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In the July  16, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about resigning the wrong way.

Question

resigningI finally landed my next job after months of interviews. Now I don’t want to blow it until I’m actually on board at the new company. I say that because the last time I changed jobs I made the mistake of telling my boss too soon, before I even had a job offer. I thought he respected me enough to wish me well, but it blew up in my face. He told HR and I was walked out the door. I can use some advice. How should I handle it this time?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations — now be careful!

Before I offer my suggestions, I’ll tell you about a vice president of engineering I placed. I moved Hans from the southern Florida “spook industry” (that’s what he called it) to San Jose, California, where he was hired to run an engineering department at a company that made state-of-the art communications equipment.

Resigning & telling

A week before Hans was to move his entire family and start the new job, the president of my client company called me. “Someone left me a worrisome voicemail. They didn’t leave their name and the number is untraceable. They said Hans has affiliations we should be aware of. What’s this about, Nick?”

The tight-knit Florida “spook industry” (purveyors of electronic equipment that spies use) didn’t like that Hans was leaving their little community and taking his insider knowledge with him. They made that call to nuke Hans’s new job — and his family’s future. Never mind how I found out; that’s my job. In the end, it all worked out and Hans had a long, successful career in San Jose.

What happened? Hans made the mistake of telling someone back home where he was going. Hans knew full well how to keep his mouth shut — that was the business he was in. But Hans also had a healthy ego and he wanted to impress some of his close friends, not realizing the risk he was taking.

Risking getting nuked

When I discussed this with him later — he was incredibly embarrassed at his own behavior — I explained risk to this seasoned executive.

“The risk that someone you told would hurt you was probably very small, so you overlooked it. The trouble is, even the tiniest risk is not worth taking when the potential consequences could be catastrophic. The tourist who climbs over the railing at the Grand Canyon to take a selfie knows the chances they’ll fall into the abyss are tiny. But the consequences are enormous. So it’s not prudent to take that risk.”

That’s why, when you plot your exit from one employer to another, you should never, ever disclose to anyone — least of all your boss and co-workers — what you’re about to do and where you’re going.

Don’t jump the gun

Ask yourself, who needs to know and what do they need to know? Your employer needs to know you’re leaving, but only when it’s safe for you to tell them. No one needs to know where you’re going — that’s private and confidential. And you can tell them later, when it’s safe.

The following is from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job. It’s just a short excerpt of the chapter, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” pp. 42-43:

Too often, in the throes of deciding whether to accept a job offer, a person will start the resignation process too early. That is, he’ll let his boss know he’s thinking about leaving in an effort to get more input as he’s working through the decision. But he’s looking for advice in the wrong place. (See “Should I tell my boss I’m leaving?”, p. 38.)

Unless you have a rare boss who is more concerned about your future than about his own or the company’s, don’t do it. Regard any discussion about your potential resignation as tantamount to tendering it. Once you let the cat out of the bag… it may be impossible to put it back.

Word may get out among your co-workers, and it may affect their attitude about you. Your boss may view what you’ve divulged as an indication that you’ll continue looking, even if you don’t accept the job offer. And, if you haven’t yet made a decision, all that talk may lead you to make the wrong decision.

I’m a believer in getting advice and insight about a potential job change. But, I think it’s dangerous to seek such advice from people whose own jobs and lives will be impacted by your decision. If you work in a very tight-knit organization of mature professionals who respect one another both personally and professionally, your experience might contradict what I’m suggesting. But most people don’t work in such an environment. If you need advice, get it from a trusted peer or mentor who preferably works in another company. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t disclose your intentions when it might hurt you.

Protect yourself

My advice is to give notice to your employer only after you have a bona fide offer from the new employer in writing, signed by an officer of the company, and after you have accepted the offer in writing. Your acceptance letter should include a statement to the effect that you are “advising that my acceptance of this job will require me to resign my position at [the old employer] and to relinquish my income from that job, and that I will rely on the compensation of [$X — whatever the offer is] from you.”

Also covered in Parting Company:

  • Getting fired is a state of mind
  • Stock option handcuffs
  • Did you get downsized?
  • Should I take a package to quit?
  • How to handle exit interviews
  • What about counter-offers?

