plan in place (though you should get to work on that ASAP), but you should outline a few thoughts about what you’ll do in your remaining time.

Preparing these statements and doing a dry run of the conversation will make you feel much more comfortable when you’re actually having it. That, and…

Remember the Reasons You’re Leaving

When you’re approaching your manager’s office, it’s easy to remember all the reasons you should stay. You know the drill here, your co-workers aren’t that bad, and your boss really does need you at the event next month…

Stop. And reflect on not only your motivations for looking for a new job in the first place, but also for deciding to make this next move—a higher-level position, work you care about, more money, less stress, all of the above. Assuming you’ve thought through this decision and made it with eyes wide open, it’s likely a great move, and you’re going to feel amazing once this next step in the transition is over. Keeping that feeling in mind as you walk in will help you stay calm, positive, and energized rather than panicked.

Of course, if you’re leaving not because you hate your job but because you’re, say, moving across the country for your spouse…

Remember This Isn’t the End of Your Relationship

Remember those bosses I mentioned above? I’m still in touch with all three of them. The world is small, and it’s common (and a really, really good thing) to maintain relationships with former co-workers.

So if part of your anxiety is actually sadness that you won’t be seeing these people every day, keep in mind that this isn’t the end of the road. There are plenty of ways to stay in touch, plus you may have opportunities to collaborate in the future—or heck, even work together again.

Having “the talk” is never easy. But, I promise: Once it’s done, that gut-wrenching feeling is going to be replaced by a wave of relief and happiness that the next thing is just around the corner.

by Adrian Granzella Larssen