So you're going to quit, you say. You don't like your boss, your workload adds new dimensions to the term ''staggering,'' and you think you can't stand another 10 minutes, let alone 10 years, of this same office with these same co-workers.
Or maybe it's not that bad. Maybe you've simply stopped learning anything on this job and want to move on, or have decided to follow your lifelong career dream and are switching to school or another area of employment. Or perhaps impending parenthood is making you rethink your career choice, and you've decided to stay home or work part time elsewhere.
How do you say goodbye, with grace?
''Sorry, but you just can't kiss and run,'' say the writers at Catalyst, a nonprofit group in New York that studies career issues. ''That may be the way you end affairs of the heart, but business affairs are another story,'' they write in ''Making the Most of Your First Job'' (Ballantine Books, $2.75).
Most people are tempted to leave a job long before it's really time for them to go, these career counselors say, usually because of situations that are temporary (like a crunch in the workload) or problems they'll be able to work out in time.
But in an age that increasingly sees job-hopping as a valid method of advancement, it may be necessary more than once to leave a job - even a good one. Elmer Winter, author of ''How to Get and Keep a Job'' (The Rosen Group, $7. 95), offers the following questions to help you weigh your present job against that tempting job offer:
Are your earnings satisfactory (including fringe benefits) compared with the next job? Where will you have the greatest security? What is your relationship with your employer, compared with what it will take to win the confidence of your next employer? Is the management progressive? Do you like your co-workers? What is your opportunity for advancement?
That last question is the most important, the counselors say. The writers at Catalyst suggest that the only time to move on to a new job is when you've learned as much as you can from your present job and can't go any higher.
The first stop, they advise, is at the personnel office of your company (assuming yours has one) to check the job listings. Often it is easier to progress within a company where you've already built up a reputation for competence (and a certain level of annual leave, pension vesting, etc.) than it is to switch.
Whether you make your move within your company or switch to a competitor, the career counselors advise leaving only if you know exactly where you're going next. If it's to get another job, tie up that job offer now while you are still employed. ''Having a job does a lot for your image,'' Catalyst advisers write. ''You're regarded by prospective employers as (someone) who's making a conscious career move,'' not just someone who needs a job.
Personnel officers can generally be trusted with your decision to leave, according to Catalyst counselors, and may be helpful in resolving the problems that are pushing you out the door. But they advise you not to tell either your boss or your co-workers until you're sure of the next move.
Then tell your boss first. Many on the brink of quitting, in fact, may see this as a golden opportunity to tell their boss off, listing each and every grievance leading to the decision.
This is bridge-burning activity at its hottest, the counselors say. ''When you think about it, delivering such a speech won't change the way your boss acts ,'' the writers of Catalyst point out. ''Nor will it improve the standard of working for your successors. Hurling invectives will only lower your esteem in your boss's eyes forevermore.''
How much better to leave on an up note, thanking your boss for whatever you've been able to learn on the job. If possible, Catalyst suggests, try to work a three- or four-week notice for your job so you'll have a chance to train your replacement (a problem your boss will be grateful you helped him solve), and put in whatever extra time is necessary to leave your work in good order.
These are the sorts of things that get mentioned the next time you ask that boss for a reference - or want to come back to that company at another stage in your career.
Elwood N. Chapman, author of ''Scrambling'' (J. P. Tarcher, $8.95), suggests setting up a lunch with your ex-boss as soon as possible after leaving, and establishing a new relationship with him.
Quitting is not so much burning bridges as crossing them, the Catalyst counselors believe, and can be done in a way that builds careers.