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How to ace an exit interview

·3-min read

No matter how great your job is, there will generally come a time when you’ll want to move on.

Perhaps you’ll get recruited for a higher-level — and higher-paying — position, or management changes in your current company and your job satisfaction drops.

Whatever the reason for your departure, a human resources representative will likely schedule an exit interview to review your time at the company. Here are some things to do and what to avoid.

Keep an upbeat attitude in your exit interview. (Getty Images)
Keep an upbeat attitude in your exit interview. (Getty Images)

LEAD WITH A POSITIVE NOTE

The specific reasons for your departure from a job may have negative aspects — a toxic work environment, unrealistic expectations and deadlines, lack of well-earned raises and bonuses — but an exit interview is not the time nor the place to air specific grievances.

“Regardless of the reason for quitting, I always advise leaving on good terms. Express appreciation for your time there and what the company has done for you,” said Career consultant Christopher K. Lee. “Even if you’re upset, refrain from complaining or ‘speaking your mind.’ ”

You may be surprised at how helpful this can be in the future.

“At the very least, you want a solid reference when you need one,” Lee said. “And who knows? You may end up working with old co-workers or performing work for the company in the future.”

APPROACH THE CONVERSATION RATIONALLY

Zach Reece is an HR expert and the owner and chief operating officer of Colony Roofers in Atlanta, and he has a succinct way of defining these final work conversations.

“In an exit interview, you’re a scientist, not a prosecutor,” Reece said. “This means that your goal is to objectively discuss why you’re quitting your job, what went well, what didn’t go well, and what both you and your employer can learn from the experience.” There should be no anger or finger-pointing in an exit interview.

“Too many people treat exit interviews as if it’s a cross-examination session in a courtroom; we ask accusatory questions and give defensive answers,” Reece said.

Heated arguments and inflicting blame should not be a part of this final meeting,

“Instead,” Reece said, “both parties in the exit interview should only discuss objective facts — performance numbers, expectations, results, and other verifiable aspects — and uncover insights about the strengths and weaknesses of both employer and the departing employee.”

AVOID CRITICIZING YOUR PEERS

Kane has some smart suggestions of things to not do in an exit interview.

“Don't be negative or speak negatively about anyone you worked with,” Kane said. “This will minimize any chance of you working with those co-workers in the future.”

Keep the focus on things you did well at the company and successes you and your team achieved.

“If you can think of things that could have been done differently, don't offer it. The interview is not the time to air your grievances. Answer honestly and provide specific examples, but focus on what they did right, not wrong,” Kane said. “If you genuinely enjoyed working there, then this should be an easy conversation to have.”

Be kind and wish your former co-workers well when you leave a job. (Getty Images)
Be kind and wish your former co-workers well when you leave a job. (Getty Images)

ALWAYS SAY A FRIENDLY GOODBYE

Julie Titterington is the chief culture officer at MerchantMaverick, and she has taken part in many exit interviews. She strongly believes that you should leave on good terms if at all possible.

"If you've simply found a better opportunity, or your life is moving in a different direction and the change is the result of a move or career pivot, it's wise to keep things as warm and cordial as possible,” Titterington said. “Be honest about why you're leaving, but make the company know that you valued your time there. Don't just leave that door ajar, leave it wide open and open a few windows too, if you can.”

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