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When You Should Quit Your Job Without Having Another One Lined Up


Jul. 9, 2017 Harvard Business Review

People hate to resign without another job lined up. Not just because employers prefer to hire people who are working, but also because it feels like failure. It seems as if you “couldn’t take it.” But there are times when it is very important to just let go.

Here’s a personal example: My boyfriend had never water skied in his life. My father challenged him to try in the ocean off Cape Cod. My boy friend sat in the water, skis in front of him as my father gunned the engine of his ridiculously underpowered fishing boat. My boyfriend’s feet went out from under him. He was smiling and holding onto the handle, but his feet were out behind him and his head was under water. I jumped up and down screaming, “Let go! Let go!” If he hadn’t let go, my boyfriend might have drowned, and we would never have gotten married and lived happily ever after.

It can be true of jobs, too. If you don’t let go, you can easily destroy your career. There are two times when you should consider resigning even if you don’t have another job line up:

  • When you believe something illegal or unethical is going on at work and you are concerned it will reflect badly on you
  • When your current job is negatively affecting your health and your life outside of work

Before you quit, however, you need to put together a plan that includes when and how you are going to resign, whom you are going to use as references, and, most importantly, what you are going to say about why you are resigning. Here are a couple of examples:

Beth (not her real name) started a company with two business school friends. When she learned a few years later that her partners might be cheating their clients, she realized it was time to extricate herself from the firm, even though she would probably lose not just her job but also her investment in the company. Staying with the company was not an option when something even more valuable was at stake — her reputation.

She put a good plan in place. She hired an attorney to help her understand her obligations, set a date to resign, wrote a resignation letter which included a careful reason for resigning. It said, “It has been very exciting working with you both in this startup. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. But now I know more about myself. I just can’t be comfortable with the lack of structure and organization…”

Beth then secured her references: a past employer, a current client, and a current colleague, all of whom would substantiate her reason for leaving. She didn’t share her suspicions about her partners with any of her references because her suspicions had not been proven. She got out with her reputation intact and found another job within four months.

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