In the May 21, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant invests more than eight hours in interviews and asks why the employer acts like her time is free:

I currently work for a tiny family-run office and have just gotten a job offer elsewhere. It’s an offer I cannot refuse. I am feeling guilty because they have trained me and I am needed. How much notice should I give and what should be said (what information can be shared)?

I’ve been at this office less than one year, which may or may not make a difference. I would like to remain friendly, but I don’t want to get into a whole big dialogue about where I’m going, why, and so on.

And what about being paid for vacation time earned? Is is reasonable to ask about this?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations. Some jobs end quickly, while others last years. But changing jobs is no different from a company doing a layoff — it’s business. Don’t make it personal. I admire your desire to keep it on good terms. But the first order of business is to protect yourself while you pull away from your old employer.

leaving-your-jobWe recently discussed a related question, Is it ethical to go on this job interview? Now let’s talk about how to quit when you feel kind of uncomfortable about it.

I’d ask HR about the vacation pay, but first I’d check with your state’s department of labor. Find out what your state requires of the employer.

I think offering two weeks’ notice is the right thing to do. Some companies want only one, some just want to make sure you train someone to do your job — or just that they know where your work flow is so nothing gets dropped. Some employers will walk you out the door immediately and ship your belongings to you later. So be careful. It might be best to gather what’s yours first, before you resign.

I’d never tell the employer where you are going next, but I’d tell them I’d be glad to share that once you are settled at your new job.

How to Say It: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

Some people quit a job without another to go to.

How to Say It: “I’m still considering where I’m going to take my next job. I’d be happy to call and tell you after I decide.”

That makes it easier. You don’t owe anyone the information. All you owe them is a smooth, friendly, responsible transition so your work flow is not disturbed at the old company. I find that when a departing employee gives that assurance from the start, the parting can be on very businesslike terms.

I wish you the best. Please keep in mind that my advice is based on the scant information you provided. You must use your judgment and decide which of my advice to use in your situation for the best outcome. (Finally, remember to hedge your bet just a little bit because There is no sure thing.)

What’s your best and worst departure story? And what are your tips to this reader?

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  1. There’s no nice way to say this: Do what you need to do. This is a family business. They will fire you in a heartbeat if it means they free up a job for some idiot nephew graduating from college this month. Seen it happen before.

  2. 1. Wrap up everything you need to ensure that you do not loose anything personal if they kick you out.
    2. Ensure that your work is in order, so a follower can pick it up and continue.
    3. Walk into the boss’s office and say: “I am sorry, but I have got a fantastic offer I cannot refuse, and therefore I resign from this company. I will be able to work for two more weeks (or what is applicable) and do my best to finish as much as possible before I leave, and ease the pain”.

    That’s basically all you can do. I am actually in the notofication period after a similar situation, and focusing on easing the pain for the employer ensured that we part on good terms.

  3. They may already be aware that you are looking/leaving. After 2 years on my 2nd job, I walked in with a letter of resignation, and a transition plan. The manager showed me a copy of my resume, and told me that I was done at the end of that week.

  4. This is unusual – I disagree with Nick. Conditionally, because “family run office” can run the gamut from you having joined the family to you having been treated like an orphan step-child.

    Whatever the case, while it might be “just business,” when it’s a family run business it’s always personal.

    If you’ve been invited into the family as it were, I’d advise giving a month’s notice if that’s feasible given that your new employer wants you to start, two weeks if your new employer needs you right away.

    Explain to your new employer that it is a family business and you want to help them achieve a smooth transition. They should respect that, and appreciate the attitude that goes with it.

    If, on the other hand, it’s a dysfunctional family and you’re the orphan stepchild, Nick’s advice is sound: Be businesslike about it and ignore any emotion that’s thrown your way.

  5. To add to what Jason already said: they’ll also pay that idiot nephew twice as much for doing the work half as well. Seen that, too.

  6. My first thought is, do you have the new job offer in writing with all the terms of your salary and benefits? Never give notice before you have a firm offer from your new employer. I’ve known of people quitting their current job before getting a written offer and then the offer is revoked.

