How to Leave a Job
Q: I'm going back to school in the Fall for a masters in education. I’m taking night classes so that I can get a day job to pay the bills. Since my current job has me working overtime into the night several times a month, I need to find a job with a lower time commitment. Fortunately, I was just offered a gig that pays me the same as what I receive now plus benefits, and they’ve guaranteed me that it won’t get in the way of my classes. My problem is that my boss at my current job recently quit and they have mentioned that they expect me to assume all her responsibilities (they have no idea I’m about to quit!). So now I feel terrible leaving them in this position, but I really hate the job and in order to focus on school, I want a really easy/no-brain-required gig. So can I quit? If so, what is the best way to go about it? Or do I just need to stick with it? – Kate R., New York
A: While the decision ultimately comes down to you, I do have some strong feelings about the direction I'd lean in: in careers, you always have to look out for yourself, particularly because that's what 99% of everyone else does (but still support your co-workers and expend all efforts to never put someone else in a bad position). Also, keep in mind that you're in this circumstance because your (now) ex-boss quit – not because you are picking up and moving on.
An interesting piece of advice someone passed along to me was that in general, people want their associates to be successful, so I would bet that a bunch of people who you currently work with will be very supportive of the new direction you're looking to take with your career/life. And those that aren't and who will give you a hard time are the same ones who won't go out of their way for you three years down the line when you need them (if they're not supportive now why will they be later).
So now onto the hard stuff...
How to Leave
Again, don't feel bad about it. You're in this situation because you're boss (someone who is supposed to be even more responsible) left. So how's the most respectful way to leave? Give them AT LEAST two weeks notice. This should give them some time to either plan to or actually fill the void you're about to create. You could also consider giving them 2-4 weeks (if you can push the other job off), and be clear that you're offering them more than the average amount of time people give because you recognize the position they're in with your boss leaving and you're ensuing departure. In addition, make sure that if you have any mentors, you leave on good terms with them and keep in touch. They took an interest in you for a reason, and they'll be happy to know that you're pursuing what you want to do with your life (and you know my thoughts on if they don't).
As you leave, I would never tell them you're leaving because you didn't like the gig. It's because you're moving onto something different (not better!), and at this point in your life, it's something you have to try; ten years down the line, you don't want to regret not trying to become a teacher. And since you have to focus on your school work, you didn't want to commit to their position which would require more time than you'll have available in the future. (I think you already had or get the drift of what you could say...)
Of course, there will probably be a bunch of dicks who will be spiteful. So just be sure that you aren't going to regret leaving in a few months because it might be hard to get the job back. If you think you'll be burning any real/important bridges (particularly that will benefit you later in life) as a result of the timing, consider giving them more lead time (i.e., ~1-2 months) which is more than enough for them to find someone to replace you. If you leave on good terms, who knows what connections they may make down the line because so-and-so's father's nurse's dog-walker knows the principal of the school you want to work at. Finally, while I hate to say it, companies are so much bigger than you and I are. A few months down the line and most people won't even think about you (unless they're someone you have a good relationship with). Instead, they'll have moved onto their next (new) co-worker.