Should you quit, or wait to be fired?

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"You can't fire me, because I quit!"

Some investment banks are cutting back headcount or transferring roles outside of financial centers such as New York and London, and if you feel that the tap on the shoulder is inevitable or extremely likely, should you quit before you're pushed out? The downside, of course, is that you could lose out on severance payments, but you could also get ahead of the competition before an anticipated slew of layoffs.

1. Start looking early 

The recommendation of most career coaches and recruiters is to hang in there – if possible. Keeping the job, albeit only temporarily, has many upsides.

The best thing to do when you see the writing on the wall is to start looking for a new job, says Janet Raiffa, an investment banking career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a former associate director of the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School.

“You won't necessarily be able to secure one, but it is always easier to find a job when you have a job,” she said. “It also may take a long time between first contact and interview and receiving an offer, so you could start the process while you're still employed and then accept an offer after you've been terminated.

“I've definitely met lucky people who have been fired or laid off after they've already secured a new job, and then enjoyed severance and a smooth transition.”

2. Try to get a push package 

Consider the circumstances surrounding your pending departure, according to Maggie Mistal, executive coach and the founder of MMM Career Consulting.

If you suspect you’ll be laid-off, then it might make sense to leave and negotiate for a transition package.

“I had a client whose employer announced cutbacks,” Mistal said. “They wanted to move on anyway and proactively offered to leave – with a package of course. It was a win-win. My client got transition money and free time to move onto the career he really wanted, and his boss didn’t have to be the bad guy and let someone go.”

3. Update your resume and quantify your achievements 

Everyone should have an up-to-date resume ready to send out at the drop of a hat. List the great things you’ve done and quantify the results, said Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, career coach and partner at SixFigureStart.

“Just in case you are blindsided and you are out of a job, why waste time up front getting your marketing materials ready?” she said.

4. Don't leap if you don't have to 

Ask yourself a key question: Are you prepared financially to go without work for six months or a year?

Raiffa definitely does not recommend quitting before you have another job just to be able to say you have left voluntarily. These days, there isn't as much stigma to losing a job, and on Wall Street it's quite common for people to be displaced multiple time.

“It's almost a badge of honor, and can be framed positively in terms of ability to retool and recover,” Raiffa said. “If there aren't other job opportunities you can jump to, you'll need unemployment benefits, even though the maximum benefit of $425 won’t seem like much to a highly paid professional.”

5. If you're at the bottom of the pile, look for something new 

If you suspect you’ll be fired for underperforming, then you might want to resign to protect your reputation. In addition, if you’re so miserable that it’s taking a toll on you mentally or it’s affecting your health, then you might want to quit to protect your health.

“I had a client who was hired to take on work from someone else who was overwhelmed,” Mistal said. “Trouble was, the person was so overwhelmed he never had time to train my client.

“Unfortunately my client got blamed for not performing so rather than wait to be fired, she proactively resigned,” she said. “This way, her reputation wasn’t damaged by being fired and she was still able to reconnect with the other job opportunities she’d been pursuing before taking this role.”

One concern to keep in mind, though, is that simply quitting will raise even more suspicion than getting fired, according to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. It's a matter of perception. You don't want to get labeled a quitter.

“We live and work in a world where employees get fired routinely,” Cohen said. “It is easy enough to explain, even if the situation is messy, but to just leave implies the potential to be a prima donna, impulsive and maybe even a little reckless.

“Remember, you are walking away from unemployment benefits,” he said. “Ultimately, these impressions suggest that the problem is more likely the quitter – not necessarily the situation.”

6. Get the best severance package 

If you've been at a job a while, it’s frequently possible to negotiate severance, and packages can be generous, Raiffa said.

“Too few people try to negotiate severance, and most companies are amenable to it to ease the transition,” she said. “Keep in mind that when doing background or reference checks, most companies can only provide dates of employment and not give out details on termination or performance, so there is no need to quit for fear of a future employer finding out that you've lost a job involuntarily.”

Photo credit: twinsterphoto/GettyImages

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