January 14, 2013

When should I tell my boss I’m resigning?

Filed under: Heads up, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Success at Work, The job offer, Uncategorized

In the January 15, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks when to give the boss notice of resignation:

I have an opportunity to move from a large corporation to a established startup. I have put in seven happy years at the corporation, but the new position will be a nice change. I’m still going through the interview process, and it’s going well. When do I break the news to my current boss? I don’t want to burn any bridges, and I don’t think I would accept any counter-offer. I just want to give respectable notice so that he can replace me.

Nick’s Reply

zip-itCongratulations on the new opportunity, but please — don’t jump the gun. Never, ever give notice or resign until:

  • You have a written offer in hand
  • You have formally accepted the offer
  • The new employer has confirmed your acceptance, and
  • The on-boarding process has begun.

It doesn’t happen often, but job offers get rescinded, especially between the informal oral offer and the bona fide written version. Don’t be left on the street without a job. When the above milestones have passed, I’d tell your employer nothing except that you’re leaving. Give your boss a one sentence resignation letter that says nothing more than:

“I hereby resign my position effective on [date].”

The details of your “notice” don’t need to be spelled out in the letter. In person, I’d commit to helping with a proper transition not to last more than two weeks, unless you really want to be helpful — that’s up to you.

There’s a small chance that, no matter how well you and your boss get along, you will be ushered out the door immediately. Some companies have very strict security policies, so make sure all other loose ends are tied up before you resign. They may not even let you go back to your desk. This is unusual, but it does happen. Even friendly employers can turn officious when a person resigns. Just be ready for it.

I would not disclose where you’re going. I’ve seen bitter former employers try to nuke a person’s new job. Politely explain you’ll be in touch right after you start the new job, if your boss really cares. I’m sorry to focus on the worst case, but you don’t want to get torpedoed before you start your new job. The odds of something bad happening are probably small, but the consequences can be enormous. My advice is, don’t chance it.

Again, congratulations. Take it one step at a time until the new deal is solid and safe. I wish you the best.

Have you ever resigned, only to have your new job offer rescinded? Has a resignation ever gone awry? What’s your policy about the nuts and bolts of transition when leaving a job?

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74 Comments on “When should I tell my boss I’m resigning?”
By Danilo Gonzales
August 21, 2014 at 12:20 am

I was not able to resigned properly last august 2011 due to some offer overseas.my question is this.Still i can get my final pay or no i send email to the gm and hr that time but they never replied .

By Nick Corcodilos
August 21, 2014 at 11:01 am

@Danilo: If you were working in the U.S., I believe the law forbids employers from withholding your pay. I would start by contacting your state’s department of labor and employment. They can tell you how to file to get your pay – and the employer may get slapped with fines.

By Rich
August 25, 2014 at 10:01 pm

I have accepted an offer from a competitor and plan on resigning this Friday. My offer was in writing and I have filled out the paperwork of a new hire. I know to keep my resignation letter short but do not plan on working a notice. My question is do I tell my boss where I am going as he will certainly find out. I don’t want him to think I am being underhanded or dishonest as I have confidential company property that I would need to return. I did I not sign a non compete but have signed a confidentiality agreement and will honor that. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

By Ka'El
August 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I had it happen to me, I was given an interview, lead to believe I had the job in the bag, given the start date, paperwork all ready, references fine. Day before my birthday, a phone call to say that they’d reconsidered the position and no go; this was after I’d handed in my resignation. Boss said he felt awful sent me a bunch of flowers – yeah like that would make up for recinding a job! Said I’d be suing them – they offered a settlement, should have asked for more realy… Thankfully I had contacts elsewhere and found a job at double the salary immediately thereafter but within two years the same company came a buying and I was made redundant! Biggest joke of all was that they wanted me to work for them as a freelancer – I told them that this could be construed as not technically being a redundant position and that it could land them in a lot of legal hot water… I didn’t want to work for that bunch and started up on my own. Seven years later had to end it simply due to economic conditions but soon, very soon… ;o)))

By Nick Corcodilos
August 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm

@Rich: My advice would be to tell your boss, “I’ll give you a call in a couple of weeks to tell you where I’ve landed and so we can get together for lunch. I will of course honor all my obligations to the company.” (My guess is he won’t want to do lunch, but you can offer anyway.)

