When Is It OK to Quit Your Job Without Another Lined Up?

Business people watching businessman leave office with box of belongings

By Robin Madell

You're miserable in your job and want to quit, but there's no other job waiting in the wings. Whether you want to move on because your boss is driving you crazy, because your position is a poor fit or because you just feel like doing something different – does it make sense to jump ship without a plan?

The answer: It depends. In most cases, it's important to have arranged your next gig before leaving what you've got. "It is never a good idea to resign from a position without having another job lined up," says Catherine Palmiere, president of Adam Personnel Inc. "It might take longer to secure employment than you actually think. Candidates are more marketable when they are working, both from a position and money standpoint."

However, despite these realities, there are a few key circumstances in which getting out of a job without having a new one could be in your best interest – and might even serve your career better than staying on too long. Here are three reasons you might consider quitting without your next position lined up:

1. Your safety is compromised. The No. 1 reason to resign (whether or not you know where you're going next) is if your personal safety is in jeopardy. If you are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work or are experiencing extreme stress on an ongoing basis for whatever reason, you may not have the time or emotional resources to secure a new position before bailing. If you feel you're in a toxic work environment and appealing to your manager and human resources doesn't resolve your problem or actually worsens it, you may be smart to leave. That way, you can recover and focus on a job search from a more stable situation.

Career advisor Chris Delaney notes that if the workplace stress is so high that it affects your work and home life and your ability to apply for a new position in a new company, this is one reason to quit. "If you know that you are highly employable, but the stress of working is making you procrastinate when wanting to apply online, or your stress level compromises your interview skills, you may be well advised to quit your job so you can focus on finding a more suitable and profitable position," he says.

However, Donna Ballman, author of "Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired" and an employee-side employment attorney since 1986, advises not quitting if you haven't first formally complained about any illegal harassment or discrimination that occurred. "If you didn't follow the company's written policy on reporting harassment based on race, age, sex, religion, national origin, disability, etc., then you may lose potential claims against the employer," she says. "Instead of quitting, put together your formal, written complaint of discrimination and harassment and submit it to HR." In the case of discrimination, Ballman recommends you detail in your formal complaint how others of a different race, age, sex, religion or whatever your protected category is were treated differently, and then ask your employer to conduct a prompt investigation.

2. You're leaning into family life. Quitting without knowing who your next employer will be could have consequences later on, such as having to explain a permanent résumé gap. But if you have an explanation for this gap that's considered more acceptable to future employers or recruiters, it can make a difference. If your decision to leave fits into the context of your career big picture, it can be a safer move that's easier to integrate into résumés and interviews down the road.

If you're stepping off the fast track for a period of time to take care of a newborn or raise children, this might be one reason for quitting without another position in your industry. While not all employers will support this decision, an increasing number of companies are aware of the needs of working parents, and some make accommodations to allow them greater career flexibility when children are young. If your current employer won't guarantee you a job after a period of raising kids, you can target employers that may be more open to understanding the reason behind your résumé gap when you return to the workforce.

"Family-related or health issues are considered acceptable reasons to quit in some cases," says Noelle Gross, founder of NG Career Strategy. "You don't need to go into detail if you quit for personal reasons, but don't be afraid to explain your gaps on your résumé to show you are aware and to also make sense of your timeline for the reader."

3. You want to start your own business. While it's a risk, quitting a job to try to start your own business is another reason why you might step down at your current company without having been hired elsewhere. Business consultant Evan Hutchinson, founder of Hutchinson Group LLC, believes that quitting for the sake of starting a new venture is almost required.

"If you are planning to start your own business, most of the time you'll need to make a leap of faith and let go of the current weekly paycheck to make a true effort at your new venture," he says. "I know from past clients that trying to start a new gig and work with your current company just doesn't always work out."

One person who experienced firsthand the "dive into the deep end" approach of quitting a stable job to launch a business is Harry Keller, president, CEO and founder of Smart Science Education Inc. While Keller did not set out with a goal to become an entrepreneuer, getting "fed up" with a job led to quitting with no plan, figuring he could make it somehow. "Some people simply cannot stand the insecurity of not having a job, yet jobs have become increasingly insecure," he says. "If you plan to climb the corporate ladder, do not quit without another job lined up – period. If you are self-assured and self-reliant, why should you worry? Enjoy a little freedom!"

Robin Madell has spent more than two decades as a corporate writer, journalist and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology and public-interest issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Madell has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, winning 20 awards for editorial excellence. She served on the board of directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in New York and San Francisco. Madell is the author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success."