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The 9-step exit strategy for quitting your first job

If it’s time to check out, follow these steps so you leave on good terms.

The 9-step exit strategy for quitting your first job

You’re nearing the end of your first job and things look great: Your co-workers adore you, you’ve honed your skills and the boss doesn’t want to see you go. Or, in a less ideal world, you hate the company or your boss.

Regardless of your reasons for leaving, the way you resign can have a major impact on your reputation. In fact, nearly nine in 10 human resources managers say that how you quit affects your future career opportunities, an OfficeTeam survey found.

“Depending on how you say goodbye, your manager may or may not recommend you in the future,” says business communication coach Nancy Ancowitz. Given the pressure, you might even be hesitant to quit.

Cool your nerves by following this step-by-step guide to making a clean exit.

1. Keep your decision under wraps

While it may be tempting, refrain from confiding in co-workers that you’re planning to quit. Your boss should be the first person who hears you’re leaving, says Ancowitz. Furthermore, your manager may want to craft an office-wide email announcing your departure, so don’t ruffle feathers by spreading the word ahead of time.

2. Have the conversation in person

Face-to-face interaction creates trust, which you lose if you resign from a distance, says Adam Ochstein, founder and CEO of human resources services provider StratEx in Chicago. It’s a tough conversation to have—“people don’t like saying goodbye,” says Ancowitz—but your boss will appreciate you resigning in person since it shows sincerity.

3. Give ample notice

Two weeks’ notice is standard, but provide whatever is reasonable for your industry and workload, says Amy Glaser, senior vice president at worldwide employment agency Adecco Staffing. “If you have a lot on your plate, sometimes a month’s notice is more appropriate,” she adds.

4. Schedule the breakup

Lay the foundation for the conversation to avoid blindsiding your boss, Glaser advises. Send an email requesting to meet and hint at what you’d like to discuss (don’t quit via the email). For the subject line, use “Important Meeting” and body text that reads, “I’d like to speak with you about my career here at the organization.”

5. Rehearse your reason for leaving

Your boss is going to ask why you’re quitting. There’s no need to get into specifics, especially if you’re unhappy. Instead, voice your appreciation and then focus on your career goals—not the company. Try something along the lines of: “I love my job, and I’ve learned so much working here. However, at this point in my career, I’m excited to contribute my skills to another company, where I can make an impact on a different customer base.”

6. Be prepared for a counteroffer

If you’re a top performer, the boss may try to keep you. So unless you’re dead set on leaving, consider what it would take for you to stay at the company. Leaving for a higher-paying job? Know what size raise you want, and consider other benefits such as telecommuting options and more vacation time since your boss may not be in the position to adjust your compensation.

7. Ask for a reference

If you’ve decided to leave and the conversation goes well, request that the boss gives you a recommendation on LinkedIn. Provide specific projects or characteristics you’d like mentioned. If your manager is overloaded, offer to write one and submit it to the boss for approval. “There’s no better testimony of your skills than a recommendation from your last employer,” says Ochstein.

8. Train your replacement

Make the process as seamless as possible for your boss. You can help ease the transition by offering to be part of the onboarding process. Take a hands-on approach, says Ancowitz, by introducing the new hire to clients and colleagues.

9. Close the door with a thank you

On your last day, publicly praise your manager and colleagues in an email (copy the higher-ups), and plan some parting words for your farewell. “When you leave on good terms, your personal brand stays intact,” says Ancowitz.

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