How to quit or leave a job without harming your career

"Because my mama always told me to leave friends behind." Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Hearings, when asked why she didn’t speak up during her employment under Justice Thomas. Ms. Hill is a smart woman.

It's easy to harm your career when you leave a job. It's over. You are over it. You may be angry or you may be too excited about your new job to think much about your current situation. Doing it right isn't rocket science, and you can do your future self favors by thinking and acting right.

The food and beverage industry is close knit, and you are bound to meet people you met at one place somewhere in the future: the friends or enemies you left behind. Sometimes it can be hard, but it can be done. Here several suggestions culled from thirty years of horror stories.

  1. Never leave or quit when you are under immediate stress. Always sleep on your decision. Never quit in rage. Wait until you can give your resignation calmly.
  2. Never walk off a job. Regardless of who insulted or failed to respect you, who endangered you, who hurt your feelings. You are a professional. Professionals do not engage in the kind of self-indulgence. This is the kind of behavior we expect of small children and the occasional adolescent. You, however, are a grown man or woman who has chosen a professional career. Grit your teeth, work through the pain and do the right thing. You won’t regret it.
  3. Avoid high drama. There’s too much drama in this industry. Your departure is another business event for the restaurant and a passage for you, not your moment in the limelight.
  4. Tell your supervisor or employer directly, face to face, if possible, that you are giving notice. If you think the supervisor will not tell the employer you gave notice, send a letter.
  5. Don’t discuss anything regarding leaving or decide to leave when you and your supervisor are both under an adrenalin rush. Nothing comes of this. Nobody with heightened adrenalin hears or processes information correctly, and things tend to get out of hand. If you are being yelled at consider the noise an avalanche that has to run out before you can clear the ground. Wait until you can put your own thoughts together before you can address whatever issue is causing the problem.
  6. You should not leave your employer during high pressure periods: The December holidays, Mothers’ Day, Valentines Day and the other busy periods are terrible times to make your point. If this time is the straw breaking the camel’s back, you should inform your employer that you will be leaving after the end of the month or season. Even the worst employer or manager should know to appreciate this professionalism.
  7. Do not use your departure to make a point. If it isn’t working, it isn’t working, but your professionalism is worth more than the satisfaction of a short rant. Remember that your employer will remember it long after the friction between the two of you has worn off.
  8. Don’t poison the well. No matter how angry you are, remember that the place you work is the source of income for a number of people. Don’t make it harder for them by lobbying against your boss. Your anger will have receded in a few months, but unprofessional behavior tends to leave tracks.
  9. If leave on bad terms, don’t return to the restaurant as a guest or to visit the kitchen.
  10. If you leave on bad terms wait a while and then attempt to repair the bridge. You do not have to become best friends with people you despised, but attempt to put your relationship with them on a professional level once the emotions have subsided. This is a lot easier than it sounds, and most people are glad they did it afterwards.
  11. Before accepting an offer to leave on mutual consent (rather than being terminated) speak to friends about it. This can be quite complicated. Note two things: Good people do get terminated and mutual consent is generally understood to be terminated.
  12. Occasionally an employer will tell you he will write or give you a good reference if you will leave on your own accord. This is shaky, since you will probably never hear what he really says about you, and it is, in a way, blackmail. You will have to decide for yourself how to deal with this situation, but may I suggest something like, “Well I know you will act as a professional and tell anyone who asks what I did for you. Please feel free to share the weaknesses, as I intend to be up front with them myself.”
  13. Give notice. Generally two weeks is considered adequate for a subordinate position. Executive Chef or other highly responsible positions require more. If you feel that two weeks notice will result in immediate termination and you cannot afford the loss, give one week Even two days is preferable to no notice.
  14. Exception: Failure to compensate or bounced paychecks negate the necessity of notice. If the owners are not meeting their obligations to you, you have no obligations to them. Call your local Labor Board to find out what your options are. In general you will receive the pay withheld plus a percentage of that money for the late payments. Shouting here is not a good tactic. Keep calm at the restaurant, give your resignation in writing for your own sake, and be professional. This is not a common problem.
