Should you resign or wait to be fired?
By Robert DiGiacomo
The writing’s on the wall about your future –– or lack of one –– at your company. You worry about being fired because of performance issues or because you just don’t get along with your boss.
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Should you stay until you’re fired, or should you go out on your own terms?
The answer depends on whether your reputation or bottom line is your greatest concern, says workplace author, speaker and consultant Alexandra Levit.
“It’s always better for your reputation if you resign, because it makes it look like the decision was yours –– not theirs,” Levit says. “But if you resign, you may not be entitled to the type of compensation you would receive if you were fired.”
Here are some other questions to ask yourself as you weigh your resign-or-be-fired options:
Is Your Mental Health at Stake?
Prior to giving notice, assess how much toll your miserable work situation is taking on your psyche, says career coach and speaker Julie Jansen.
“I ask my clients, ‘How hard is it to get out of bed in the morning?’” says Jansen, author of I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This. “If they say it’s not that bad, I tell them to try to tough it out. If they can’t stand it, they have to leave.”
Where Are You in Your Career?
The impact of being fired is usually not as severe on less-experienced professionals, still trying to forge their career paths. Because they typically have less money saved, younger workers also are more likely to need to collect unemployment benefits, which are typically available only to those who are terminated or laid off.
“At the junior level, being fired could be seen as a rite of passage,” Levit says. “I still wouldn’t advertise it, but most people feel that being fired once comes with the territory.”
If you are fired, you should acknowledge the termination to recruiters and prospective employers without discussing the actual circumstances behind your departure.
“You have to be honest that you lost a job, but you don’t have to say you were fired for performance reasons,” Jansen says.
What Are Your Job Prospects?
For most job seekers at the manager level or above, it typically takes six months to land a new job, Jansen says. So before submitting your resignation letter, be sure you’re ready –– financially and emotionally –– to make the leap.
“You have to know how much money you have, what the market is like, what’s going on in your industry [and] psychologically if you can handle it,” Jansen says. “If you can handle all of that -- quit. If you can’t –– don’t.”
Employers also may prefer to hire people who are still employed or who have been out of work for six months or less.
“Absolutely it is better to stay employed while you look,” says Levit, author of New Job, New You. “Candidates are always seen as more desirable if they are currently working for someone else. "
Do You Have Any Leverage?
Those at the management level and above may be able to resign with a severance package of six months or longer in exchange for agreeing not to bad-mouth the company, according to Terry Bacon, a scholar in residence at the Korn/Ferry Institute, the research arm of a management consultancy.
“A lot of companies know if they have a senior person leaving, [there’s a risk] of greater damage to the company,” says Bacon, author of The Elements of Power and Elements of Influence. “Some people will leave, and can spin a story that will put the company in a bad light.”
Will Word Get Around?
If you’re far along in your career, a resignation may be better for your image.
“At the top levels, it’s more of an insider community, and everyone will know the true story about why you were let go,” Levit says. “It’s also expected that, as a seasoned executive, you will possess a certain amount of competence, and being fired leads people to question that competence.
Accept Your Fate
If you decide to hang on until you get that termination letter, prepare yourself for the moment. Seek counsel from friends or a career coach.
“If you know you’re going to be fired, turn a lemon into lemonade and make the best possible transition you can,” Bacon says. “The worst thing is to be in denial and pretend it’s not happening.”