    If you’ve developed a more personal relationship with this family run business, then you should go with your gut feeling. I don’t think any good manager/owner would want to hold back an employee from a growth opportunity. Hopefully you have not overlooked a potential growth opportunity at your current employer either. Money is great and we all need it to survive, but if your only focus is the money, then you could potentially be making good money and hating every minute at your new job.
    Just be respectful of your current employer and of your time with them. Nick is correct that at the end of the day, its only business, but your character is a key ingredient in how you do business every day.

    Best wishes,

  7. I had a young professional lady at a job skill seminar ask me..

    “Why is it professional to give two weeks notice, when the company gives you 10 seconds notice when they lay you off?

    I stopped, looked her in the eye, and applauded her.

    You should feel as guilty about leaving as the company does if they lay you off…ie ….zero zip nada empty pizza box…

    By all means, try to leave on good terms and help the company with transition if they are deserving of it. If they aren’t, DO IT and move on.

    Bob – I feel the family aspect of the business is less important than the BUSINESS. If its deserving, then help out. If not,…….

  8. Being a “member of the family” is a nice thing, but this is where people step into trouble. You’re not a member of the family. You can be close to any employer, even a corporation. But unless you’re in some highly unusual situation (they adopt you or give you stock or you marry someone in the family), it’s prudent to keep a distance even while employed. “Family-run” does not mean “We are family.” It’s a business. There’s no need to be cynical, but also no need to risk your next job.

    Giving a month’s notice poses a problem and a risk. You’re going to a new employer who has offered you a nice deal where you plan to spend the next part of your career. Asking that employer to wait a month is unreasonable and risky. I’ve seen employers withdraw offers for such delays. Of course, if you can manage this without a problem and you really want to stick around for an extra two weeks (beyond the standard two-week notice), then go for it.

    But I think parting time is when you lean on business standards. The old employer should find a way to deal with the transition in two weeks. Your obligation is a smooth transition. Not a slow one.

  9. “I’d never tell the employer where you are going next, but I’d tell them I’d be glad to share that once you are settled at your new job.”

    Always the next question by the employer is where are you going? So how would side step this question and what is a good response to it? Can you give an example? You will need one for your co-workers also once the word is out that you are leaving.

  10. My rule is always that you don’t owe them anything beyond two weeks and your professionalism. You may choose to give them more notice out of the goodness of your heart (or because you want to burn off unused vacation or let your options vest or whatever), but you don’t owe them any more, no matter how much they may try to guilt you into it, and no matter how “indispensable” you think you may be (as De Gaulle said, the graveyards are filled with indispensable men.)

    And I definitely agree with Nick that, even if you think it’s unlikely, you should be prepared to have them show you the door the moment you give notice. Back up those personal files (which shouldn’t be on your work computer anyway) and bring home that baseball signed by Mickey Mantle sitting on your desk. But assuming they’re gracious about it, which most employers will be, spend your remaining time finishing up projects, training a replacement and documenting everything you do. No reason not to leave on a good note and help your successor get off to a good start.

  11. The best advice is to avoid family-run businesses regardless if you are kin or not. Families were not meant to do business together, they are not meritocracies and even if you marry the boss’s son/daughter, you will always be a stranger held to a different standard.

    Children also should not be expected to extend the legacy because other family members lacked the courage to go in another direction. I have seen this phenomenon in several Italian families that I’ve known since my childhood. They rarely work out equitably. The situation usually exacerbates once children/heirs marry others and those “new family members” feel entitled to a piece of the pie that they did not help to bake.

    Michael Corleone was right, “It’s not business. It is personal.” Nick’s advice was spot-on as usual to this particular reader.

  12. Depending on the type of your work, there’s often something you can do to smoothen the transition already before you’ve given your notice.

    Are you in a project where the documentation is incomplete and/or where you are particularly important for the company? Find time to complete the documentation. Make sure to share your knowledge with a colleague.

    Is your boss proposing you to start a new project in which you’d be involved for the next 6 months? Try to politely avoid stepping in the new task. Explain that you need a bit more time in order to complete your ongoing projects.

