No matter the reason, putting in your notice to go to business school can be a stress-inducing affair—especially if you're hoping not to burn any bridges on your way out. Nearly 90 percent of new full-time MBA students have work experience, according to data from U.S. News & World Report, and it stands to reason that many had to leave jobs to pursue their degrees.
Heading to business school? To keep your professional relationships (and references) intact, consider these practical tips for breaking the news.
Give sufficient notice
While giving two weeks' notice is generally considered good form when exiting a job, the last thing you want is to blindside your employer. When Jessie Taylor, CommonBond's senior manager of campus engagement, got accepted to business school in 2014, she broke the news to her then-employer about two months prior to her departure.
"I knew two weeks was the minimum, but I really wanted to maintain those relationships and give time to finish up my projects and help the team find a good replacement," she says.
Taylor's decision to pursue her MBA was sparked by a desire for a career pivot. Up until that point, she'd been working in advertising account management, but was looking to transition to brand management "on the client side." This required beefing up her technical skills and bolstering her professional network, which is where business school came in—but leaving her job on a positive note was important to her.
"I'd been with the company for four years and had built some great relationships, so I didn't want to just leave them hanging," she says.
Ask for advice from a mentor
Leaving a job is never easy, but having a mentor you can call on makes navigating this tricky terrain a little less intimidating. Ideally, your mentor is someone who's been in the trenches and can draw on their experience to help guide you. Seek out someone you trust who's been in your situation before. Is there anything they wish they'd done differently? Anything that made the transition a little less painful?
While it may be tempting to tap colleagues in your office for advice, doing so could inadvertently tip off your managers. It's best to keep the news quiet at work, confiding only in those who are outside your company and have your best interests at heart.
Be upfront about why you're going back to school
Your manager should be the first person you tell. Even if you already have a regular catchup on the books, schedule a time to speak with him or her directly. Being transparent about why you're leaving your job is definitely the best way to go—there's no reason to hide the fact that you're furthering your education. Instead, frame the decision as an investment in your professional self.
If you're enrolling in a part-time MBA program and plan on staying in your current role while pursuing your degree, highlight how your studies will inform your performance and, in turn, make you a more knowledgeable employee who adds more value to the company's core mission.
Make an action plan together
If leaving altogether, making your exit a collaborative experience is the best way to prevent burning bridges. Be proactive about identifying what responsibilities you'll need to transition to others, and make sure you communicate these responsibilities with your manager and team clearly.
"I helped interview replacements and wrote a transition plan that documented all the projects I was working on," says Taylor. "I outlined everything that was still ongoing, included status updates, and even offered to let the new person shadow me before I left." To make the transition as smooth as possible for her team, Taylor also kept her eyes open for job candidates who could take on her responsibilities.
Those who plan to stay with their companies during business school may also want to approach benefits like flexible hours with a collaborative attitude. In other words, instead of demanding these things, make it a two-way conversation. Is your company, for instance, open to letting you work remotely a few days a week while you're on campus? Or would they prefer you simply come into the office earlier and then cut out after lunch? To stave off potential tension, iron out these details together from the outset.
Discuss Payment Options
While we're on the topic of being upfront and transparent, check in with your employer to see if they offer any sort of tuition compensation or loan forgiveness programs. Some companies, for example, will offer to repay a portion of your student loans in exchange for you committing to stay with them for a specified amount of time.
If you're feeling jittery about sharing your back-to-school plans with your employer, keep in mind that many actually support the idea of employees furthering their education. One 2016 Fractl report found that 52 percent of companies actually provide some sort of graduate educational aid, like tuition assistance.
However you end up paying for your MBA, sharing the news with your employer doesn't have to be a painful endeavor. Just remember to keep an open and honest attitude throughout the process.