I have been fired once or twice, usually because I stayed after I should have quit, and in a sleep-deprived and abused moment I blurted out something stupid that meant “wow, that guy hates it here.” I generally felt better within a few days of getting canned than I had on any day at work.
I’ve also quit a few jobs. In my impetuous youth, I did this poorly. For the last eight years or so, however, I’ve been fortunate to work for the meanest, pushiest boss I’ve ever had: me. I don't plan to quit anytime soon.
Yet I've observed that, recently, there has been a rash of quitters who nail a thesis to the church door on the way out. This is not a good idea.
The most recent and public social media Martin Luthering was conducted by Christie Koehler as she quit Mozilla. On one hand, it looks like Mozilla has issues, and she brought some of them to light. On the other hand, this wasn’t a great career move. She said, “I’m leaving Mozilla employment voluntarily and on good terms,” but as an employer I can tell you those “good terms” are very improbable. You made bad press for your employer on your way out. Your boss and on up remember that you publicly shamed the company even if they didn’t know who you were. If you were ever to try and go back, someone in HR would at least note that you’re a risk.
Rule No. 1: Don’t go public
Unless you’re a member of Parliament, and then only if you’re sitting next to the Prime Minister -- or possibly an investor/director, board member, or have a title that begins with "C" -- you are very, very unlikely to be a change agent through your resignation. Don’t give feedback that isn’t asked for. Don’t write something nasty on social media or give the press a juicy quote. Don’t send around a nasty email.
Rule No. 2: Give two weeks notice, but be prepared to be sent home immediately
If you were essential, important, trusted, and reliable, then you'll stick around for your last 10 working days. If they aren’t sure whether you’re going to start deleting things off the server or stealing competitive data because they were thinking of firing you anyhow, then there's no way they're keeping you around. If you stay, do your best two weeks of work at the company during your last two weeks. This creates a lasting final impression. I've given the best references to the people who exited with class.
Rule No. 3: Offer help in transitioning
If you were a critical part of the organization, offer help in the transition. Between the period when you make a decision to leave and give notice, invest time in documenting things for the next person. If they really need you for a demo in two weeks and a day, try to accommodate that extra day. Do everything you can to avoid leaving them in a lurch.
Rule No. 4: Don’t return unless invited
There are some former employees who come around our company and are totally welcome -- as long as they don't disrupt things. For other ex-employees it would be awkward. Don't create a situation.
Rule No. 5: Be circumspect in offering your reasons for leaving
Maybe you wanted more money; that’s fine to say and constructive. It could also be that you’ve already raised other issues that were never addressed -- that’s fine to say, too. But if you never addressed the issue before, don’t bring it up on the way out, or your employer will think you’re being unfair. Alternatively, is the real reason you're leaving because you hate your boss and your nearest co-worker? Then repeat after me: “I had another opportunity and it was too good to pass up” or “I’d like to do something else and want to break into some new areas.” Keep “I don’t like working with jerks” to yourself.
Rule No. 6: Don’t meet up for gripe sessions with co-workers still at the company
This almost always gets back to someone, and it reflects more on you than on your employer. Be careful about doing this even with people who formerly work for the company; they may pass along to current employees what you’re saying. Don’t try to “save” others by “spreading the word” about the outrageous deficiencies of your former employer. You’ll only hurt yourself.
Rule No. 7: Don’t write anything negative or sensitive on Glassdoor that could be traced back to you
I have to be honest -- as an employer, I don’t really like Glassdoor. You can find factual information there, but some of it is incorrect, and much of it isn’t up to date. If you post anything, don’t let yourself be identified either through the timing or the content of what you write. Above all, if you say anything negative, it shouldn’t be obvious that it's you.
Rule No. 8: Return or offer to return everything
Especially security cards or keys -- if anything turns up missing, you’re hosed. Some employers let me keep my laptop because it was on the verge of upgrade. That was very nice of them. Remember what President Underwood said: “You are entitled to nothing.”
Rule No. 9: Consider asking for a letter of recommendation or LinkedIn recommendation
If you stay at your next job for four years and the person who would have written you a reference dies, retires, or gets promoted to a higher-stress job, they might not be available. Get endorsements when you can. This also enables you to find out what they might say if in a telephone reference -- or if they have mixed feelings and don’t want to lie (such as, “hard worker, technically adept, but bad customer skills”).
Rule No. 10: Keep in touch with former colleagues
Build a digital Rolodex and keep your contacts warm. I’ve switched jobs and thought, “Wow, this is going to be great,” only to realize I’d rather have my old job back. I've worked with people when they were peons and later become decision makers. Some of my company’s partners are a direct result of my relationships with former colleagues.
Rule No. 11: Get feedback
Try to find out what people really think about you on close to the last day, when they have less to lose if what they have to say isn’t so nice. Find out what your best and worst areas are. Then see what your next employer says. Try to do this with your boss and any stakeholders in your work.
Rule No. 12: Don’t badmouth the company to customers
This won’t reflect well on you and doesn’t do anyone any good. Also, don’t inform customers of your impending departure unless your boss has cleared it. If you go to a direct competitor, this is even more important. If asked, say, “I preferred the offering and felt it was a better opportunity.” If asked for specifics, go over the talking points of how the company differentiates itself. If you can’t do that with a straight face, you shouldn’t have taken the new job.
Rule No. 13: Avoid going to a direct competitor
Unless you’re in a field or specialty where you can’t step out of a small sphere of competitive businesses, avoid jumping to a company that was formerly your worst enemy. Otherwise, you create legal and ethical concerns. Also, if your competitor is hiring you for some critical intelligence or relationship, what happens when they have it? In a way, you’ve proven you can’t be trusted. Why should they keep you around any longer than they need to?
Rule No. 14: Don’t rage-quit
If you’re angry, calm down before quitting. I once nearly rage-quit a fairly lucrative startup, then found a CTO position at another, only to have it boiled by software patents right before I would have joined it. Had I left the first startup in haste I’d have missed a fairly large payout.
Rule No. 15: Don’t stay past your expiration date
It’s rare for people who are very unhappy to perform as well as they think they're performing. I’ve stayed at jobs long enough to be fired when I could have quit on good terms. When you realize the situation is probably not salvageable, plan your next steps.
Old bosses and colleagues have a tendency to become future customers. Moreover, the world isn’t as big as you imagine, and this particular industry is smaller than you think. I’ve run into some of the same people over and over again. Sometimes I wish I’d left a better impression, especially when I was younger.