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Should you tell your office best friend you're leaving before you tell your boss?

The secret to gracefully leaving a job. (Photo: Getty Images)

Much like finally receiving a text back from a first date that went swimmingly, the feeling of elation after you land a dream job can make your heart race. Though you may be brimming with excitement as you accept and prepare for your next professional transition, career experts warn against spilling your happy news too soon, especially to the wrong people. Even if your favorite office comrade is generally great at keeping your secrets, it can be a slippery slope to tell your co-worker you’re leaving before you officially give your boss two weeks notice.

Every workplace situation and dynamic is different, but navigating a clean, professional exit will speak volumes for your career and potential growth. Here, top career coaches provide the how-to of a graceful, respectful exit:

Talk only to a trusted confidant.

If you’re lucky, you work elbow-to-elbow with people who inspire you, challenge you, and teach you invaluable skills. And if you’re luckier, you might also connect with these talented individuals on an interpersonal level, building friendships and loyalty as you burn that midnight oil together. Because you respect their opinions and advice, it likely feels comfortable to reach out to them if you’re struggling with a decision about a new job offer or want to negotiate for a higher raise before you accept it. But is it appropriate?

Colleen Star Koch, a brand and career coach, says it’s important to ensure you share a high level of trust with your co-worker before seeking his or her opinion. If you feel like they’ll be able to keep it mum until you make your decision to stay or go, Koch says that it’s still important to take the conversation out of the office. “Take your colleague out for happy hour and get their thoughts. Don’t let it turn into a whine-fest either: if this is actually intended to help you make your decision, you should enter into the conversation with an open mind, ready to listen and consider advice from different angles,” she advises. As much as you can, keep the conversation focused on the personal reasons why you are tempted to leave your current position, and less about any office drama that might be pushing you away. This way, the air is cleared for you to be candid, without bringing in office politics that could influence your choice.

Don’t say anything before you have an offer.

If you’ve been at your current company for several years, you’ve probably grown close with at least one co-worker. Considering you spend more time logging hours and collecting a paycheck than you do with your own family and friends, growing close helps you feel more at ease and happier at work. But letting your colleague know that you’re eyeing a job opportunity or in the process of interviewing may backfire, at least according to Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi. This could be the case especially if you don’t end up getting that offer letter, because your pal would always have a nugget of information they could ultimately hold against you. “You’ve confided in your colleague that you want to leave, but what if you get promoted during the process and your peer doesn’t? It could get awkward and there could be resentment,” she explains. “What if suddenly your department is hit with layoffs and you are spared/you’re able to keep your job but your co-worker doesn’t? Your head and heart have checked out, but you need to act as if you’re still focused on your current job. That’s much easier to do if no one knows your intentions.”

Seek advice outside of the office.

When making a transformation in your professional path, it’s normal to seek insight from others who have been in similar situations. From venting and brainstorming to going over your resume and the best job boards, Salemi says you should do everything in your power to stay far away from your colleagues. “If you want to vent about your current job and why you’re looking to leave, or why you’re excited about a new opportunity, or an interview you aced, or a new awesome job alert that landed in your inbox during that weekly meeting from hell … refrain. Text friends outside of the office instead. Talk to your dog. Your therapist. Your acupuncturist,” she recommends. “Reach out to anyone in your circle who will ensure it doesn’t get back to your boss or feel awkward if your current employment situation changes during this time.”

Another way to turn? Salemi says you should turn to mentors or former co-workers from previous jobs who know your work ethic, your skill set, and your abilities. “If the reason why you want to talk to a co-worker before accepting the new job is because you need advice on salary negotiations or something relevant to the job offer, you probably have other people in your network who you can lean on, such as a former boss, mentor and former colleagues,” she adds.

Bottom line: Tell your boss first.

No matter how you go about it, Koch and Salemi agree: The best tactic is always giving your manager the professional courtesy of receiving your exit information before anyone else on your team. “Even if you have accepted a new position, professional etiquette dictates you start by telling your boss in person, followed by sending them your resignation letter. After that, tell your close colleagues in person before sending out a more general farewell letter to the rest of your team. In the latter, you might consider including your LinkedIn info or personal contact info, so that your network can stay in touch with you once you’ve left. Best not to burn bridges,” Koch advises.

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