    Make a list of currently open/unfinished tasks (if you don’t have one already) and decide which would be the most important ones to complete. You can even ask your boss for help in prioritizing, just don’t give any hint that you are leaving. Put particular focus on completing these tasks.

    These are some examples what you can gradually start doing even before it’s time to give notice – for example on parallel when finalizing the details of the new offer. Then both you and your employer will have less stressful last week(s) after giving the notice.

    Even if something would go wrong with the new offer, you’d still have your old job without having done any damage to anyone. Quite the opposite: with a clean table you might be readier than ever for new ideas and tasks in your old job.

  13. Short summary of comments so far: Protect yourself first, but be a class act on your way out the door.

  14. “Always the next question by the employer is where are you going? So how would side step this question and what is a good response to it?”

    Important point. Regardless of the separation process (resign, layoff, fire) once the process is started…

    The relationship between YOU and the EMPLOYER is fundamentally changed. You are equals at the negotiating table. It is very hard to get out of the previous mindset that this person is my boss, but you must make this transition IMMEDIATELY.

    Where am I going?

    East Coast:
    Ill decline to answer that, thank you.

    West Coast:
    Im making a career change into a new field.

  15. “I’d ask HR about the vacation pay, but first I’d check with your state’s department of labor. Find out what your state requires of the employer.”

    Only ask HR this once you don’t mind they know that you are leaving of course. This is a red flag for departure.

  16. Don’t let feelings of obligation or guilt motivate you to give more than a two week notice.

    Like you, I worked for a tiny, husband/wife run company. I had been there less than a year and my job involved quite a bit of training. I was the only person in the role.

    I gave a four week notice to make the transition easier on the owners. It was an unhappy four weeks for me. The owners didn’t post the job for two weeks. They were also very angry and openly hostile during the four week period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leave on good terms, even with the extended notice.

    If you can, take your vacation time before you give your notice. If you don’t have a written policy stating that you will be compensated for vacation time, you probably won’t be.

  17. I also work in a small company (currently 7 employees). There is No HR department. The CEO does everything; she controls our medical insurance plan, 401(k) plan, etc.

    So, when we have a question or problem to resolve with insurance or 401(k), we have to wait for her to deal with it, in accordance with her priorities.

    Since my husband joined Medicare last year, I converted my medical insurance to an individual plan; that is, I left my company’s group plan. Because I am older than 59-1/2, I withdrew my 401(k) funds (without the 10% penalty) and moved them elsewhere, where I can control them.

    So, in the event that I want to escape from this job, I am ready to FLY. I don’t have to rely on the CEO to make arrangements for me to roll over my 401(k)funds and change my medical insurance. I have learned after 6 years that this company is not efficient, and it is painful having to wait for the CEO to respond to questions about my 401(k) and medical insurance plan; I don’t like my insurance and 401(k) tied up with only one person. If she (CEO) were to drop dead (or fall into a coma), I don’t know what would happen. She won’t authorize any other employees to talk to the medical insurance provider and 401(k) provider to resolve problems or ask questions.

    In the past, I have worked for large organizations (Federal government and a large corporation); I do prefer large organizations because they have specialized departments for helping employees with their benefits questions.

  18. Slight variation on this. I work in a small industry and will be running into my possibly soon to be ex-boss regularly. I do respect my current boss and he is someone who it is better to remain on his good side.

    Does that change how much notice should be given/info provided?

  19. I honestly cannot stand to read particular posts that in my opinion lean both insecurity and in some cases paranoia (and in the case of men emasculation.) I see this came from a woman. I would like to see a woman’s point of view regarding this particular query.

    If this query to Nick did come from a man I would suggest to him that he man-up and grow-up and take charge of his personal affairs like a man with confidence and not act like a paranoid girl.

    I sense this person’s job was one not of any significant power by virtue of the questions asked of Nick but basic principles apply nonetheless when I am on a job for another I am there as Nick states, on business. I am NOT there to be their friend, or for them to like me, or any such thing. If something comes along that is better for me and my previous obligations are honored I am out of there, of own volition. Some bleeding hearts may think otherwise but I had to inform such people reality is always a disappointment, trust employers coldly do the same with no concern to the employee and their financial or personal status, on a daily basis in all industries.