Blame me if you need to. “A headhunter told me to make it a policy not to disclose a new job til I’ve been there two weeks. Something about the rare chance that something goes wrong…” And let it go at that.

But use your own judgment; only you know the details of this well enough to handle it properly.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 26, 2014 at 3:52 pm

@Ka’El: Thanks for sharing that – what a story! Flowers???? I’m glad you made an issue of it.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Should I have returned the job offer?
October 20, 2014 at 8:53 pm

[…] there’s more to this: Please read When should I tell my boss I’m resigning? It’s too late, but please remember this next time, and I repeat it for everyone else: Never, […]

By Bob The Programmer
October 21, 2014 at 11:46 am

Another aspect of resigning:

Many companies make an offer contingent on passing a background and job history check, which isn’t started until you accept the offer.

If they expect you two weeks after acceptance, and the check takes a week and a half, then you are expected to give notice before you actually have a job, which is pretty unpleasant.

By J9
October 21, 2014 at 11:51 pm

The timing on this post is perfect for me.

I interviewed for a position a week ago. I did not think I would get a call so quickly (the manager is on vacation this week), but I did yesterday. I got the job offer and accepted.

HR said it was “contingent” on a health screen (hospital setting) and ref checking. 2 ref have been called already.

I was set up with the health screen yesterday and was asked if I can attend the orientation next week.

I got the official letter of welcome today citing the salary agreement and the rest of the info discussed on the phone.

So,assuming I pass the health stuff and they like my ref I am going to give notice Friday to my other job. Orientation is Monday,which I took the day off for.

An HR friend told me if I hear nothing more by Thursday I should be confident I have the job for sure.

Also, today I recieved a call from the director (my managers boss) who was thrilled I accepted the job and can’t wait for me to start.

The work “Contigent” is the kicker. Even though all this other stuff is happening like on boarding me and the director calling me, etc.. I am still… well.. do I have the job or not?

By J9
October 22, 2014 at 12:00 am

Just a little note… The HR person used to work for the same company I accepted the job from and she knows how they work.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 22, 2014 at 9:11 am

@J9: “An HR friend told me if I hear nothing more by Thursday I should be confident I have the job for sure.”

It doesn’t matter that the HR person used to work for the company. It’s a classically irresponsible HR statement. She NEVER should have said this to you. My response would have been, “Then remove ‘contingent’ from the offer letter and re-send it to me.”

But they won’t do that. Know why? They don’t want to take the risk.

I don’t care if was the CEO who told you not to worry. The offer letter still says “contingent.” Until you have documentation from the employer stating you’ve cleared all hurdles, do you really want to take the risk of resigning the only job you really have? Be very careful. The risk may seem tiny; the consequences of being wrong are enormous.

I’ve seen it happen again and again. An excited job applicant rationalizes. Please don’t.

Having said all that, congratulations on making it this far. I hope the rest gets signed, sealed and delivered to you properly, and that you have a great time at this company.

By J9
October 22, 2014 at 10:19 am


It was a verbal “contigent” when offered the job on the phone. (I am sorry if I was not clear in my org post)

The letter says only “as a condition” I must do the health stuff which I am today.

The letter says nothing about “contigent” on reference checking. It says welcome to this company and report to orientation…on this day.

I am guessing the ref checks were then made before the letter was sent.

It seems that they just should have checked ref before the offer to start with and then no “contingent” would have been needed to be said.
That, to me, threw things off for me.

But I am not in the HR biz so I do not know the inter-workings….

By Nick Corcodilos
October 22, 2014 at 11:00 am

@J9: So, what do you think would happen if you don’t “pass” the health screen?