That “statement of reliance” is recommended by an employment lawyer who advises that it might protect you legally if the offer is withdrawn. (Please see Lawrence Barty’s comments in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job, but please understand that this is not offered as legal advice in any particular situation.)

Don’t tell anyone at your old company where you are going, even if you’re so excited you could burst. Tell them you’ll be in touch once you’re settled into your new job (preferably for at least a couple of weeks) because you value your friendships and want to stay in touch. You can decide later whether you really want to do that.

If they beg to know where you’re going, just tell them that some headhunter once cautioned you to keep it confidential — and that when the time comes, they should, too.

Has resigning ever come back to bite you? What does your employer really need to know when you resign? How risky is it to tell people where you’re going? What “parting company” tips would you offer this reader?

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46 Comments
  1. Your employer needs to know you’re leaving, but only when it’s safe for you to tell them. No one needs to know where you’re going — that’s private and confidential. And you can tell them later, when it’s safe.

    —–

    That is very wise advice Nick. I appreciate everything you share and so does my wife. She took your advice not too long ago and we are happily settled in our new home now and she is flourishing in her new career at a world class company.

    All the best my friend.

    • Thanks. And all the best to you and your wife, Rob — if anything I suggested was helpful, I’m glad. Congrats on the move!

    • In one of my worst work experiences, I found myself moving quickly to a new position where I would be getting out of a horrible work environment, advancing my career, and working for an old friend in another part of the country. Back in the day, I didn’t give any of these valuable concepts that Nick has provided, any thought. In the business I was in, it was common to announce to the public (not just your boss) where you would be starting to work. And I did exactly that. I gave a story to the local newspaper about my new position, which my former boss read seconds after he picked up the paper that evening.

      A few weeks later, after starting at my new job in a new city, well out of range of influence from my former employer, a former co-worker told me that (at my former job) the boss had held an emergency staff meeting (since they had practically no staff with my exit) and that someone had recommended that they call my new employer and tell them not to hire me.

      I related this to my new boss and he had a good laugh and said, “Yeah, let them call me!”

      So with my new perspective, with Nick’s advice, I know that I won’t have an old friend to help me when some screwball decides to do something this nasty.

  2. Sometimes the boss is itching for your resignation so he doesn’t have to go through all the trouble of firing you. A delightful and brilliant programmer I knew long ago carried an attitude of, “Why can’t we work on projects that are fun, instead of ones that are supposed to make money?” He expressed that opinion frequently, even to the point of adjusting his work assignments. “Today I’ll work on ice cream rather than on meat-and-potatoes.”

    One day, in a fit of pique against what he saw as a major ethical blunder by the company, he resigned. The following day, realizing what he had done, he tried to take back his resignation. The boss refused.

  3. That also applies to retiring. Fortunately, the people at my survival job had a positive attitude about retiring, but I still didn’t give notice until I got my letter from Social Security confirming the start date for my direct deposit.

    • Very often the assumption is made that older workers are going to retire as soon as they are eligible for Social Security or, for the fortunate ones, a pension. Don’t disclose your age (other than on the paperwork) and don’t say much about things that could date you.You may have fought in ‘Nam, gone to Woodstock, or watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when you were i the sixth grade, but keep it to yourself.Letting others know will categorize you as ancient and thus, in the eyes of a lot of younger workers, expendable.

  4. I think it’s particularly important to not say anything because of potential non-compete issues.

    I’ve signed non-competes that have particularly broad language*. Someone with an ax to grind could possibly interpret going to a particular company as “interfering” with the old employer’s business. Yeah, it wouldn’t stand up in a court, but that’s not the point. The grudge holder could get away with tanking your offer without any legal action.

    * Said language included verbiage that included “potential suppliers and customers” and other vague definitions. Basically, if you went to a customer’s competitor and helped them put the old customer out of business, that would violate the non-compete. Yeah, utter BS and it would never stand up in a court. Plus, I live in a state that does not look highly on non-competes. Most employers lose when push comes to shove unless it’s a blatant jump to a direct competitor. But it still gives some jerk justification to throw a wrench in the works if you let slip where you’re going.

