Career Advice No One Gave Me: Give a Lot of Notice When You Quit
2 weeks notice is the gold standard when quitting. But giving more notice (a lot more notice) actually has a lot of benefits. Usually you get to:
- Do only the parts of your job you enjoy the most
- Eliminate ~all stress from your job
- Get paid the same
- Extend your benefits for longer
- Take unused vacation time
- Vest more stock
- Get your bonus
- Leave on a positive note
- Be thanked and appreciated by everyone
That last one isn’t a joke. If you’re a competent software engineer in good standing at your company, giving more than 2 weeks’ notice is usually a win for everyone involved. Everyone will thank you and appreciate you because you are really doing them a favor.
Why Would Any Company Agree to This?
Usually the person who has to sign off on an extended notice period is the engineer’s manager, and possibly also HR. But HR isn’t going to overrule if your manager really wants you around. And having you stick around longer is an automatic win for your manager in a number of ways.
First, it’s pure profit. It costs your manager nothing to keep you around. Your manager does not pay your salary or your benefits. Your resignation has already given your manager a get-out-of-jail-free card at his/her next performance review. If he/she doesn’t hit some important milestone or meet some key metric, all he/she has to say is “having key engineer X leave really disrupted our plans” and no one can hold it against him/her. This is the case whether or not you stay a bit longer. And when the choice is between having more competent engineering hours and less, with no downside to having more, it’s a no brainer for a manager.
This is the case even if your manager has to choose between keeping you around longer and hiring a new engineer immediately. Your value relative to replacement is enormous. Easily you’re 10x more valuable to that manager right now than any new engineer he/she could hire. Even if you’re taking it easy and not working very hard, any new engineer is not only not going to add value to the team, but is actually going to detract from the productivity of the team.
Second, it makes for a smoother transition. Instead of having to scramble to find someone to pick up your projects, instead of pulling other people off of other important work or overloading them, your manager can plan things out. Other engineers can be allocated to the team, less important projects can be spun down. Instead of having to push the engineers that inherit your project to gain context and competency in a superhuman amount of time, stressing and possibly burning them out, your manager can lobby for more resources and keep the team healthy.
Third, it’s just good risk-mitigation. Do you have unique context on something that no one (including yourself) realizes? Your manager won’t find out until your work is handed off. Are there any fires that you’re uniquely qualified to put out? No way to know unless the system is being run by a bunch of people who are not you. Having you hang around in a limited capacity is a safety net that dramatically reduces these risks.
I’ve had people tell me that they worry that they risk getting terminated if they give extended notice. They fear their company will see them as a “free loader” or “dead weight” and try to cut costs.
But this almost certainly isn’t going to happen. First of all, it’s not true: keeping you around longer is very valuable to the people making the decision (see above). But second, employees consistently discount how outrageously expensive it is to terminate an employee. And if a company is making you stop working before you want to, then they are terminating you, which usually means they have to pay you severance, which is almost certainly more expensive than just keeping around for the time you wanted to stay.
How Much Notice Can You Give?
It depends on a lot of things:
- on your value to the team/company/manager (more value —> longer notice)
- on what work you have in progress (more important work —> longer notice)
- on your seniority (more senior —> longer notice)
- on what the financial position of the company is (more runway —> longer notice)
But just a couple data points: I gave close to 3 months’ notice at a big (7000+ person) Silicon Valley tech company, and about 1.5 months at a small (75 person) digital media company. In both cases it was appreciated and I probably could have given more.
What About Your Next Job?
It’s generally advisable to find a new job while you’re still employed. It puts you in a much stronger position when negotiating salary and benefits. But most of the time new employers want you to start ASAP. So how can you give a lot of notice at your current job if your new job wants you to start yesterday?
Simply put: you can’t.
This is something you should negotiate for when picking your next job. Just tell them that you don’t like leaving people in a bad spot and that you need some time to effectively hand off your projects. They should understand. In fact, they should see this as a good sign: as you being a good person. The courtesy you show to the company you are leaving is likely the same courtesy you will show to them. If they do not understand and MUST HAVE YOU NOW, that is a red flag. Very likely this is a company you do not want to work for, one which pushes people beyond reasonable limits.