By Mike E
April 15, 2015 at 6:06 am

Dear everybody,

I have a tough decision to make related to this. I am currently employed in a small company with a sign on bonus and have been here for a year and 3 months. The industry that I am in is small and I’ve been thinking about switching to another industry where opportunities abound. I interviewed and got an oral offer from a mid-sized company. They wanted me to start working for them in 4 weeks. However, my hurdle is that I signed a contract when I came on board with my current employer that stated that I need to stay working for them for at least 18 months in order for me to keep my sign on bonus, which was and still is a decent sum for somebody like me. I was first advised by the new company HR that I should just quit my job and hope my current employer won’t go after me. Or when they do go after me, I should just refuse to pay. I did not think this was appropriate and told them I would not do something like that to my current employer.
So the new company came back and said that they are not willing to offer to repay my full sign on bonus responsibility if it gets to that point. In fact, the most they could offer was less than half of the amount. Then they said that I should talk to my current employer first to find out how much they will go after me on the sign on bonus. Would they be willing to waive or reduce the total amount? The new company says that they cannot give me an official offer letter without this number from my current company.
I should say that I have made good contribution to my current company the time I have been here. The stuff I am still working on is also important to them and I think they do not want to just show me the door and never see me again because they won’t find somebody in a short time to replace me. Even if they did, they still need me to help with the transition since otherwise some of my work that took a while to build could be wasted.
I am torn right now about how to approach this. I do like the opportunity that the new company brings but I am worried how my current employer will react. If the worst thing happens, I might even be left without a job, which is something I cannot afford with a family to feed.

Any advice will be deeply appreciated.

By Don
April 15, 2015 at 8:40 am

@Mike E. Sounds like you’ve got 3 months to go. I’d work from the worse case scenario, that your current company will take the position that a deal is a deal. 3 months is 12 weeks, that’s really not an eternity.

So ask your new prospect for a start date that hits after you meet your obligation, and an agreement that if released by your current employer you can start sooner. Present it as a plan, a solution so to speak. (you know the old saying don’t bring me a problem bring me a solution) You’ll negate the bonus issue, and that should give you ample time to finish your current project or at least prepare for a smooth hand off which is the professional way to exit and which should be appreciated by your current employer AND your future employer.

If your new prospect will wait, exemplified by an offer letter with that start date, and the “or sooner” caveat, you can go to your current employer and signal your departure, noting you’ve arranged a start date that lets you do a clean wrap up, train a replacement etc. If they walk you, which I doubt you’re covered. Once it’s in the open you can ask to be excused from the bonus chain if you wish. You’ll have to play that by ear based on their reaction.

If your prospect won’t wait, and wants to play hardball, i.e. doesn’t appreciate your plan, walk away from them.
If indeed this industry change abounds with opportunity you’ll find another one(s) when the bonus issue is gone. You’ve already tested that new market & have done well, you’ll do OK again.

Changing jobs is stressful enough under normal circumstances, don’t create more stress for yourself by injecting an issue that is about to go away anyway.

You are in a good position because you’re not in a bind. You have a job, sounds like your current employer likes you, so take your time. Time to look, time to transition, is about the most valuable thing to have when making a change. Take advantage of it

By G
April 25, 2015 at 12:17 am

Hope for your help…I have previously tender my resignation as I find no prospects and have to spend money apple polishing my manager so I can have a peaceful day at work. However on the 2nd day, I found out I was pregnant then I quickly asked to rescind my resignation so I can provide for the baby. This is a big joke…After being humiliated and cursed at…I kept the job but my baby is gone. The company which previously offered me kept inviting me to take up their offer again…but I am stressed to tell my manager I want to quit…what is a good excuse?

By Honey
April 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

I am in somewhat similar situation. I have been with my employer for past 3 years. Recently in febuary i moved to states from india. I was a shadow resource in a IT Project and worked for 3 months till April. Only to realize that my project is not final yet and i may be moved to a new location or moved back to India.

So i decided to look for better options in market, and luckily landed up with one. Now i want to resign from my current job but the problems are :

1) The project that i was working as a shadow has now decided to start billing me from next week. Will it be ok if i resign now?

2) My manager is in India on a vacation and will return in a month. Can i tell him on phone that i am resigning ?

3) I am worried about my experience and relieving letters. Can my employer blackmail me with that?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 26, 2015 at 12:03 pm

@Honey: I’m not sure what a shadow is or if it’s legitimate. I think the key here is whether you are certain you have a lock on the new position. As for any documentation that may be used to hurt you, you must take that up with an attorney. I wish you the best.

By Honey
May 6, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Thanks Nick.
Yes the new postion is confirm and locked.