  15. Thank your employers for the opportunity and trust given you.
  16. During the period before you leave do your best work. "Always leave them crying." Fans from previous places of employment can help you a lot later on.
  17. If you are offered the job of your dreams which requires that you give short notice speak to your employer about the situation before accepting if at all possible. Explain your position. He will either ask you to stay for a certain period or tell you to take you chance now. This can be a little touchy.
  18. Anyone who urges you to leave your employer on very short notice shows a lack of the understanding of loyalty and professional behavior. There is a great chance in such situations that his suggestion that you do not give your employer proper respect and loyalty will also show in that employer’s treatment of you.
  19. If you can, ask your employer to discuss your performance with you when you leave. This kind of feedback is very valuable. Even if you feel that some of the considerations are incorrect, you will get a sense of how your performance is perceived. This will also provide you with an opportunity to cautiously correct any false assumptions. Do not, however, use it to argue as if you were trying to talk your old biology teacher up a grade.
  20. Tell your employer if you will be asking him to give references, If you feel that your employer incorrectly assesses your abilities or if there are serious personal issues between you, identify others within the group who will be willing to provide references.
  21. It doesn’t hurt to get written references, although they are less important in the United States than Europe.
  22. Document your experience with written material like menus and advertising brochures, which can explain the restaurant to future employers. Save web information.
  23. Don't lose touch. As you move on in your career you will be happy to be able to contact old colleagues for any number of reasons, including references. Take email addresses and phone numbers when you go.
  24. It’s not a good idea to go out drinking with the entire gang the day you leave, unless you are all on extremely good terms. Alcohol and the sudden freedom of no longer answering to people make for some regrettable statements, events and lasting impressions.
  25. Say goodbye not only to your direct colleagues, but also to those who provided you with support services such as the comptroller and the catering director. Your paths will cross repeatedly in the future.
  26. If you are leaving for a supervisory position, leave staff behind to guarantee continuity in the old kitchen. There is no firm rule on whom to bring and whom to leave, but it is inconsiderate to raid a kitchen or dining room which has paid your rent for the past year or more. This does not apply to the traveling chef/sous chef team or to friends who travel with you, but taking out the entire team is not advisable.
  27. Any person procured through a recruiting firm by your current employer is off limits for a new property until at least a year after they began their job. Your employer paid for their recruitment. Spiriting them away is not much different than walking off with the copper wares.
  28. Train your successor. If you know in advance that you will be leaving, you don’t need to share this, but you should focus on leaving a competent person in the second position.
  29. Don't try to get even. What ever "it" was, move on, leave it behind. You have a future, and the past shouldn't get in the way.
  30. Invite your employers and supervisors to visit you at the new location. Some of what you have become and learned you owe to them. This is small payback. Do not just say, "I hope you will visit me" when you leave, but call or send them a written invitation once you are up and running.
  31. Do not barter jobs. Decide before accepting a new job that this is the one you want. Don’t use it as a cudgel against your current position. Clarify with your current position early in the game whether they are willing to raise your salary or meet any needs. If they do it in the need which arises when you give notice only, then their opinion of you is not as high as that of the offering employer. Make you final decision before you give notice.
  32. . Do not take things with you that belong to the restaurant. This goes beyond the inventory. The recipe books are theirs, not yours, at least those recipes you created while you worked there, and the guest book is absolutely off limits.
  33. Let your purveyors know where you will be going, but make sure your employer knows of your departure before your wine merchants. Understand that once the word is out that the entire community will know before you have a chance to tell your boss.
  34. Tell your supervisors that you are going to leave before you inform your subordinates.
  35. Don’t trash talk your boss. It will get back to him and eventually come around to bite you in the backside.
  36. Be wary of "buy backs", that is an offer for a considerably greater sum of money to stay. Most employers of integrity will not offer this, but if they do there is a chance that they are just holding you on until they figure out where to get a loyal employee. If you accept, you will injure the alternate employer, and people talk.