    • @Chris: Thanks for adding this special case. First and foremost, never sign an onerous non-compete agreement (NCA). That means NCAs that are broad with ill-defined terms. See https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/561/gotcha-the-non-compete-agreement

      More to the point here, it’s worse for the worker if the old employer contests the new job before the worker is fully hired, than after. As you point out, that could result in the new employer rescinding the offer to avoid a legal battle. Don’t open the door to legal controversy before you have the new job.

      (Of course, you should not attempt to violate a legit NCA by hiding your violation, but that’s another matter.)

  5. Heard last week at some industry training:

    “There are no trivial conversations with management.”

    • Yup. And there are especially no trivial conversations with your HR office. While HR might pretend to have your best interests in mind, it’s fiduciary obligation is to the company. Anything you tell HR can and will be used against you if necessary. (That’s not to say some HR folks won’t try to help you; only that in the end, they’ll defend who signs their paychecks.)

    • You’ve clearly never sat in on one of our meetings where we just talk about our cats for half an hour.

  6. When you give your resignation, you really don’t work there anymore.
    If you do have work commitments that you must fulfill do them. Otherwise, use up vacay or sick time and get away until your last noted day. Best to keep away as much as possible.

    • That’s not usually allowed. The employee handbook where I currently work (and at other employers I’ve worked for) states clearly that once you resign, you may not use sick leave or vacation. It also states that your last day must be a WORKED day–in other words, no phoning in your resignation–or you will lose your banked-vacation payout. Most employers cover their butts when it comes to this.

      • Why not just be honest? Make sure any offer you get is solid with everything signed and ready to go. Know the reputation of the new employer, and then give notice – and offer to help your current company with the transition. Yes, something bad might happen, and yes, it happens too often. If the new company does not sound that great, then why make the change?

        I have, in fact, had jobs that were so bad that being in the unemployment line or facing bankruptcy would be less painful!

        Do not resign from your old job until you have passed your background check in your new job and have everything in writing.

        Don’t burn your bridges!

        • @Kevin: All reasonable points, but the answer to your question, “Why not just be honest?” is, “Because job offers are easily rescinded.” It’s just not worth the risk.

          “Be honest” is an HR-ism in this case. What it really means is, “Tell us everything.” That’s not smart, reasonable or advisable. The old employer has no right to such information, even if the new employer is golden. Yet, HR might ply you with requests for all the details. Smile and tell HR that’s private and confidential, and offer to help with the transition. Just don’t be surprised if they walk you to the door anyway.

          That doesn’t mean it’s okay to burn a bridge. But you don’t need to pay an information toll to your old company to cross over to a new one. Be professional, polite, friendly, and stay in touch with the old company after you’ve moved — if they’re friendly enough to want to stay in touch with you.

      • Huh. In the UK it is common for vacation to be used at the end of your time.

        That way they can control what you are doing/prevent you from taking too much fresh details to a competitor. In fact there might be a garden leave clause in which they can give you a bunch of paid leave after you.

        Although with all the remote work options having someone at home probably isn’t the stopgap it would have been.

  7. I learned this lesson “the hard way” in my early 20’s. After graduating from college, I found a part-time job at the university during the morning. Having no career direction at that time, I just wanted to pay my bills. A few months later, I accepted another part-time job in the afternoon. (I then had two part-time jobs.) The next spring, my husband accepted a position in another state, so I informed my employers that I would be leaving in the summer (with no specific date in mind). A few days later, my afternoon employer told me that it was my “last day,” because they had found someone to replace me. Ironically, my husband changed his mind about the out-of-state job, and we ended up staying here (40+ years later). Back then, I was able to keep my morning part-time job until I was laid off a few years later. Moral of the story: Don’t tell anyone at work that you will be leaving until you have your foot out the door, as Nick says.

    • @Sahara: The bottom line is, you should apply the same good business sense to your departure process that the company would apply to protecting its interests. What your afternoon employer did was in its business interests, and it didn’t care if that clashed with your interests. So tend first to protecting yourself.

  8. I’ve noticed that in the past 10 years or so workers in Silicon Valley have stopped telling where they were going when they changed jobs. I guess too many got walked out.

