Everything You Need To Know About Exit Interviews

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

Whether you're retiring, been given the boot, found a better job, been lured by a bigger pay packet, are burnt out, can't spend another minute co-inhabiting an office with the boss, or have simply given in to the urge to travel to Kazakhstan and 'find yourself,' you could find yourself back in the interview hot seat. At the job you're trying to leave, that is.

Exit interviews are conducted with departing employees in a last-ditch effort to learn what made them jump ship. Companies spend a lot of money recruiting and training staff, so they want to try to prevent the revolving door from revolving too quickly. If employee job dissatisfaction, tyrannical management, lack of advancement opportunities, uncompetitive salaries or poor company culture is causing talented members of the team to move on, then they want to know about it.

Theoretically, the whole premise of the exit interview is to improve the way the company operates by picking the brain of departing employees who are likely to be candid about their experiences. The interview will essentially focus on three main points: why you are leaving, what you enjoyed about working there and what was problematic.

Questions will include things like: What did or didn't you like about your job? Did the job you were hired for match your expectations? Can you describe the management style of your manager? How did you find the company culture/advancement opportunities? Was there adequate training? Did you receive regular performance appraisals? And the big one – why are you leaving?

This is the time to be honest about your experiences, but no matter how tempting it is, don't use it as an opportunity to get a quick last laugh. Even if you believe you were taken advantage of, mistreated and undervalued – recrimination, blame, revenge and spite are not a good professional legacy to leave behind.

You don't want to be dragged out of the exit interview in a straitjacket after burning all your bridges. Unless you are planning on moving your career to Mexico for eternity, chances are you will cross paths with the people in the organisation again or will need them for future references. You might even want to come crawling back if things don't work out at the next job. And no matter how forcefully you earbash the HR staff about how much the company owes you for overtime, you're never going to see those missing dollars.

How much constructive feedback you should divulge depends on the kind of organisation you work at, so think things through and go in with a strategy. If the HR department is likely to shoot the messenger then obviously it's a good idea to keep some of your opinions to yourself. However, if they've been reasonably open to feedback in the past, then you can probably afford to be a little more candid. Calmly state the negative points while balancing up with some positives so they don't get overwhelmed by a wave of disgruntlement.

Be pleasant and professional to everyone at the end of the interview and use the opportunity to clear up any lingering questions you have about pay or handing over the reins to the next person. In an exit interview, it's far better to take the high road and leave on a high note.  

Helen Isbister

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