Most companies, though, don’t have a problem with delaying someone’s start date. It’s common for people to say they need some time off, or have a vacation planned, or need to figure out new travel/daycare arrangements, or whatever. I’ve personally witnessed dozens of people start over a month after they signed their offer letters. Companies delay start dates all the time.
How To Negotiate for This
People usually use their current employer/salary as leverage when negotiating with prospective employers. What many people don’t realize is that you can actually do the reverse, and use your next job to also negotiate for a more favorable exit from your current employer.
First of all, when you go to talk to your manager, do it in person — or at least on a video call. Be a human. Have a conversation. I cannot say this enough: you need your manager to be on your side to make this work.
You can start the conversation with your manager by saying: “I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on.” Just lay things on the table. Give your manager a chance to process and think about what losing you means. Then clarify: “I’m not in a rush and I don’t want to leave you or the team in a bad place.” Phew. Everyone is relieved. Great.
Your manager will ask what you are doing next. “I’ll be at company X doing Y, but I’ve asked to not start until ((date far in the future)) so that I can hand things off here first.” Okay, that is a while, people don’t usually do this. But what a nice gesture! It’s possible that your manager will even feel bad about how nice you’re being: “Oh that’s very nice, but you don’t have to do that.” You can be honest here: “Thank you, but I want to.”
Remember, you’re still in a really strong negotiating position right now. You can always go back to company X and tell them that, nevermind, actually you can start in 2 weeks after all. Everyone knows that company X will take you up on that offer. Your current company and manager are the only ones who really lose if you do.
End the conversation by saying that you want to keep discussing things and figure out a concrete exit plan. That will give your manager time to think, which he/she probably wants anyway, and to kick off the exit process. Probably HR will be notified. Etc.
Your next conversation is likely a good time to get more specific about what you want. Example:
With the time I have left I’d like to focus on high-leverage work: handing off projects, training engineers, and transferring state/context. I don’t think it’s valuable for me to attend sprint meetings or be on call or conduct technical interviews or ((other thing you don’t like to do)). I would also like to take the vacation time I’ve accumulated.
Don’t go crazy but also don’t hold back. Your manager wants to make this work, and you are in a strong position even if it doesn’t. Be confident. You’ll be surprised by what they say yes to.
If someone (I’m looking at you, HR) pushes back on any of this, direct them to your manager. Explain that you worked out these details in conjunction with your manager and that you’re just trying to make this departure as easy on your team as possible. Use the phrase “phased exit plan”. You want to make it clear that this isn’t a zero sum game, and that you’re not trying to pull a fast one on them. Tell them you’re optimistic that a solution can be worked out, and that you’re willing to be flexible.
If it seems like you’re just deferring the problem, that’s exactly right. Sometimes people have negative gut reactions to extended notice — as is the case whenever you’re not following business norms — but being flexible defuses the situation, and people usually come around when they think it through.
For example, I once had HR push back against me taking my vacation time before leaving. It was against company policy. I told them I was optimistic we could work things out, they chatted with my manager, my manager made it clear that it was helpful to have me around as long as possible, I tweaked the dates of when I was taking the vacation to nominally satisfy the policy (I still took all of it), and everyone was happy.
None of this works if:
- your manager isn’t behind this (have I said that yet?)
- your manager doesn’t value you
- you’re a bad/lazy engineer that people don’t want around
- you’re a really junior engineer being mentored
- you’ve only been around for a few months
- you’re getting bad performance reviews
- you don’t have a good reputation
- you’re a drag on your team
- you’re leaving to join a competitor
If any of that is the case, don’t try this. It won’t work.
If you’re leaving to join a competitor no one is going to want you to stick around. In fact, they will likely tell you 2 weeks is more than enough and that you don’t have to work during that time and hand over your laptop now we just locked you out of Slack.
But if you do it right, an extended notice period can be an awesome thing for everyone involved.