Let’s say you just quit your job to move onto another one with brighter prospects for growth and more pay. You’re spending your final weeks finishing up key projects, training your replacement, and saying your good-byes.
(Related: How Will Your Boss React When You Resign?)
Then you get a call from HR asking if you would agree to an exit interview. “We just have a few questions we’d like to ask you,” they say.
What should you do?
Employers ask for exit interviews to better understand why an employee is leaving the organization and to see how they feel about their experience while with the company. But more specifically they are hoping to gain some insight into problems that might exist within the organization – which may be correctable – and to learn more about salary and benefits at competing organizations.
They might also use the exit interview to solicit ideas for improving certain aspects of the organization such as job design, working conditions, and overall culture.
If you do agree to participate in the exit interview with your employer, here are five pointers you should follow to ensure your comments are helpful to them and not hurtful to you.
Remember, you must not burn bridges during an exit interview as you might have to use this employer as a reference sometime later in your career.
1. Provide reliable information.
If you are leaving because your salary was not competitive for someone of your education and experience, provide this information at your exit interview. If you’ve been looking for a job for a while, you may also have information from other companies that illustrates the accurate market rate for someone like you. Your current employer will appreciate this competitive data, even if it makes then seem cheap.
2. Avoid venting.
It’s often said that the number one reason why people quit their jobs is because of their immediate boss. If your boss has been a real jerk and you are quitting out of frustration with them, do not vent about this during the exit interview. Attacking people personally will only reflect poorly on you. If you have to vent, do it beforehand.
3. Be balanced in your comments.
To be fair, there were likely many positive aspects about your employer, even if things may have gone sour in the end. So instead of criticizing your employer and airing all your grievances, you should come to the exit interview prepared to talk about:
What you learned while there;
How it has helped your career;
The people you enjoyed working with;
The projects you liked working on; and
How proud you were to be associated with the organization.
4. Come prepared with constructive suggestions.
Many people believe that comments made in an exit interview will not inspire any significant changes. But I believe most employers will accept honest, helpful feedback that is delivered in a diplomatic and professional way. This is particularly true if the comments you are making indicate there is a trend.
And never compare your new employer with your old one. Bragging about how you are moving on to bigger and better things – even if you are – will be a slap in the face to your employer and should be avoided.
5. Skip the interview if you feel really bitter about the company.
If you’ve been hurt badly by your experience with the company and you don’t feel you can ‘hold back’ you will be better off to avoid the exit interview altogether. Only you can gauge how you feel and how you’re likely to respond.
Telling them “what a crappy place this is to work” and how it is “sure to go out of business soon” might give you temporary satisfaction but in the end is unlikely to influence any real change and will most certainly harm your relationship with them
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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.