Mary Quenton, a 27-year-old landscape architect, was out with her boss one morning surveying an office complex to prepare a bid on the landscaping.
"Well, Mary, what do you think?" he asked her.
"I think I'm quitting this job," she blurted out.
Although she disliked her job, she hadn't planned to quit that morning. Her subconscious thoughts just burst through.
She laughs now when she recalls that fateful day.
"It sure wasn't the best way to quit a job," said Quenton, who preferred not to use her real name for this story. "But it served the purpose."
And it had a happy ending. After two months of job hunting, she found a much more challenging position with a larger, more prestigious landscaping company in Orange County.
Quitting a job can be nearly as stressful and emotionally shattering as getting divorced, experts say. No matter how unpleasant your job is, at least the surroundings and people are familiar. Although many people grouse, gripe and threaten to quit, when it comes to actually doing it, too often they act rashly and make embarrassing mistakes.
So if there are a lot of ways not to quit a job, what is the best way to handle yourself when it's time to leave?
The personnel directors at three major Southern California companies agree that the main objective is to leave with grace.
"Don't burn any bridges," said Irv Margol, vice president and head of human resources for Security Pacific National Bank. "With all the acquisitions and mergers, you don't know who you will work for again." Years ago, if someone left an organization, it was difficult to come back. "Now, it's easier to return," he said.
Another thing to consider is that your current boss may not want you to stay for two weeks after you tender your resignation. He or she may insist that you leave that day.
"I always tell people, if you are going to quit a job, be sure to ask the new employer if you can start immediately," Margol said.
He also advises anyone considering a job change to make sure that in the long run the new job will benefit his or her career. A lateral move to another company may actually hurt, he said.
And Margol advises against threatening to quit when you really want your boss to offer you a better job or more money.
When people announce that they have a job offer, Margol said, "we rarely match the offer." He suggests that you be prepared to show your present employer the offer letter from your prospective employer. That way, all the terms are clearly spelled out and your current employer can negotiate in good faith.
Margol offered a checklist of do's and don'ts:
Don't bad-mouth your present employer during your last days at the company.
Don't sabotage your existing work assignments or relationships.
Don't use your impending departure as a reason to go over your boss's head to complain about him or the department in general.
Finish your pending work whenever possible.
Give your employer honest feedback about why you are leaving and what changes you would like to see take place after you are gone.
"It's always difficult to say goodby," Margol said. "So why say goodby? Just say so long."
Judi Battey, senior management planning administrator for the Southern California Gas Co., suggests timing your resignation carefully.
Approaching a supervisor during the busiest time of the day or in the frenzy of meeting a deadline is not only insensitive but will hurt your credibility.
"You need to look at both sides, although you have your own interests at heart," Battey said.
"We ask supervisors to close out the file and put together an appraisal up to the last minute on the day the person leaves," said Battey, who is responsible for tracking about 2,000 management positions at the gas company.
"If the person is negative and disgruntled, he or she will leave a bad taste in the work group's mouth," she said.
All the personnel experts interviewed encouraged quitters to agree to an "exit" interview. Most exit interviews are brief meetings with someone in the personnel department. Others are written evaluations sent to you long after you have started your new job.
Susanne Tobey, director of employment and placement for J.W. Robinson's, the department store chain, strongly cautioned against using a job offer as an excuse for seeking a better job at your present company.
"My experience is, when a company buys you back with money and promises, the company never forgets," said Tobey, who has worked in the retailing field for 15 years. "If you've demonstrated a little bit of disloyalty, I think it can come back to haunt you."
And, she believes, "if six people are all talented, the person who wins the promotion will be the one who is most trusted."
Tobey, who is responsible for about 800 Robinson's managers and executives, said that how you conduct yourself during your last days is crucial.
She suggests being consistent in explaining why you are leaving. Don't tell your supervisor one thing and your colleagues another. And be clear about why you want to leave.
"Focus on what you are going to do, rather than the negative aspects of the company you are leaving," she said. "Demonstrate appreciation and thanks for what the company has done for you. Be as graceful and as helpful to the organization as you can be. And hope that you will be missed."