  9. Some years ago I gave my two-weeks notice to – as Peter Neilson pointed out – the glee of my boss (a long story in and of itself). I told him that I needed to tell the people in our fab shop personally as it would not be right of them to hear through the grapevine.

    Down in the shop I told them. One of them, with whom I had a pretty good casual relationship beyond mere work – we sharing many political views – said that he’d had no idea I was looking to leave. I held up my Freemason ring and said “I’m a Mason. We’re used to keeping secrets.” :)

    On a related note, one guy I know told his employer he was taking his accumulated vacation time (multiple weeks) and started his new job. After a week he gave his two weeks at the new place, having discovered it was not to his liking, and went back to his old employer who was none the wiser he’d left.

    • A couple of years ago I had a job offer that was rescinded, and I dodged a very scary financial-disaster bullet because I had not yet resigned my old job (I was going to do it the following morning!!). It made me so wary of changing jobs that I decided that I’d bank a month of vacation for the express purpose of “going on vacation” when I was actually starting a new job. With a month of financial cushion and my old job waiting for me, I could test the new job and decide where to go from there, and if anything went wrong, I’d go back to work like it was just another day. In this day and age I think that’s a brilliant solution. I haven’t put it into play yet but I plan to do it once I find my next position.

      • @Chicago: I’ve seen that vacation-time tactic used before. Some call it unethical. But is it unethical when an employer tells you an offer is forthcoming while it waits for another (better?) candidate to decide whether to accept the company’s offer for the same job? Of course not. It’s called insurance. The point is to be aware and to factor such things into your own decision making.

        Check this column: “Protect yourself from exploding job offers”
        https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8454/protect-yourself-from-exploding-job-offers

        • I don’t feel it’s unethical at all–not in this day and age, not after the way I’ve been treated by hiring companies, and not considering today’s “all is fair” mentality in job-hunting. Plus, the “two weeks’ notice” rule seems quaint in the 21st century. Maybe back in 1948 an employer could hire someone new and train them in two weeks, but nowadays? My company can’t seem to fill a position in 18 months. I may as well walk out. What purpose do those two weeks serve? My number-one job is to look out for myself, my finances, and my life, not to placate an employer. Yes, I believe I should not burn bridges, but there is so much more to consider nowadays.

      • @Chicago: There’s an interesting side point in what you say about time to hire: “Maybe back in 1948 an employer could hire someone new and train them in two weeks, but nowadays? My company can’t seem to fill a position in 18 months.

        5 years ago it took forever to fill a job because of “the talent shortage,” during a time when there were loads more people looking for work than vacant jobs. That made no sense. Today it takes forever to fill a job because of, uh, “the talent shortage,” during a time of “full employment” with loads of vacant jobs and supposedly not many job seekers.

        Is this picture blurry??

  10. Years ago I let my boss of 10+ years know in confidence that I planned to move and was putting my house on the market. My husband had gotten a new job out of the area and I would start looking for a new job once we got settled. I was so excited for this move but told no one else at the office. I planned to submit my letter of resignation once we sold the house and 2 weeks prior to our move date. Little did I know that my boss was in the process of deciding bonuses for the previous year and decided I deserved a much lower bonus than I expected since I wasn’t going to be around for long after bonuses were distributed. I’ll never make that mistake again.

    • @Robin: As I noted above, employers act in their self-interest. Even if they’re your friends. It’s a business relationship first. Expect cold, calculated behaviors — plan for them. Sorry you learned the hard way. Like I said, the risk might seem tiny, but if the potential consequences are huge, the risk is not prudent.

  11. For my current job, they specifically instructed me to NOT give notice at my previous job until they complete their background investigation. My boss (CEO) gave me a counter offer – he was taken quite by surprise. A couple years later I found out I would have been laid off. I’m glad I left when I did.

    • @Kevin: In other columns, I’ve railed at HR for making job offers without emphasizing to the candidate that an offer is contingent on X, Y and Z. Lots of credit to your current employer’s HR for specifically instructing you not to give notice until all contingencies have been met. That’s an HR with integrity. Wish they’d all issue that warning emphatically rather than in passing.

