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Don't Quit Your Job Until You've Accepted a New One

Alison Green

Have you ever been tempted to quit your job even though you don't have another one lined up yet? Maybe you're sure you're about to get an offer, or maybe you just can't stand working for your current boss. It can be tempting to give your notice on the spot, but it can also be an enormous mistake if you don't have another job formally locked in yet.

Here's why you should never resign from your job until you have an official job offer -- one that you've finished negotiating and have accepted.

1. It might take you a lot longer than you think to find a new job. If you expect to find another job within a couple of months, think again. Finding another job can take a long time -- often much longer than job seekers expect. In fact, in this market, it's not uncommon for a job search to take a year or more. That means if you quit your job without first securing another, you might end up with a large gap on your resume, which can make it harder to get hired. It can also drain your savings and leave you in a precarious financial position -- one where the pressure to find another job will quickly become greater than ever.

2. It's much easier to get another job when you're still employed. Rightly or wrongly, most employers prefer to hire people who are already employed. Many assume that people who quit their jobs without another lined up did so because they were either fired or about to be fired. Or they may think the candidate walked away when things got tough, which worries managers, because every job has challenges. That doesn't mean it's an instant deal-breaker, but it's highly likely to raise questions from employers and potentially make your job search harder.

3. The job offer you're counting on might fall through. Sometimes job seekers are so sure that an offer is forthcoming that they go ahead and give notice to their current employers. Sometimes this works out just fine, but other times it ends badly when the offer falls through. And if you've already given notice, your current employer may have already made plans to replace you, or they might not be willing to let you rescind your notice -- which can leave you without the old or new job. Because of that risk, you should never resign until you have an official offer in hand from your new employer -- not a promise that an offer is coming, not very good signs that seem like they're leading somewhere -- but an actual, formal offer. Better yet, wait until you've accepted that formal offer, because otherwise it's possible that your negotiations could fall apart.

4. You might not pass the background check. Sometimes an employer might tell you that a new job is a done deal, but you'll notice fine print in the offer letter that says it's contingent on you passing a background check or reference check. Even if you're confident both of those will go fine, that's never guaranteed. Sometimes mistakes are made in background checks, or a reference call doesn't go quite the way you assumed it would. Until any contingencies like these are cleared, your offer could still hit a snag, which means you might not want to risk resigning your job at this stage.

Perhaps a new employer pressures you to give notice while the offer still has contingencies attached to it. In that case, explain that while you don't expect any problems with references or in the background check, you're not comfortable giving notice until the offer is finalized. You can say something like, "As soon as the offer is firm and without contingencies, I'll be able to give my employer two weeks notice. But I can't resign my job until the new one is certain."

Are there any times when it's OK to resign without a new job?

There are a few limited circumstances when it might make sense to quit your job before you've secured a new one: if you're being subjected to egregiously abusive or harassing treatment, if your safety is being compromised or if you're being pressured to do anything illegal, unethical or unsafe. But aside from those limited cases, you're far better off job searching while you're still employed.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.

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