Guest Column: How to gracefully exit a job just after accepting it

Conflict Res

Dear Conflict Resolution,
Over the summer, I applied for several jobs on campus. I waited to hear back, and finally accepted one. But, after the first week at this new job, I got offered my top choice of work somewhere else. It’s more in line with my goals, and I think I’d enjoy it more. How should I handle the situation? I was thinking of emailing my direct supervisor and letting her know I won’t be in on Monday, after all. Maybe mention it just wasn’t a good “fit.” But that leaves a relatively small office short an employee, which will suck for them. What do you think?

Dear Sorrynotsorry,


That’s a tough spot to be in! When dealing with a complicated situation like this, it can be helpful to take a step back and practice some reflective thinking: look at the possible Pros and Cons of each choice you can make, and determine who will be impacted and how. It seems to me like you have two basic choices. Choice #1: stay at the job you’re not psyched about; or Choice #2: leave for the job that’s more aligned with your interests.

The big Pro of Choice #1 is that you don’t rock the boat at your current workplace. The job they hired you to do will get done, and you’ll be seen as dependable. Cons? You waste time doing something that pays the bills, but doesn’t necessarily help you get where you want to go career-wise.

With Choice #2 the Pros are that you would get to do work that interests you, and prepares you for your future job. You might also connect with people who will be great references in your field. The Cons are that you might upset your current co-workers when they get stuck with the slack. You might also get something of a bad reputation.

There may well be other very important Pros and Cons, but you know your situation better than I do. Without knowing all the details, I’m making some guesses.

Obviously every choice has positive and negative consequences, but not every consequence has equal weight. Short-term consequences – those that will affect you right now – may be worth less consideration than long-term consequences that can affect you for years.

In this case, it seems like the negative consequences of leaving this job are mostly short-term: you’ll put your supervisor in a difficult spot and you’ll need to have an awkward conversation; while the positives of leaving are more long-term. If you value your future career and well-being over the short-term comfort of yourself and your supervisor, you’d probably lean towards leaving.

If this is what you decide to do, share your decision with your current supervisor in a way that minimizes your risk of damaging your image. While an email might be tempting because it’s easier, it’s impersonal and might come across as a bit flippant. Instead, save news like this for a face-to-face conversation. While it might feel awkward, delivering this news in-person shows respect and consideration for your supervisor. Use this conversation to share how much you have appreciated this opportunity, and explain that your reasons for leaving are not due to any dissatisfaction with your current job, but the fact that the other job better aligns with your career goals. Apologize for any inconvenience you’ve caused and, if possible, offer to stick around for a short period of time while they work to fill your position. Even if your supervisor is disappointed, they’ll most likely understand and appreciate your honesty.

If there are other factors to take into account, follow the same procedure: decide your options, list the Pros and Cons, determine who will be affected and how, and gauge the relative importance of short- and long-term consequences for you. Best of luck!

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