Because everyone should dig their job

Leaving your job? How much notice is enough?

By Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

I gave my two week notice at my job for a family owned business. The owner's wife was upset with me that I did not give her a three week notice, since I was a manager. She told me that if anyone called her for a reference on me, she would tell them that I was not eligible for rehire. I had never heard of a three week notice before.

My new job ended up moving out of state after a year. I was asked to relocate but I declined. Now, I am looking for a job and I need to know if I need to tell a prospective employer about this bad reference. I do not know how to deal with this. People I know in human resources tell me I should inform the prospective employer upfront. I would appreciate any information you can provide.


Two weeks notice is a common courtesy extended to an employer, so they can get started on hiring and transferring responsibilities. But because a manager's work tends to involve responsibilities that range from personnel and customer issues to budgeting, two weeks is usually not enough time. It isn't a simple matter to transfer their duties to someone while searching for a replacement.

The more responsibility you have, or if you are a "key person," the more notice you should give. For managerial jobs and above, the notice could be as long as a month to six weeks. In a small, family run business, the loss of a key manager can bring a company to its knees, especially if he or she possesses some essential skill or knowledge, so offering to stay for at least three weeks would probably be appreciated.

However, there is no hard and fast rule. Your former employer is being vindictive by refusing to grant a reasonable reference. I agree with your friends in HR. Explain-without negative comments-what happened. When you are asked for a reference, provide two or three from your last employer. Then include someone from the family business, who can speak about your good work. If they choose to be miffed, the caller will be forewarned.

Here are some guidelines for giving notice that you are leaving:

The best situation is to negotiate the start date with the new employer, based on a "fairness factor" regarding the current employer. For instance, you might say, "Regarding a start date, I want to be as considerate as possible to you and my current employer, as well. My employer only has three managers where I work now, and it will be difficult for them to find a replacement. First, I'd like to talk with my boss and tell him I accepted this job, and then try to work out a start date that will work for both of you." The new employer will likely view your consideration positively. After all, he knows if you are considerate of your past employer, you will be considerate of him someday when you leave him.

If the new employer doesn't need you right away, you may be able to stay for three or four weeks at your job. However, be forewarned. Once you have declared that you are leaving, don't be surprised if the air gets a little chillier—communications will shrivel, you'll be uninvited to meetings and the day-to-day pleasantries will seem strained. You may even be asked to leave sooner than you expected.

An interesting dynamic takes place when someone announces that they are leaving. A natural, human reaction among employees, when a fellow employee announces her departure, is to think, "Gee, maybe I should be looking, too…"

The employee has "rejected" his current employer for another. Since the person is instantly seen as an ex-employee, managers typically want the person to leave as soon as possible. For instance, one concern is that other employees will ask, "Why are you leaving?" and may hear some negative comments about the current employer, or glowing things about the new one. Why risk jeopardizing the satisfaction of other employees?

Always take the high road. Never make a negative comment about your current employer to fellow peers or to a new employer. Then, you will never have to worry about it coming back to bite you. Your new employer wants a positive, dedicated employee who has sense enough to never burn a bridge.