  20. @Nic,
    Well I think Nick summed it up. You leave and be polite.

    Before you leave, you don’t telegraph your search. Connect with anyone you respect and appreciate on LinkedIn. Don’t connect to anyone you don’t respect.

    Don’t feel badly about leaving. You already decided you had good reasons for looking for a job and you found it.

    You work hard in the 2 weeks that you have left to finish the tasks you agreed to finish. You don’t whine, complain or justify your decisions (the only caveat to that is if the company is behaving illegally or immorally, but that is extremely rare). When you have left, if you see others from your old company, you treat them with respect and civility.

    You start off in a new company, bringing and keeping your personal stuff to a minimum. But since I am female, I let it be known I’m married and committed to my marriage. It preempts some of the crud I’ve seen happen many times. Bring a notebook and a pen on the first day. Show up rested and cheerful.


  21. I couldn’t agree more with Nic’s advice.

    Act professional, but firm. If you get what you deem a better job offer, you’d be a fool not to consider it.

    Remember, there is no such thing as loyalty anymore. Even though there are a family run business and you could be well liked, they may be more than willing to stab you in the back if things go sour.

  22. @rkc: You must use your judgment. Every situation is different. My point that two weeks should be sufficient isn’t intended to make your resignation a rude or thoughtless act. It’s intended to protect you. Negotiate what you think is reasonable, but don’t forget that you’ve got a new employer waiting for you. With which employer do you want to be most reasonable?

  23. @Dave: I thiink loyalty still matters, especially while you’re still working at a company. But loyalty is a relative thing. What you owe an employer is different while you’re there and when you’re no longer there.

  24. If the company has treated you well, you may want to reward them for that by easing the transition as much as possible and still being on good terms with them. If not, you have no obligation to do anything but what business stricly needs. YOur gut feeling is often a good guide to what you may feel you owe them.

  25. Getting the work done is paramount, but the people and relationships matter. Particularly at the mid to high levels and especially if you are remaining within the same industry. Providing notice and answering future questions, etc has nothing to do with the specific employer. I agree that the individual loyalty between individuals and specific organizations has been lost. It is about the co-workers, bosses, etc who will remain and have to pick up your workload. I do not think (hope) that we have gone so far as to say that the loyalty between people has been lost. How you leave doesn’t just impact the company. It impacts the people as much if not more.

    It is those relationships, the trust developed between individuals, that allows deals to really get done. It enables the intent, rather than the letter, to prevail and provides the “grease” that lets the machine operate even though all the gears are not perfectly aligned. It forms the network that you will call upon in the future both to get work done as well as to find future personal opportunities. Relationships enable that well-timed phone call that makes a project succeed, or gets you the job. Or suggests you for a job.

    If your intent is to contract out a specific skill. Maybe the relationships you have don’t matter. But in my (very technical) field, they do. It’s not about the time or acting professional. It is about how you can hold on to those relationships because in the future because that is part of your network. And yes, I have called on former people I have worked with and been called on by them.

  26. I have worked for family companies twice. Never again. At the first I was asked to be gone by Friday because the owner needed my salary to pay for his son’s education as a pastor at a private, non-accredited college. The second one I was all but walked out the door because the boss had given me a year to join his parish, and I didn’t, so “he couldn’t trust me”.

    Love that mid-west ethic of mixing business, family and religion.

    So if I accidentally wind up in an interview with someone who starts in about how his company is a “small family run business”, I mentally close my portfolio and move on to the next interview. And if my “trust issue” shows, you’ll have to just overlook that.

  27. You quit with dignity and respect, if you can. Each employer is different; Nick is right–you protect yourself first, and you should start clearing up before you give notice. Just because you decide to be nice and do the right thing doesn’t mean that your employer will return the favor. You should be prepared to be walked out the door the moment you give notice and not to be allowed to gather your belongings from your office/cube.