  12. When I left my second job after college, my manager pulled out a copy of my resume with the headhunters logo. They knew I was looking. They had wanted me to travel hundreds of miles, for weeks on end, as often as they deemed necessary. Not the best approach for a newlywed. Even when I resigned, I only told co-workers that I would be in the area and would back in touch later.

    After 27 years, my third company got sold. Now at my 4th company, my manager asked about my retirement plans. I replied that I have no plans to retire. I have learned to keep documentation, including a copy of the chat with this inquiry.

  13. @Nick: To clarify, when leaving a job I like to do so with integrity. This means I make sure I have a firm offer with paperwork signed and a background check passed. While a new employer can still rescind, usually by that time it’s not going to happen. That said, I much prefer to give notice before I leave. In addition, I can tell a new employer that when I left my previous job that I worked with them to transfer everything that needed to be transferred. I also get good references. I will keep doing what I’m doing but also keep a contingency plan in my back pocket.

    • @Kevin: And I always suggest resigning with (a) proper notice and (b) an offer to help ensure a smooth transition. It’s always best to part on good terms. Keeping in mind that the employer may give you the shaft anyway :-). That’s what contingencies are for! I think we’re on the same page!

  14. A few years ago, I had to make an emergency family trip out of state and took an extra day off upon returning due to flight schedules. I was seen in a grocery store by a company manager who reported me to the plant manager. I was called on the “carpet” the next day and I knew he was going to terminate me. So I told him to go ahead and let me go, I am 66 and collecting SS and don’t need the job and that family will always come first. Also, I am here because I enjoy the challenge, but I can go anywhere.
    I still work there semi retired for a few days a week and the plant manager was terminated.

  15. I have a kind of dilemma. I want to work less (around 60%), to pursue some other business plans in the remaining time. I like my company, and on the right terms, could continue here on a reduced or consultant basis. But what would they say if I tell? There is no competition issues, and here in Norway, they cannot walk you to the door, but it could potentially create “bad moods” for the future if they say no to my plan, and I stay. The alternative is a potential contract as a specialist with a consultancy.

    Any ideas?

    • @Karsten: That’s a tough one. Several years into my headhunting career one of my clients asked me to be president of a start-up engineering company he was founding. I liked being a headhunter but this was an exciting opportunity to work “on the inside” — and perhaps to enjoy a windfall if we could pull it off. I tried to explain to my partner (in our headhunting biz) that I was going to do both jobs, because I didn’t want to give up headhunting. He was disappointed to hear it, and advised me to pick one or the other. He didn’t want a part-time partner. I was stunned. But he was absolutely right; I would not be able to do both jobs well. Your employer may feel the same way. As you note, that’s the risk, and I don’t see any way of guaranteeing the resulting “bad mood” won’t be detrimental to everyone involved. My advice is to choose one or the other. I learned the hard way.

      • Thanks for your views, Nick. In this case, it may be easier to get approval because our CEO actually works part-time for another company himself (a buddy business with some of his previous colleagues), so he might understand.

        The other business plan is “solopreneur” stuff, only me, and going all-in on it will be very risky. Hence, the most realistic plan might be to work part-time, hired out by a consultancy I already have talked with (I know other people who do that), and do my own stuff in between assignments.

  16. Nick, I’m currently looking for a new job,and I have submitted a few job applications electronically, but on some of the job applications they request that you give your supervisors name and his/her phone number, my concern is, that when my supervisor find out that I’m looking for a new job he might try to sabotage my move. How can I prevent this from happening when the job application is asking for his information?. Please advice. Thank you.

    • Liliana,

      What you posted here would be a big red flag for me. There is absolutely NO legitimate reason why a prospective employer should be contacting your present employer or supervisor. Unless if your present employer’s supervisor and/or HR manager are close personal friends, I would NEVER provide their contact info to anyone who knows you are looking for a job.

      I also would never provide that information to a new employer AFTER you were hired. The only contact you should be giving out (after you were hired) should be the pre-established contact to merely confirm that you were employed there. And the only information that person should be giving out should be dates and your employment status (full-time, part-time, or contract). Employers now (usually) know that a single disparaging comment, a disparaging attitude, even a single word in a sentence where it doesn’t belong, or theatrics where an emotionless response was required, when speaking about a former employee, can land them in court for a very long time, with devastating consequences for the employer.

