Never Burn Your Bridges When Quitting a Job

It’s probably true that nearly everyone has had a job that pushed them to the breaking point. When you’ve finally had enough, you quit and move on. It might have tempted you to behave in ways that you normally don’t.

Maybe you’re in a situation like that right now. If you are it’s important that you avoid quitting in a way that you will regret later. As much as we may not want to hear it when we are all fired up and ready to quit a job, the saying “never burn your bridges”, are the truest words ever spoken when it comes to leaving an employer.

There are a number of reasons why you will be better off going out quietly.

Protecting your reputation

In the career world you’re only as good as your reputation. Part of that reputation is built on how will you handle stressful situations, and that would include experiences with bad previous employers. Even if you had an otherwise positive experience with a given employer, how your exit was carried out will have a disproportionate effect on what people remember about your tenure.

If your departure was smooth and considerate – especially if it was a tense situation – you will likely be remembered as a class act. Even those opposed you at the time you left will have at least some measure of respect for you.

If however your departure was marked by ugliness, you may have caused even those who otherwise respect you to think less of you.

Careers run on reputations, and they are well worth protecting even when the circumstances seem to warrant otherwise.

You may need a reference

career changeAny job that you hold will occupy a space on your resume. You will need references in order to prove both your time on the job and the quality of your work. A heated departure could make references for that particular job hard to come by.

While it’s probably okay to have a “bad job” at some time during your career, you don’t want that job to be either recent, or a significant experience. Having good references from a bad job experience is a way to neutralize the negativity that you faced when you were there. Leaving a job in conflict is a way to lose what might otherwise have been positive references.

It really is a small world

Most career fields are smaller and more tightly knit than we realize. This is especially true in local job markets. Not only is the field tightly net, but there are also a limited number of potential employers. That should provide incentive for you to maintain positive relationships with as many people and employers in the field as possible.

As is often the case, both employees and managers tend to move from one employer to the next. It’s entirely possible that the person you insult while quitting one company could show up at the next one you work for. That could turn future jobs into uncomfortable situations.

Any time you are tempted to quit a job in anger always step back and consider the very real possibility that you will be facing at least some of the same people in a future job situation.

Hurting future job an business prospects

Let’s spend a little more time considering the limited number of employers in the local area that we touched on in the last section. There may be a time in the future when you will face a layoff during a tough job market. At that time, you will be considering employment at all potential employers in the local area.

If there are eight potential employers in your area, but you had a bad fallout with one of them when you left, your list goes down to seven. This will be a problem even if you’re looking for contract work, which is a path that many pursue during periods of unemployment.

You may need to come back

One thing most people give little thought to when quitting in anger is the possibility that they may one day need to return to the employer they quit on less than favorable terms. It may not be a job loss that forces it, but rather the move of an influential friend to the company potentially creating an opportunity for them. But a job may not be available because some of the higher ups remember the inglorious exit.

No matter how bad a job situation may be, we always need to remember that we are professionals working in a professional environment, and proceed accordingly. No, our superiors and co-workers may not always reflect professionalism, but we need to even if they don’t.

We need to keep positive relations with any and all employers in our career orbits. We can never know if we will need references from some of the people who were part of our bad job experience, or even to return to that employer. By keeping your cool, you keep your options open.

Have you ever quit a bad job in anger then lived to regret it?

About Justin B

Justin is the co-owner and grammarly impaired author of My University Money and Young and Thrifty. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

7 Responses to Never Burn Your Bridges When Quitting a Job

  1. The ‘small world’ tidbit is so true. It’s amazing the number of people I’ve run into over the years that I never would have thought I’d see or hear from again. Only one time when I was let go and had no idea that it was coming did I ever do anything unprofessional when leaving (I basically called the guy an a***ole, but he didn’t like me anyways, so I don’t think I even really burned a bridge anyways). Even when I was let go at another job where I knew it was coming, I kept it professional. You just never know.

    • Absolutely. It is a small world, but your industry makes it even smaller. Right now I work on campus and I always run into people I used to go to school with in professional positions like mine. Sure glad I didn’t tick anyone off…That I know of anyway…

    • Good point! when I was 23 looking for a summer job I was asked why there was a gap in my resume for summer employment 4 years ago! I worked on the farm at home and didn’t think it was necessary to put in there again so I left it out. They found a 4 month gap in my resume. I can’t imagine a 2-3 year gap. That brings up questions for sure.

  2. Great topic Justin. I burned a bridge once when I was younger (teenager) and I learned from that moment on to not only build bridges, but to mend them in my career. I will do whatever I can to not burn one. You never know the networks of the people around you, so always be cognizant of that.

  3. I just could not agree more, this is so very true, I remember my first job and remember a friend of mine quitting the job because she was so frustrated and angry. I tried to talk her out this decision but she did not sway and was determined to quit. But this sudden quit made it very difficult for her to get her next job. So this is firsthand experience do not quit out of rage, this network is very strong and you will always need a reference and someone to put in a good word about your work. This topic is very interesting Justin. Thanks it refreshed my old memories.

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