    @L.T.: Yikes. Families can be dysfunctional, and that means family businesses can also be dysfunctional. And not just “family” businesses, but any business, large or small, private or public sector. It isn’t just a mid-west thing of mixing work and religion. At my last job at a large state university, my 3rd boss in a little over one year was from the deep South. One of the first things she did was require that we (she was my boss as well as the boss of several programs in another school) all come in early in order to start the day with prayers and she required us to join her for Bible study during the day. No, I didn’t work for the Religion dept.! Nor was the other dept. the religion dept. She tried to get the faculty to do this, but they refused. She made life hell for the non-tenured faculty (drove 3 out, got 6 fired), then turned her attention to her heathen peons. We were scared because there was a recession, and knew that as staff there was no tenure to protect us. I went to two of the tentured faculty that I had good relationships with and told them what was going on. We’d lost our dean to the early retirement packages, and the new boss’ best buddy was our new interim dean (and also served as dean of the other dept. in which the new boss worked). My boss was also sending out emails with religious messages and telling us to accept Jesus and that Jesus meant for her to lead us at work and to him. Yeah right. More than half of the faculty in the program were Jewish, two were Muslim, and the rest Christian, but New Englanders tend not to wear their religion on their sleeves (you wouldn’t have known). I kept the religious emails as proof, wrote a letter to the dept. chair (who didn’t want anything to do with this, but I told him that I’d go to the Provost if he and the interim dean couldn’t work it out) and then had a conversation with my new boss. I was scared because she had already fired a woman in the other school who didn’t even report to her simply because this employee told her to stop giving her work that wasn’t hers–she didn’t work for her. This employee was an African-American, and when she got fired, she ran straight to the union, told them it was discrimination based on racism (she was the only African-American staff member in that school–there was one other African-American employee, but she was a tenured faculty member). So, she was able to file a grievance against the new boss, where it sat for more than 4 years due to the backlog of grievances in the university system. In the meantime, this employee (who is a competent, bright person) told the African-American faculty member about her dilemma, and she (the faculty member) hired her on a grant she had to work for her and thus got her out of the new boss’ crosshairs and gave her some protection (at least as long as the grant remained viable). I’d seen non-tenured faculty (who have as little protection as staff from these kinds of firings) fired and others driven out. I’d seen what happened to Chris (the African-American staff member in the other school), and I was fully prepared to be fired for speaking up. I did have letters from the two tenured faculty in my own dept. supporting me, and I tried to explain, as diplomatically as possible, to my new boss, that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore, that here in New England, we believe in the separation of church and state, and that indeed, for a STATE institution like the university, what she did (try to mandate daily prayers and daily Bible study for the staff) is a textbook definition of how the state violates the first amendment to the Constitution. The university is the state, and she is employed by the state, therefore making her the state. The first amendment prohibits the state from telling people which religion to follow and/or how to worship. If she wants to be the bad example that generations of law school students will read about in their conlaw class, fine with me. I told her that I had kept her emails (the religious ones) and that I was fully prepared to go to the Provost. My particular religion and how I choose to worship should not be dictated by a boss. Of course, had I been employed at one of the private colleges in the area, she would have been within her rights to set any kinds of mandates she wished and to send out as many religious emails as she wished even if the recipients were Jewish or even if Christian just not her brand of Christian. She backed off, but I worried about my job (whether she’d try to find another way to get rid of me) for a long time….so the mixing of work and religion isn’t limited to the mid-west. We’re not even safe from it here in New England! I’m sorry that this happened to you….and I only hope that you found another job with an employer who didn’t make religion a qualification for the job.

  28. LT – addressing your experience…

    “At the first I was asked to be gone by Friday because the owner needed my salary to pay for his son’s education as a pastor at a private, non-accredited college”

    The problem here is not a family run business, it was the boss. This same person would be equally poor to work for in a Fortune 500 corporation.

    Given the expense was foreseeable you deserved more than a week notice of a budget layoff, which is what this was (how the future salary money was spent is immaterial by the way)

    The good part about working with smaller outfits is that it is very difficult to conceal financial distress. I once worked in a company where the phones got turned off for non-payment, which Management told everyone was a technical problem. Since I roomed with the IT guys at the time, and they weren’t even called in to fix it, the truth was soon out.