Shadow is working as NON BILLABLE for client for a certain time till BILLING starts.

By Vera
July 9, 2015 at 2:01 am

Hello everyone, let me see if I can explain what is going on.
I’ve been working as a server since March 2015 lets call RESTAURANT 1, and I just got another opportunity in a better restaurant LETS CALL IT 2 which I took the offer.
I’ve divided my schedule so I can work both jobs but I had to call my first job and ask them to take me off the schedule on that Wednesday I also called another server to cover my shift that day.
So far so good.
So I am working at my new job and my boss’s wife from my first job showed up and star telling me that they are very disappointed in me in finding out from someone that I had a new job and i didn’t telling them, how unprofessional they thought of me.
I explained to her that my next shift would be Thursday and than I was going to talk to them about my new schedule and availability which I initially would cut only 1 day from restaurant 1, but I felt so uncomfortable, embarrassed because than I had to explained to my new boss what’s going on which she was very understanding about the situation.
They assumed I had abandoned or quit or I have no idea what they were thinking, but now I don’t even want to go back to their place.
What should I do and what when wrong? did I do something wrong?
Was she in her right to show up at my job to tell me anything?
Thank you

By Nick Corcodilos
July 11, 2015 at 5:28 pm

@Vera: She has a right to fire you and to discuss this with you the next time you appear for work – but not to come to 2 and do it there. If you don’t feel comfortable going back, then don’t. While what you did might be a bit questionable, I know the restaurant business, and servers are usually paid tiny wages — they live on tips. That means no restaurant really “owns” your spare time. You do. As long as you deliver the work promised, you are free to work anywhere else you like. Use your best judgement and do what you think is best.

By Help
October 13, 2015 at 7:14 pm

So today I had something very similar happen to me. I called in from my job at (let’s call it) BIRD because they weren’t clear on when my schedule from my other job was supposed to be in and they conflicted. My boss from BIRD comes into my other job which I’m a manager at and is confronting me about how I was supposed to work and all this trash while there were customers in my store. I was going to call later that day to explain some things because I was going to quit, but I ended up quitting right there and had to watch her storm out. I was mortified. Is there anything I can do about this? I thought it was very unprofessional and there were MANY other ways she could have handed the situation. Would a letter or call to the corporate office suffice? Or should I leave it be. I’m just worried she might show up again.

By Will
January 6, 2016 at 3:45 pm

I’m on contract through a recruiter and now I found another position somewhere else, they offer the job and I accepted.

My 1st question is: who should I direct my resignation letter?
a- To my recruiter (the staffing firm)


b- The manager of the department I’m working at (my recruiter’s client where I’m working at)

I’m scared of telling whoever I’m supposed to tell and and later receive a letter from my future employer saying that they decided to close the position for internal reasons or something like that.

Help ASAP please

By Nick Corcodilos
January 6, 2016 at 5:01 pm

@Will: If you’re on contract, your employer is the contracting firm. You need to tell them. Of course, the right thing to do is also tell your manager – but I think it’s best to notify your actual employer first.

As for being scared that the future employer may rescind the offer, that can always happen. It’s a risk you take when you accept a job. But you can minimize the risk:

1. Make sure you have the new offer in writing. (Is this another contracting firm or an actual company where you’d be working? I think if it’s a contracting firm, your risk is bigger.) An oral offer is not good enough to risk your old job.

2. Make sure you have met and talked with the manager you will report to. This forces the employer to put some skin in the game, and you can judge for yourself whether the job is for real. Ditto HR.

3. The more discussion you have with your new boss, the better your chances that this will work out. So ask him/her about your job responsibilities, on-boarding process, what tools you’ll be using. This gets the relationship started and makes it emotionally harder for them to back out.

4. Here’s my favorite thing to do. Ask to meet some of the team members you’ll be working with, before you start. The sooner the better. This will reveal how serious they are about really filling this job and having you there.

It’s more about personal politics than anything else, because in a state where employment is “at will,” they can fire you day #1 for no reason, or they can rescind the offer any time. You’d need a lawyer to protect yourself. I think the better thing is to get close to the new boss and team. Then there’s less chance (I think) that this will go south.

Make sense? Sometimes you just must make your best judgment and make the leap. Or, if your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to your gut.

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