Burned out, quit without notice. What now?

Burned out, quit without notice. What now?


I’ve been working for a very dynamic manager who gives me lots of opportunities for advancement. I’ve learned a lot, but I think I blew it. The last three months have been very stressful and two days ago I quit. I left my boss in the lurch — I quit without notice. I was just burned out and didn’t know where to turn. He’s a great guy, but he just kept piling on the work and I got to the point where I couldn’t keep my head above water. Some tasks really required someone higher-level than me, but I managed to get them done, working till after midnight at home and on weekends. My husband and kids just learned to live without me for a while.

How do I explain my sudden departure to future employers? I do not just leave jobs, but I just didn’t feel capable any more. I know it was poor judgment to not give notice. Please help.

Nick’s Reply

quit without noticeSometimes stress pushes us to our limits. Sometimes it pushes us beyond. You’re right, you shouldn’t have quit without notice — or without first discussing your problems candidly with your boss. You will never know whether he might have adjusted your work load.

There are two things you should do.

Quit without notice: Fess up

First, you should go back to your employer, apologize, and offer to cover the job while he finds a replacement. That would be hard, I know. He may not even want to talk to you. Fessing up is the only way I know to try and salvage the relationship and your self-respect.

Second, face up to what happened when you interview with another employer. Whether or not your boss was being reasonable in piling on all that work, the bottom line is that the job and the company were not for you. You have to be able to explain, very briefly, why that’s so. Even if not speaking up was your error, your employer is at least as much to blame. Try something like this:

How to Say It

“I love my work, and I want to work in a better company where I am free to do my job effectively.”

If they ask you what the problem was with your recent employer, be honest:

“I’m looking for a good job with a good company, but I never disparage anyone I’ve ever worked with… I came to you because your company seems to be one of the shining lights in this industry, and I’d like to show you how I will be a profitable hire…”

Focus on the company you’re meeting with, not on your past or your old company. Be ready talk about what you can do for the new employer. That’s what matters. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

Lack of skills or too much work?

I’ve seen this burn-out syndrome before and it concerns me. You say you didn’t feel capable in the position you were in. I take that to mean you either weren’t skilled to do the job, or it was just too much work for you even if you could do it. Don’t let that get to your ego. There are jobs we can do, and others we can’t. Problems arise when we don’t know the difference, and when we can’t say stop before a disaster occurs.

I’ve known a number of talented people who have dug themselves into a hole they could not escape, except the way you did. It’s a vicious cycle.

Snapped and quit without notice

Sara was a very smart and dedicated worker who enjoyed great success at her company for three years. But she failed to recognize that the work became more than she could handle. The harder she worked, the more responsibility the boss gave her. Bosses are guilty of making this situation worse, because they often take advantage of this kind of worker.

Sara got deeper into the hole. She became physically ill. But she was afraid to turn any work away. Finally, she snapped. Late on a Friday she slipped a one-line resignation letter under her boss’s door and disappeared. She couldn’t face him, her co-workers, or herself. Her self-confidence was shattered.

Is this job for you?

This is what happens when someone takes on more than they can honestly handle. The truth is, the job is not for them, and burning themselves out trying to do it hurts everyone.

This message is not just for workers. It’s for bosses, too. If a job is too much for someone, stop and face the problem. Don’t create more problems by ignoring it till it’s too late.

My advice to you: find a job you want to do and that you can do well. Be honest with the interviewer, and focus on what you can do for the business. Interview your future boss thoroughly. Ask to meet other team members and inquire about the boss’s management style when there’s a crunch. Don’t ignore warning signs.

If you take the job, grow your career slowly and carefully, and base your success on the new skills you build – not on how much work you’re willing to take on to prove something. Let your boss know when the work gets to be too much. There’s a difference between “not doing your job” and “having too much job to do”.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever burned out and quit your job without notice to your boss? What precipitated it? What was the outcome? Do you believe it was your own fault, or your employer’s? What should this reader tell other employers?

: :

The ATH Field Guide: Overcome resume gaps to land a job

In the February 23, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is ready to chuck it all to save his sanity. Should he?


I’ve been a project manager running million dollar software projects for 15 years. However, I’m sick of the stress, never-ending deadlines, and frantic pace of technology. I’m 41 and I can’t keep this up for another 10 years.


