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You’re Ready to Quit. How Much Notice Do You Owe?

Category: Business,Finance

An employee worries that she has promised to give four weeks’ notice to her current boss if she leaves for a new job, but that may be too long for a future employer. Here’s how to finesse the issue.

CreditMichael Hirshon

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I feel that I’ve advanced as far as I can with my current employer and have started looking at opportunities with other companies. My employment agreement requires me to give four weeks notice, and I’m worried about what happens if I’m offered a job by a company that expects me to start sooner.

Can or should I leave my job with less notice than my agreement requires? Is there a good method for broaching this with a potential new employer in a way that won’t jeopardize my chances of being offered a job?


A job offer need not be torpedoed by an obligation to wait four weeks, as long as you handle the situation thoughtfully.

Think of this as you would think of any factor that might be perceived as a drawback by a potential employer, said John Borrowman, a recruiter with the firm Borrowman Baker. Don’t disclose it until you’ve received what he calls “a buying signal”: ideally an outright offer, but at least some positive signal. “Then you have some leverage,” Mr. Borrowman said.

In short, avoid the common mistake of feeling obliged to blurt out issues that make a candidate less appealing. Early in the process, employers are looking for any signal that helps narrow down their list of options. Don’t give them one prematurely.

In this case, a four-week delay probably won’t be a big deal if the employer has decided you are the perfect hire. “They’ve put in all this time to get you,” said Paula Battalia Brand, a career coach and consultant in Annapolis, Md. “It’s going to take them at least four weeks just to go through that process again.”

As for breaking the agreement with your current employer, there’s what you can do, and what you should. Maybe there’s a loophole, or maybe it’s not worth your employer’s time to enforce the agreement. But skipping out probably guarantees a bad reference, and sends a signal that you don’t honor commitments, risking your reputation in general. It’s also icky human behavior.

So if your new employer really wants you to start sooner, or if you just want to leave sooner, try to work out a compromise. Put together a summary of projects in progress, and propose strategies for handing them off that would get you out more quickly, Mr. Borrowman said. Or, Ms. Brand added, suggest an arrangement that splits your time for a couple of weeks.

Your new employer wants things to work out, and if you treat your current company with respect, your boss will want this to end on a positive note. Focus on finding a better job, not on a hypothetical worst-case scenario. As Ms. Brand said: “Don’t worry about it until you have to worry about it.”

CreditGracia Lam

How to Explain Getting Fired

I was recently fired from a job after just five months. My manager said I did not meet deadlines and my productivity was under par. These issues were hastily mentioned in my three-month review, but there was no real warning that I might be fired.

I admit that the job was overwhelming and I did miss some deadlines. Under normal circumstances I would not have taken it, but I needed work after a layoff. And frankly I believe I was fired because my immediate supervisor and I did not mesh well. My question is: What do I say in interviews about why I left this job?


Getting fired is awful, and can leave you angry or dispirited, or even feeling as if you’ll never recover. But start by trying to remember that you will recover, and that practically every work force veteran has suffered through a similar moment.

More practically, one option is to just leave this off your résumé. A five-month gap isn’t a disaster, Ms. Brand said; you might obscure it by simply listing employment dates by year only, or emphasizing simultaneous volunteer work or educational pursuits.

That may not be workable in a small field or market. But once you’re in an interview situation, you can still find ways to keep this episode minimal. Acknowledge that this particular job didn’t work out; don’t trash talk or blame anybody. Then quickly pivot to what you accomplished, either on that job or in that period of time. “You shouldn’t lie, but there are often two truths,” Ms. Brand says. “Yes, you got fired, but at the same time you also got a professional certification,” or picked up some skill. Spend your time emphasizing the latter.

Mr. Borrowman, the recruiter, agreed that a short-term stint on a résumé is not an automatic deal killer. “It depends on how you tell the story,” he said. “Talk about what you learned.” Even if that means you learned you don’t operate as well under some particular circumstance, that’s not necessarily bad. “Everybody makes mistakes; not everybody learns,” he added. “If you can talk about what you learned from a mistake, you’re on the right road.”

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