If you’ve never quit a job before, it can be understandably intimidating. How do you end your tenure at your current workplace peacefully, without leaving sour feelings of abandonment in your wake? First off: understand that most (but definitely not all!) professional people understand that turnover is a natural part of doing business. 

According to our Employer Brand Research study, a little over 20% of people leave their jobs each year. That means about 1 in 5 people will change jobs each year! So you’re not alone in quitting! Most workplaces have policies in place to handle resignations and will treat you respectfully, so try not to assume the worst. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to hand in your two weeks’ notice and guidelines to follow when handing in your letter of resignation to make the process as smooth as possible.


wait until you’ve signed an offer

If you’re jumping ship for a new job, always wait until the new contract is signed to give notice. No matter how much of a sure thing your new job seems to be, do not, we repeat, do not hand in your two weeks’ notice until you’ve signed the offer letter. That’s when your new job is a sure thing. You’ve signed a written, enforceable contract. Even if the recruiter you’re working with promises an ‘offer is coming,’ you never know what might happen. We’ve seen job offers disappear at the eleventh hour, and suddenly the job seeker is out of an offer and their current job. The lesson: don’t jump the gun on quitting until the ink is dry on your new job offer.

give a full two weeks' notice whenever possible

This is the accepted professional courtesy. It’s not a legal requirement, so if for some reason you need to give shorter notice, you can. However, giving a full two weeks, or even more if you’re in a hard-to-replace role, is a show of good faith. By staying on board for your final two weeks, you’re telling your soon-to-be-former employer, “I don’t want to leave you in the lurch.” You’re offering to wrap up your duties, transfer over important knowledge to another employee, and maybe even help with hiring your replacement. There are some (rare) cases where it’s okay to skip giving notice, such as if you feel unsafe in any way or you have reason to believe your employer won’t accept your notice. An example: if your employer has a history of calling security to escort employees out the door when they try to give notice. In that case, why deny yourself your last 2 weeks of pay?

write a resignation letter

If you work in a professional environment, it’s usually expected that you hand in a written letter of resignation. Usually it should be printed out and given to your boss in person. Try to avoid sending your resignation by email. The reason for writing a letter is so there’s a physical copy of your resignation to refer to, especially since when you give notice it often comes as a shock and details are easily forgotten in the moment. Your resignation letter doesn’t need to be detailed. It should fit on a single page and include confirmation that you’re leaving, your last day of work, and possibly updates on projects you’ll be leaving behind. It’s also typical to thank your manager for the opportunity. You can find lots of good templates for a resignation letter on the Internet.

tell your boss first

Though it’s tempting to tell your closest coworkers the second you have a signed offer letter in hand, it’s considered good form to notify your boss first. The main reason: you don’t want your boss to find out another way. They should know first, because they’ll be most affected by you leaving your job. They’re responsible for ensuring the duties of your role are completed. They need to start planning to replace you as soon as possible. Gossip has a way of travelling fast in offices, even when you swear people to secrecy, so just do yourself a solid and tell your boss first. They should hear that you’re leaving from you, not because a gossipy coworker overheard a conversation, or a loose-lipped coworker spilled the beans.

present your resignation in person

The best policy is to present your notice to your direct manager in person. Bring your resignation letter, with all the details of your resignation and hand it over after you’ve verbally given notice. No matter how uncomfortable giving notice is, doing it in person is the professional thing to do. If you absolutely have to give notice and can’t speak to your boss in person, a phone call is the next best option. Also be prepared for your boss to be surprised, if your new job is coming out of the blue. Also be aware they may ask questions like when your last day is, why you’re planning to leave, or where you’re headed next. Whether you want to answer these questions truthfully is up to you, but either way know what you’re going to say.

you don’t have to explain

You’re not obligated to be truthful about why you’re leaving, particularly if the reason would set tempers aflame. Maybe you loathe your micromanaging boss. Maybe you can’t stand a coworker. Maybe you found a new job with a significant raise. Maybe you just want a change. Whether the reason, and whether it’s good or bad, it’s no one’s business but yours. Unless, of course, you want to share. Just because you’re leaving, doesn’t mean this is the time to air all the grievances you’ve accumulated over years. Sure, it might feel good to get all that stuff off your chest, but more likely than not it’ll just make your last few weeks miserable. Always follow the golden rule: if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Which brings us to…

don’t burn bridges

When you’ve got one foot out the door, it’s easy to think: “I never have to deal with these people again, it doesn’t matter what I say!” But you’d be surprised just how small many industries are. You never know when a former coworker might suddenly become your current coworker. You never know when you might need a reference from a former boss. It’s always a good idea to keep your professional contacts and network alive. That means being nice. You’re the one leaving, you’re the one who instigated this change, so it’s on you to be the bigger person and keep your professional relationships intact.

be prepared for your exit interview

Most large companies will conduct an exit interview on your last day. The intent of these interviews is to understand why you’re leaving so HR can improve employee retention in the future, or possibly address the issues that caused you to pack your bags. 

It’s up to you how honest you want to be. If there are legitimate issues you think HR should know about and address, feel free to share them. If you think airing your issues will cause problems or fall on deaf ears, feel free to keep them to yourself. 

One exception: if the issues that caused you to leave were criminal – for instance harassment, stealing, bribery, etc. – it’s usually better not to sweep them under a rug.  

But at the end of the day, remember that you’re leaving. What happens after you’re gone isn’t your responsibility.

don’t forget to ask questions

Leaving your job probably results in a whole lot of questions. How will your last paycheque be handled? What happens with your health or dental benefits? What about your RRSPs? 

If your company has a good HR team, they’ll do their best to make your transition as smooth as possible and answer as many of these questions as possible. 

However they’re not mind readers, so you may have some questions you need to know the answers to before you leave. Make a list of everything you need to know or take care of before you leave.

finish strong

When you’ve handed in your notice, your last two weeks can seem like a write off. Don’t give into the urge to slack off and do the bare minimum, just because your tenure is coming to an end. 

Give your final few days your full 100%. How you behave will be what your coworkers remember. You can bet if you suddenly transform into a grumpy slacker, that’s what your coworkers are going to think about when you come to mind. For the sake of your professional network, bring your A-game until the end. 

Also do your best to transfer any important knowledge and wrap up or reassign any important projects you’re working on. This will make the transition as smooth as possible. Try to make your last interaction with your coworkers a positive one, as well. Whether it’s having a goodbye meal together, or just taking a moment to thank everyone, end on a high note. 

At the end of the day, resigning from a job is a natural part of life as a working professional. The average person today holds 11 jobs in their lifetime, which means learning to give two weeks’ notice is a handy life skill to have, unless you plan to stay with your current employer for your entire working life. 

want to learn more about working in canada? check out more articles related to the job market in canada.

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