When Should I Tell My Boss I Quit?

Last Updated Feb 18, 2011 5:18 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have a verbal offer for a job at a new company with a specific start date. I want to give my current employer as much notice as possible. Would I be taking a big risk if I let my manager know informally now, and turn in a formal letter tomorrow? This would be about three weeks notice.
Do not, under any circumstances, resign your current position until you have the offer letter in hand. Verbal offers mean squat. Okay, I know that my lawyer friends will tell me that in some states in some circumstances a verbal offer is equivalent to a written offer. I don't care. Do not resign.

And when you get that offer letter, look at it. Is it contingent on references, background checks or drug screens? If so, wait until those are finished before you resign.

But, Evil HR Lady, you protest, I've never so much as been in the same room with someone using an illegal substance, let alone used one. Why should I worry about the drug test?

Some companies test for and exclude you if you use certain legal substances. And then there are companies which won't hire and will fire you if you are using certain prescription medications. And sometimes the drug lab is stupid or HR is stupid or you're stupid (hey, it happens).

And then let's talk about references. Sure, everyone's always loved you, and has sworn up and down that they'll give you good references, but good recruiters try to find the people you haven't listed as references to find out why you haven't listed them.

Of course, I think they shouldn't make you an offer until reference checks are completed, but not everyone agrees with me.

And then let's talk about general background checks. Have you run your credit report lately? Some people aren't aware that their identity has been stolen or that their stupid phone company, which never bothered to send a final bill to one of the two addresses they had on file, turned the $24.87 unpaid bill over to a collection agency. (Not that I'm bitter about that experience or anything. But, seriously, I called twice asking for the bill. They couldn't be bothered to send it.) Some companies do credit checks for candidates. This can be especially taxing on people who have been unemployed for a while and have still had to, you know, eat and stuff.

And then there's the possibility that the phone call where you heard, "Congratulations! We're offering you the job as Chief Muckity-Muck in the Widgets division. Your salary will be $97,000 a year with a 20% bonus target!" was actually, "We think we'll be offering you the job as Chief Muckty-Muck in the Widgets division. We just need to clear it through 14 committees and fire the guy who is currently in the position."

Do I sound a bit negative? Yes, yes, a little. It's not something I like to be, but my email inbox tells me that it's important to be a bit paranoid. Job offers, especially verbal ones, disappear.

Wait until you have the job offer in hand and all the pre-employment hoops have been jumped through. Then present a written letter of resignation at the same time as you tell your boss. I know you're excited about the new job. And congratulations are definitely in order. But, make sure everything is lined up before you resign.

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Have a workplace dilemma? Email your question to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.
Photo by fuzzcat, Flickr cc 2.0
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    Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She's hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.

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