      Strongly suggest NOT completing an employment application with any employer who demands your present employer and/or supervisor’s contact info.

      • You are right Steve, it was very odd that they wanted to know supervisor’s name and phone number, I think that is what references are for, right? Thank you for your advice, I appreciated.

      • I agree, but I disagree.

        Certainly any disparaging word from an employer (or supervisor or whatever) could lead to a lawsuit… IF (!!!!!) it can be proved such was said. Example:

        Caller: I’m calling about Jane Doe’s performance and status at XYZ company.

        HR: They were fine.

        Caller: Thank you.

        HR: “Secret code phrase” E.g., “You know, we really should meet at the next HR conference and chat – it’s been a while.”

        Caller: “Understood.”

        Now, short of every call being recorded and archived in a way a company can’t touch, HOW would you prove this took place? Heck, the HR person could openly say you were a sucky employee… and unless the caller spilled the beans, how could you possibly know this?

        A recruiter with whom I’ve worked for years has said that most local HR gatherings have – inevitably – off-the-record gatherings where DO NOT HIRE names are shared. He said “of course” regions have hiring blacklists… he’s seen it happen. Multiple times.

        And an anecdote on my own prior job searches:

        About 3-4 years ago someone I knew in the plastics industry – a real “connector’s connector” got me in front of a local-to-me company’s HR person. He had talked about me without naming me, and they were very interested. He then sent my resume and almost instantly got a “We’re not interested in him because of his LinkedIn postings about employers and hiring practices. He’s got a ‘bad attitude’.” (Read: he doesn’t wolf down sh*t sandwiches and smile and say “Thank you massa may I have another?”)

        Within seconds of hearing this I checked to see who was looking at my profile. NOT ONE PERSON from that company within weeks. Which, unless LI has a “double secret looking-at-profiles mode” tells me they already had me on a black list.

        Another employer that I read BRAGGED about how he’d network to find people at the candidate’s company and get the “real skinny” on them. Not that this is illegal per se, but… you cannot tell me it doesn’t happen.

        • It is very unethical how employers and their management handle these situations, w e should have the freedom to better ourselves without fear of retaliation or without hurting your supervisor’s little feeling, I’m working as a safety, and have been doing it for several years, and to be hones I’m burned out, I went to school and got my project coordinator certification, and I’m currently enrolled in a projects control class where I’ll be learning planning, scheduling and cost control on P6 software, I’m doing all of this on my free time and with my own money, I have been asking the site manager to give me the opportunity to move to the planning department but he refuses to help me out, so I been trying to find something within the same facility, but someone told me that per company policy I have to wait 30 days before I can get hire in with another company, that should be illegal, no company should have the power to stop their workers to better themselves, specially if they have not invested any money on their employees, in fact, my co-worker is a lawyer and he said that in our state that is illegal but it might be certain circumstances where they might do that (ex. scientist working on a research for a company).

    • @Liliana M.:

      I always, in such situations, put “Reference provided as required” and a made up phone / email.

      Quite frankly, if a company wants the freedom to call your current boss before you’ve even interviewed, that’s a warning sign.

      This is akin to companies (and recruiters) asking for references on the application.

  17. Hi Liliana, if you look at Nick’s advice, which he plasters all over his website, you just might observe that he suggests you avoid bright and shiny things like those electronic applications that merely feed you into the HR people-grinder.

    • I think that the purpose of the ATS system is to make it look like the company is “doing something with your application”. In reality, they go ahead and find the person they want – check in with some select people from the ATS, then hire the person they want anyway.

      We have a local university that, before ATS systems, would place classified ads for jobs. It is also well known that the jobs from that university already have their preferred hire selected. They are just posting it to meet legal requirements. Most people I know don’t even bother applying. It’s a waste of time.

      • It is, I’m working for this company, and I took this lady’s position while she was gone, one of my duties was to create requisitions, I posted several job openings on monster.com, and on 90% of those job openings we already had a candidate. This is very unfair, there are many qualified candidates waiting for an opportunity. It is who you know not what you know. Kevin thank you for your comment.

    • Agree, next time I’ll fax my resume.

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