How to Guides Professional Development

How to Decide If You Should Quit Your Job: A Step-by-Step Guide

Written by Kate Lopaze

You’ve had it, you’ve really had it this time. The de-stressing techniques you learned in your yoga class are no longer working, and the thought of getting up in the morning and going in to work gives you anxiety hives, the likes of which you haven’t seen since tenth grade geometry exams. But is this it? Is it time to cut bait on this job and start scrambling for something else? And if so, how does one do that without regretting an impulsive choice?

There are a lot of different factors to consider. Like:

  • If I do decide to quit, should I do it before I have a job offer?
  • If I don’t have a job offer waiting in the wings, can I justify leaving my job in an uncertain economy?
  • Is this really quit-worthy, or am I just reacting to a temporary situation?
  • Am I prepared for a long job hunt?
  • What can I do in the meantime?

That’s a lot of stuff to have swirling around in your head while you try to make a major life decision. Let’s break it down a little more.

Should I Quit?

Quitting your job is not a decision to make lightly. A new job right away isn’t a given, but there’s also your longer career to think about: if you sacrifice your position now, will that set you back in the long term? Or will it increase the likelihood that you’ll find the next great opportunity by giving yourself this push? The first step in making this decision is always, always to do a self-assessment. Thinking, “I should quit,” and then handing in your resignation that day, is more likely to lead to panic and regret sooner than later. So if you’re angry, wait until that red rage subsides a little bit, and ask yourself, “why am I so unhappy here?”

According to some experts, the best place to start is a simple pro/con list:

  • What do I like about this job?
  • What do I dislike about this job?
  • What’s missing from this job?
  • What would I want from this job that I’m not getting?

After you’ve got your basic rundown of what’s bugging you about your job, the next step is to figure out if any of the “cons” are fixable. Would reprioritizing your duties help? Would your boss be receptive to changing things to be more amenable to your needs, or talking about a raise? If you don’t see those cons as budging anytime soon, then it’s likely time to move on. Also, if the “con” list is much longer than the “pro” side, that’s a clue that the problems may not be fixable enough.

RELATED: 10 Signs It’s Time to Quit Your Job

Another factor to consider is whether it’s really the job making you unhappy. If the “pro” list is substantial and the “cons” don’t seem so bad once you’ve written them out, it might be that you’re unhappy in other aspects of your life, and it’s bleeding into your work life. If it’s just the job that’s causing stress and tension, then you may want to move forward with quitting. If you think it’s your relationships or financial issues or anything else in your life that’s exacerbating standard work stress, then try addressing those factors first. You may find that you’re not as unhappy at work once other issues are resolved (or at least worked on).

Once you have your self-assessment complete, and have a stronger sense of what’s causing your work malaise, it’s time to do the next level of research: talking about it to someone at work.

I Want to Try to Make It Work. How Do I Make Things Better?

Schedule some time with your boss where you can sit down alone and talk about your unhappiness. If your compensation is the problem, be prepared to ask for a raise. If it’s your workload, ask about how you can reprioritize your duties. If it’s a conflict with other employees, you can get feedback about how to deal with it, officially or unofficially. Either way, be prepared for a frank discussion with your supervisor. And it’s important to keep the tone as neutral as you can—you don’t want your concerns to be dismissed as a rant, or have anyone question your professionalism. If you’re concerned that you will chicken out or will get very angry, practice your talking points ahead of time, either by yourself or with a trusted non-work person.

If your boss is the problem, the politics get a little more difficult. You can speak with HR or your boss’s boss if you’re concerned about direct confrontation, but understand that the information could get back to your boss, and make things extra uncomfortable. If things are that bumpy and contentious with your own boss, it may be time to leave.

You can also try some remedies on your own, without involving your manager or HR. Sometimes trying harder to approach your job with a positive and more receptive attitude can help ease things a bit, at least in the short term. Personally, I know that when I’m already grumpy, things just kind of spiral down from there—but when I make a conscious effort to say, “Okay, maybe I’m overreacting and need to try this from a different direction,” things seem less dire. Bottom line: you know yourself and your professional goals better than anyone, so only you can decide whether these short-term fixes will hold, or whether things will backslide in a matter of weeks.

I Think I Need to Quit.

Issues that are unlikely to resolve themselves include:

  • You lack passion for your job, with no exciting prospects on the immediate horizon.
  • You have skills and experience that are going to waste.
  • Your compensation is way under what other people in similar positions make, and your company won’t be able to close that gap any time soon.
  • The company itself is failing, and everyone’s starting to get a Titanic
  • You’re being verbally abused or sexually harassed at work.
  • You have no work-life balance, or it’s getting steadily worse.
  • Your boredom or malaise has led to decreased performance.
  • Your work stress is making you physically ill.
  • You’re no longer learning anything new at your job.

If any of these are your issue, and there’s no immediate solution that you can see, it’s time to move forward with an exit plan.

Okay, I Do Want to Quit. Now What?

Don’t draft your resignation just yet. Give your decision some time to marinate. That can help you work out any last “is it me or the job?” kinks, and decide definitively that you’re ready to let go. At this stage, you also have to think about what quitting means.

  • Do you have another job offer lined up?
  • And if so, does it address the issues you have with your current job?
  • If you don’t have another offer yet, are you prepared to be adrift in the job market for a while?

It’s best to have an offer in hand before you quit, but that’s not always going to be possible. If you’re quitting because of one of the dealbreakers mentioned above (especially being stuck with verbal or sexual harassment), you may decide that you just can’t continue on in your current job for the average six months it could take to find a new job. If you go this route, try to shore up your financial resources as much as you can before you hand in your resignation. Most experts recommend having at least six months in savings if you’re planning to quit your job without a Plan B.

RELATED: How to Quit Your Job Professionally

If you don’t have an offer yet, you can still do some short-term maneuvers to help set yourself up for your next opportunity.

  • Start reaching out to your network. Let them know you’re looking (discreetly, if you haven’t yet handed in your resignation).
  • Clean up your social media accounts, and get them ready for professional strangers to be peeking in.
  • Revamp your resume.
  • Start hitting job boards hard, and using industry-specific resources online.

While coming up with your post-quitting career plan, you should also be thinking about your last few weeks at work. You’ll need to give notice—at least two weeks, but your company may require more, so be sure to double-check company policy. You will also need to decide whether you’ll be available for transition training and any final requests your boss might have as you get ready to go. It’s important to be courteous and professional at every step here, no matter how fed up you may feel. Even if you already have a new job offer in hand, you don’t want to burn bridges on your way out. It’s much better to leave with your professional rep intact. It can really help minimize regrets later on.

Whether you’re feeling temporary job blues or you really need to get out and move on, the important piece is that you put the time and effort into diagnosing the problems and coming up with long- and short-term plans to make sure that you’re not hurting yourself by acting too rashly, or by giving in to inertia and staying in a bad situation too long. Sometimes quitting is the hardest and most rewarding decision you can make for your career, but you want to make sure it’s the exact right call for you at the time.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.