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The Dos & Don’ts of Exit Interviews

To trash talk or not to trash talk?

'Woman

You nailed the interviews, accepted the offer, and submitted your two-weeks notice. Now what? While the last few days at your current job might feel a little irrelevant, it’s the perfect opportunity for both you and your employer to reflect on your time at the company—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here’s everything you need to know about the exit interview process and just how honest you should be with your answers. 

What is an exit interview and what is it for?

An exit interview is a debrief conducted by your employer after you’ve given your resignation but before you’ve left to talk about your experience at the company. Typically, these meetings are conducted by someone in HR, so luckily, you don’t have to worry about getting grilled by or baring your soul in front of your immediate supervisor. 

While not all companies conduct exit interviews, it’s in everyone’s best interest to do so. Not only does it provide your employer with a more in-depth look at what it;s like for employees, it also allows you as the employee to speak your peace and have some input on what’s working (or not working). 

What will they ask in an exit interview?

Here are a few questions that you can expect to be asked:

  • Why did you start looking for a new job?

  • What led to you accept this new position?

  • In your time here, did you feel that you were provided with what you needed to do your job well?

  • How would you describe the company culture? Is there anything you would change about it?

  • What changes would have made you stay at the company instead of leaving?

  • Did you talk with anyone about your feelings toward the company before or after deciding to leave?

  • How well did you feel management communicated with you? Did you receive proper feedback, both positive and negative?

  • What were the pros and cons of your position and how could we make improvements?

  • What should we look for in the person who fills your position?

  • Would you ever consider coming back to work for the company?

While the exit interview process is a chance to be honest about your experience, you shouldn’t use it as an opportunity to trash talk the position you’re leaving. After all, you never know if someone at the company can open a door for you in the future

These do’s and don’ts will set a few ground rules for how to prepare for the conversation. 

Read more: How to Quit Your Job and Stay on Good Terms

Do: Prepare what you’ll say

Once you submit your two-weeks notice, you might start to check out from work or you may feel overwhelmed and anxious about what still needs to get done before you leave. Either way, don’t consider the exit interview something you just show up for—you should definitely prepare. 

This is especially recommended if your feelings toward the company are less than positive. Business psychologist and author Jude Miller-Burke, Ph.D., recommends practicing what you’ll say out loud or writing it down in a journal so you don’t risk spiraling into all the negatives and burning every bridge you built (not to be dramatic). 

Don’t: Use this as a chance to vent

Keep in mind that what you say in the exit interview could find its way back to anyone at the company, even if you’re promised otherwise. You certainly can and should talk about what you didn’t like about working there, but speak with tact (hence the preparation).

Instead of saying, Karen is a virus which no vaccine can defeat, provide specific examples of problems Karen created that the company can address: In all honesty, it’s been difficult to work for Karen. Her expectations were unclear and ever-changing, even when I would ask for them in writing. It was discouraging. It felt like doing my job was like trying to hit a moving target.

Read more: 3 Common Work Goals and How to Crush Them

Do: Offer professional feedback

No one knows your job better than you do. Day in and day out, you’ve handled tasks both big and small...and you know what works and what’s not. Use this opportunity to share a few ideas with HR about what your position is really like. 

Did the hours make it impossible to produce quality work? Did the job change in unexpected ways? Are goals and expectations unclear? Should processes or procedures be improved?

Providing constructive feedback can facilitate helpful conversations about how the company can improve the role and what the company should look for in future applicants.

Read more: Essential Questions for Reflecting on Your Career

Don’t: Complain about things outside your purview

Does your coworker Brian come in late every day? Do you think Irene is just terrible at her job? If it didn’t affect you directly, leave it alone. 

General complaints about coworkers’ behavior that didn’t affect your work will detract from the valuable feedback you can provide..

Do: Bring up things the company can address

Your employer can’t change the fact that Marian is annoying, but they can address a culture that allows employees to distract each other from working. 

They can’t do anything about employees’ personality (unless it contributes to a toxic or dangerous work environment), but they can address the negative effects they may have caused. 

Read more: Hate Your Coworkers? Here Are 6 Things You Shouldn't Do About It

Do: Talk about the positives

Even if your job was one of the worst you’ve ever had, try to think of one positive thing to say. Maybe you really loved your coworkers or that the office stocked snacks or had flexible work hours or a great benefits package or the collaboration that the open office concept allowed. It’s a way to show your professionalism in spite of bad circumstances. 

Don’t: Give any information you don’t want them to have

You’re under no obligation to tell them about your new gig. 

If you’re moving on to a new company, then there are probably things they offer that your previous position lacked—and your current employers will likely ask what caused you to make the decision. While you can answer those questions generally (I wanted a job with a clear line to a management role), you do not have to provide specifics (ACME Corp wants me to hire a team in the next 12 months). 

Read more: How to Ask for Time Off Before Starting a New Job

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By Abbey Slattery

Contributor

Abbey Slattery is a writer, editor, and pop culture aficionado, most interested in the world of arts and culture and its intersection with politics. Throughout her career, she has contributed to newspapers, magazines, and websites, but is most prolific on Twitter. Abbey firmly believes in the importance of knowing your desert island movies and ranks Scream, Easy A, and Clue as her top choices. 

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