The Right Time to Resign

A reader asks about jumping ship at an inconvenient time.

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Alison Green

What is your opinion of the timing when a person decides to resign for another job? I am currently seeking another position while my organization and my department particularly is in the middle of a major, long-term project in which I play a major part as mid-level technical staff. While I hate to put my coworkers in an awkward position if I leave now, opportunities for better pastures are opening up in other companies. The project still has a year or more ahead before completion. I have been in the company for two and a half years.

I am not really getting an opportunity to grow in my current position--budgets are being slashed, benefits are being cut, professional development is nonexistent, and layoffs and frozen open positions are the norm here. I am applying for jobs with organizations with a more secure financial footing and which will allow me to grow as a professional instead of feeling as if I am stagnating.

As a manager, how would you feel if a person under you decides to jump ship at this time and under these circumstances? If this person were to ask to use you as a reference for a future job hunt, what would you be inclined to say about them?

There's rarely a "good" time to resign. True, some periods are better than others, and of course employers (and coworkers) are disappointed to lose good employees--but this is part of life, and all, except for the crazy or irrational managers, recognize this. You've been there two and a half years, you're not satisfied, and if you're able to find something that would make you happier, do it.

You asked what I'd think as a manager in this situation. Personally, I want three things from employees who are thinking about resigning: a chance to know about their concerns so I have a chance to try to address them, honesty when they're thinking about moving on*, and a reasonable amount of notice if they decide to leave. I don’t expect them to time their career decisions around my needs, unless they’ve made a specific commitment to stay for a certain project or time period (in which case, I expect them to honor that).

The reality is that it's a normal part of business for people to leave jobs, and the timing isn't always convenient for the employer. Sane managers know that.

That doesn't mean we don't hate it when good employees leave. Good managers will work hard to keep good employees. But we also understand that eventually, most people move on. And you can't pass up great opportunities just because the timing isn't ideal.

Yes, very rarely, a boss will react poorly. This reflects badly on the boss, not on you. If this happens to you -- the boss gets angry or tries to guilt you into staying -- stay professional and simply reiterate that you've enjoyed your time there but will be moving on. Emphasize what you're planning to do to make the transition smooth.

* A note: While I want employees to be honest with me when they're thinking about moving on, before they're ready to give notice, this is a case of "know your employer." Short-sighted employers (and there are many) may punish this kind of honesty by pushing you out the door. If you work for one of those, give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that.

Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results . She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.

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