I’m trained to recognize classic burn-out syndrome but dealing with it in myself isn’t easy. I find myself wanting to go pound nails for a builder or mow lawns or just to do something mindless. I think I could step out of corporate life for a while and come back later, but I will have lost my contacts. What’s the answer? “Would you like some fries with that, Sir?”

Nick’s Reply

No, no fries… but welcome to burn-out. It happens to many talented people. It’s nature telling you to flip the burger because one side is done. It’s time for the other side.

The conventional obstacles

Before I offer you suggestions about how to overcome the resume gaps you’re about to create, so you can land a new job later, let’s consider the obstacles you’re going to face. I’m sure you’ve read or heard the conventional wisdom about what you’re suggesting. Let’s play it:

  • It’s harder to get a job if you don’t have a job.
  • Employers discriminate against the unemployed.
  • If you stop working, your skills will go stale.
  • When you leave the work world, your network dries up.
  • Gaps in your resume are the kiss of death.
  • And so on…

To one degree or another, all those statements are true, of course. But it’s also true that we’re all gonna die… so what’s the point of living? (Consider the killer quote from Ring Lardner.)

What’s the point of being burned out and miserable?

The conventional wisdom doesn’t matter when you’ve got good reasons to do what you’re talking about: You’re free to get out of the kitchen and go kick the can for a while. Give yourself a break, or you will indeed burn up.

Jobs can be replaced, but you get only one body, one mind. There’s no reason to lose your contacts — it’s not hard to maintain the best ones when you take time off. Your skills need not dry up. You can learn new skills.

Afraid to get off the burner?

I was about 40 when I chucked it all to write a book, start a website, and follow my gut. Yes, it was a risk. But getting off the burner is necessary when you feel burnt. With the relief will come new experiences and new choices you forgot you had.

burn out

If you’re good at what you do now, I can almost assure you that you’ll be good at whatever you decide to do after some time off. And if you stay in touch with your best contacts, you’ll always have the support system you need to succeed again. More important, if you don’t get lazy, during the time you take off you’ll make loads of new contacts that can help you get back to work when the time comes.

Here’s the thing: Conventional wisdom is for the conventional person. It’s for whoever wants to nail themselves to a job the rest of their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that (even if I apply a derogatory metaphor to it). If you’re going to be unconventional — and take time off — then you can’t let the rules apply to you. You must forge your own rules and methods for getting back to work later.

And that’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. My test of the value of any method for landing a job is this: Does it make enough fundamental business sense that it can work under any circumstances — including taking a break?

Screw convention

I don’t like tricky job-search methods intended to mollify HR managers and personnel jockeys who scan credentials for excuses to reject someone without meeting them. For example, clever resumes that hide your gaps in employment, “functional resumes” that hide your age, and “consulting gigs” that cover up your unemployment.

There’s only one way to get a job under any circumstances without relying on luck, or faking it:

Get someone that knows the person in charge to introduce you and vouch for you, then don’t waste the employer’s time. Show why hiring you will pay off, so the manager won’t be able to do anything but hire you.

Who cares if you’re not employed?

Because what’s far, far worse is staying in the job that’s burning you out, and then showing up at job interviews shell-shocked and demoralized. Then no one’s going to hire you.

My vote — assuming you’ve got your finances in order — is to go away and come back later. Screw convention.

Here’s the secret: If you’re good at your work, then trust your ability to earn a living and to do useful work again. When you’re done kicking the can, you’ll be able to dust yourself off and figure out again what to do next, after flipping burgers and offering fries with that…

Life is short. Do what comes next now, and I think you’ll be better able to do what comes after that.

The Field Guide

Need help getting back to work after you’ve been away for a while — whatever the reason? Maybe you’ve just got gaps in your resume that raise red flags.

Here’s an Ask The Headhunter Field Guide that I’ve compiled from some of the best ATH resources. It’s more than you probably need, but I hope some of these tips will help you get introduced to the right employer and show why hiring you will pay off — even if you’ve been out of the market a long time. All are free online except where indicated:

Career coaches and pundits tend to avoid the “in-your-face” questions job seekers really need answers to. To explore the daunting obstacles that can stop you dead in your tracks — and to choose the help you need — check out the topic titles in the 9 PDF books that make up Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection ($49.95).

Would you dare to chuck it all to survive burn-out on the job? Is this a risk worth taking? If you’ve done it, how did you get back to work — or did you choose another path?

: :