Making a graceful exit from a new job

November 9, 2012

It was a mistake to accept my current job. How can I gracefully make my exit without causing career damage?

You know that this won’t look good on your résumé. But it could be worse if you stay in a situation where you aren’t likely to succeed.

It all depends on the way that you handle how you leave and how you explain it.

Sometimes things just don’t work out. But even if someone is at fault, then there are ways to extricate yourself with grace and respect.

Peter Bell, president of the PR recruiting firm Peter Bell & Associates, says you need to make a quick, clean break once you’re sure of your decision.

“Everyone understands this situation,” Bell says. “This must be done immediately, not after weeks. After a while the reason fades, as does the understanding of the situation.”

If it doesn’t feel like the job is working out, then your employer probably already recognizes that there are issues. The boss might be hoping that you’ll talk about it with him or her. 

Keep in mind that your boss may be trying to work through the issues. I’ve been in situations that I was sure were destined to be disasters at first, and later I was happy that I stuck with them.

But if you’re sure, then you can respectfully and professionally explain to your boss that this just isn’t working out. The boss will want to know why, and you need to be careful here. Help them understand, but if this turns into a venting session, then it will make it harder for you to leave on good terms.  Answer questions without becoming accusatory or angry.

Employers also usually know when an employee is looking for another job because of their attitudes and other social cues. Try to use your free time — early in the morning, on your lunch hour, in the evening — making connections with potential new employers.

Meanwhile, view your current job as a future investment, and do the best you can during the hours you are there. I know that’s hard, because once you make up your mind that you don’t want to be somewhere, you mentally check out. Be careful so that the boss doesn’t fire you before you actually quit — that would be much worse.

Once you’re free from this job that was a mistake, how do you explain that on your résumé? You might not need to. Bell believes that you can leave a short-term engagement off your résumé if it lasts less than two weeks and if you’re honest about it.

If you do include it, then employers will often understand that it was a bad fit. Sometimes it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t turn out that way because of various factors that you didn’t anticipate.

People understand that not everything in life works out. How you handle it could determine whether it’s merely a blip on your record or a problem that haunts you for years.

Ann Willets
Ann Willets is president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc., an ethically focused PR agency. She was the 2010 chair of the Counselors Academy.


Cy says:

Let's be very realistic here. People need to stop thinking about their resume as some outside force. If it isn't flattering to me or my career, it doesn't go on my resume. Period. If I were to have a three year disaster of a job that I didn't want to list, it wouldn't get listed. Your resume is YOUR resume. It's one tool in your personal sales kit. Oh, and that hypothetical three year gap? Get creative. Make something up. Something interesting and difficult or impossible to vet. Is that unethical? I guess that depends on your own level of self-flagellation and hand-wringing. If you really want to use your resume to advertise your failures and missteps (we all have them) then go right ahead. I'll be hired over you every time.

April 21, 2016

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