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Summer Before Business School: When and How to Quit Your Job? Then What?

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“I quit!” How many of us have fantasized about saying those two words to a boss at some point in our career, turning with a flourish and marching out the door, never looking back? While that kind of dramatic exit could offer a certain kind of short-term satisfaction, it’s perhaps not the best way to leave a job to head off to business school.

So what’s a better way to let your employer know that your days at the company are numbered? Just how long before business school starts should you plan to make your exit? And what’s the best way to fill the time before you start? For those heading to campus in the fall, these questions are top of mind right now. To get some answers, we checked in with some current MBA students and recent grads to see what they did—and whether they’d do the same if they had it to do over.

Give Your Employer Ample Warning of Your Departure
Most of the students we spoke with opted to let their employers know their plans as soon as they decided themselves, even if they didn’t intend to depart until just before school started. Obviously, doing so allows your employer to plan sufficiently for your departure, eases the transition for your team and helps maintain good relationships with people you might very likely rely on in the future for references, networking and more.

Candace Lee, who graduated last spring from a dual-degree MBA/MPA program at NYU Stern School of Business, told her employer the same week she decided where she was going. She was a managing director at a small market research firm, so her boss also happened to be the president of the company. “I’d worked very closely with him and knew that when I left three months later, there would be a non-minor impact on other people, so I wanted to give people as much of a heads up as possible,” she said.

She approached him in his office toward the end of the day, letting him know where she’d gotten into school and where she’d ultimately decided to go. Although a little awkward, the conversation went pretty well, she said. “My boss was great. He congratulated me while also expressing that he’d miss me, which was both wonderful and sad to hear. I don’t wish I’d done anything differently.” Giving her boss ample heads up also let them be strategic about when to tell the rest of the company. “While the management team knew well in advance that I would be leaving, we didn’t tell the rest of the company until a bit later, when we had formulated a plan for next steps, which I think made a lot of sense because we didn’t worry anyone unnecessarily,” she said.

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business second-year MBA student Cameron Scherer was also working for a small firm—in her case, a Washington, DC‒based international development nonprofit—where her departure would have a significant impact. Though she was fortunate to have a very supportive boss who even wrote some of her recommendation letters, that boss was also planning a departure around the same time.

“We had a mutual understanding that we wanted to time our departures so as not to completely upend the organization,” she said. “If we left too close together, it would be problematic because there would be no handover. But if she left too much before me, it wouldn’t have been great for me. So we timed it so we both left in the summer.”

In general, we found that those working in consulting roles had it easier than most, since comings and goings in the industry are de rigeur. “I came from consulting where employees routinely leave the company or take sabbaticals to pursue their MBA, so I was very upfront with my leadership from the start,” said INSEAD MBA grad Rayan Dawud. That said, his firm was reluctant to let him go completely. “In the end I agreed to take an unpaid sabbatical rather than to permanently leave the firm because the approval process was quick and did not require any type of commitment on my part,” he said.

For Charity Wollensack, a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, letting her employer know her plans was also no big deal. “Because they knew when I joined the organization I would only be there for one year and was applying to business school, it made the whole process very easy,” she said. More difficult was determining her last day. “I wanted to quit far before they wanted me to so we negotiated a time in between,” she shared. “In retrospect I would have stuck to my guns and made my last day the day much earlier.”

Many Wish They’d Quit Sooner
Wollensack’s sentiments—that she wished she’d given herself more time between quitting and starting school—were echoed by many of the students we spoke with. “In an ideal world I maybe would have left my work a little bit earlier,” conceded Haas student Scherer, who delayed her departure to coordinate with her boss’s. But because she really enjoyed both her work and her colleagues, she’s not filled with huge regret.

That said, the fact that she is from the San Francisco Bay area meant that she was already familiar with the area she was moving to for school. “Once you start school you don’t really have a lot of time to figure out some basic things—even just the walk to campus—so if you are going somewhere new I would definitely recommend giving yourself more than a week to settle in,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity to meet classmates that also get there earlier,” she added.

Jen Wong, who graduated last year from Wharton, had actually left her job before getting into school and was already traveling when she learned of her acceptance. But after a few weeks of travel she decided she wanted to do something more with her time. After applying to a range of positions, she accepted a role working with the Ministry of Health and World Bank in Ebola-stricken Liberia.

Though grateful for the experience, in the end it left her with not as much time as she would have liked before starting school. “If I could do it over, I wouldn’t have worked in Liberia until the last minute,” she said. Ultimately, her last day turned out to be the Friday before school started. Scheduled to fly back to San Diego to pick up her stuff before moving to Philadelphia and starting school the following Wednesday, she was derailed by mechanical issues that caused her flight from Monrovia to be canceled. Her rescheduled flight left no time to return to San Diego. “I would have appreciated the time to go back and see my family beforehand,” she said.