Making a Good Last Impression: How to Leave a Job Gracefully

I quit.
It's a phrase that takes a lot of courage to say, especially when it's being directed at an employer. Utter it at the wrong time or in the wrong manner, and the results could be damaging to your career.

For Jennifer, an attorney in New York, it was a particularly gut-wrenching experience. The twentysomething had been looking for a new job for several months when she got an offer from one of the law firms where she had interviewed. The job wasn't her first choice among those she applied for, but it did offer more money than her current position.

She didn't know what to do: Take the job that was being offered or hold off for one of the ones she wanted more? It wouldn't be smart to turn down a sure thing, she figured, so she decided to quit. "I wanted to do the right thing and give them a full two weeks' notice."

Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used for this column, told her boss that she got a better offer elsewhere and respectfully quit. Later that night, she regretted the move. She felt that she should have held out for a job she wanted more, and she didn't want to take the new position in the interim. "I didn't sleep at all" that night, she says. The next day, she rescinded her notice.

Jennifer's boss was forgiving and allowed her to keep her position. A month later, however, she was offered a job she really wanted at a different firm, and left for good.

Still, Jennifer's transition was hardly smooth, and it probably wasn't the ideal way the situation could have been handled.

"Once you give notice, you've kind of crossed an imaginary line -- a point of no return," says Marc Karasu, a spokesman for Yahoo HotJobs. Jennifer could have tried to buy more time from the firm who made her the offer before she said yes, he says. In the meantime, she might have been able to tease an offer from one of the other firms she was interested in.

Mastering the ins and outs of moving from job to job is an important skill, particularly for young people, since we are likely to move around a lot. It's more than just being professional, it's about shoring your future career moves, and your finances. The average person will have 9.2 jobs between the ages of 18 and 34, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management last November found that 75% of employees are actively or passively looking for work, now that the economy is getting stronger.

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