I have been hotly pursuing a job opportunity for the past six weeks, and yesterday I signed the offer letter. I was over the moon until I got home and thought about giving notice at my current job. Now I can't sleep and I'm a nervous wreck. This new job is perfect for me, but I don't know I will find the courage to tell my boss I'm leaving. I am terrified. My boss is a great guy and I know he'll be disappointed. How do you recommend I approach the subject?
First off, congratulations on the new job! Giving notice may give you a few moments of anxiety, but it'll be worth it when you look ahead to your next exciting opportunity. Here are my tips:
• If your boss is hard to get in front of, let his assistant know, or let him know via a high-priority e-mail or voicemail message that you need to see him ASAP. Don't delay, or you'll only give yourself another sleepless night.
• Go see your boss in person, and when you enter his office, don't sit down. If he works in a cube, ask him to step into a conference room. That will actually make your task easier, because there's a good chance this will tip him off to what's up before you even get to the conference room and start talking.
• Get to the point quickly. Say, "Joel, I've learned so much from you and I so appreciate the opportunities you've given me here. I have accepted a new position and I need to give you my notice." That's all! Clam up at that point. Let him react and ask questions.
• You don't have to say where you're going, but if you don't have a reason to keep it quiet, you may as well share the info and avoid having your boss think you're going to work for a competitor.
• React quickly—and decline politely— if your boss talks about a counter-offer. You've already committed, and the statistics are awful for people who accept counter-offers. They are likely to be viewed differently by the employer they initially planned on leaving and they typically end up leaving within six months anyway. Plus, they have burned a bridge with the company they rejected to accept the counter-offer. Say politely but firmly, "I really appreciate your effort to get me to stay, but I've made a commitment and I need to keep it." Clam up again.
• If your boss wants to get into your reasons for leaving or acts hurt that you conducted your stealth job search, just say, "I'd love to have another meeting with you before I go and share viewpoints about this job and this company, what I've learned, and what I'm looking for next in my career. Today, I just wanted to give you the news and let you know that I'll be hard at work for the next two weeks, ensuring a smooth transition." Don't be pulled into a conversation you're not prepared for, against your will.
• Last, talk with your boss about how and when the news of your departure will be shared. You should be in the loop with whatever he's planning vis-à-vis notifying senior management, your teammates, or the customers and suppliers you work with.
Giving notice at your job, especially for the first time in your career, can be intimidating. It might help to remember that every single one of us will do it at least a few times in our careers, some a dozen times or more! Like so many other things, it gets easier as you get more practice. But in the end, you can be pretty confident that your boss will recover from his shock and disappointment and wish you well. Keep him abreast of your progress after you leave the company—past bosses make tremendous contacts and advocates!