Exit interviews are now “say your last peace” conversations instead of a framework to produce meaningful insights for the company to make positive changes to the culture, organization, or employment practices. In theory the exit interview is to offer a structured framework for a departing employee to ask logistical questions, offer feedback, and provide suggestions.
Notice how I write structured framework instead of a script. The framework should be flexible, allowing a two-way conversation between human resources and the soon-to-be former employee. Even if the company doesn’t have the best exit interview process, there are effective ways that you can offer feedback that will force a next step. Here are some suggestions on what you should never do or say and how to make the best out of your final conversation with your employer.
1. Avoid venting.
A complaining session is not going to be in a productive format for either party. The person conducting your interview may not know how to derive outcomes from the conversation and, therefore, could create a misinterpretation of your intent. Generally, this person is looking to codify you in one of the following ways: found a better opportunity or compensation, not happy with manager or management, personal decision or life change, or unspecified. Instead, go to your exit interview with a short list of three to five topics where you state your feedback and some possible solutions. For example:
- My manager is out of touch with the team dynamics and we have raised issues in our team meetings. S/he seem to doesn’t care. It’s frustrating. I think it would be helpful for skip-level feedback for this manager and the opportunity for the team to have a facilitated check-in every quarter.
- We recently learned that the new hire in the group has a higher compensation than the rest of the team. I did some research online and found that I can get a better paying job somewhere else. When I raised my concern with HR, they told me “you’ll have to wait until your next salary review.” I think it would be valuable to focus on retaining talent and addressing this issue now. You’re going to pay the money either way (pay me the correct salary now or hire someone at the same rate).
2. Don’t stop at HR.
Most likely you’ll have an exit interview with your human resources person but you should also have an exit interview with your colleagues on an individual basis — even if this means you schedule the time yourself. Since the HR person will likely not have all of the context of your role, I suggest your manager, someone you worked with frequently outside of your team, and a peer. Exchanging information as a knowledge transfer and to offer insights can be extremely valuable to both parties as to how to move forward. Providing this information can be productive in finding a replacement to your role in terms of qualities to find (or avoid), skills, relationships the role will need, or other useful get-it-down styles.
3. Don't think that you’re the end-all-be-all.
The fact is most of us are replaceable. Nobody in the history of ever is someone completely irreplaceable in the workplace. Remove your ego from the exit interview and be humble to the fact that there might be someone who can do the job more effectively than you and that you’re choosing to leave on your own terms. Instead, focus on the role you occupied. What was difficult? What did you find easy? Where did you seek opportunities for growth? Insight into your experience in these domains can be an extremely valuable discussion for the person facilitating the exit interview.
4. Don’t say, “I’d never work here again.”
You never know what might happen or change in the future. What is true right now may not be true tomorrow. Or, perhaps the person you’re speaking with remembers your comment and you lose an amazing opportunity to work with someone you admire (either at this company or a totally different one in 10 years). Focus on what was challenging or what lead to you resigning from your role. The story leading up to these moments contribute to how others might be feeling. (In which case the company may have a change in management and need you to come back to give it another go!) Never say never.
5. Don't direct your resent and frustration onto the person giving your exit interview.
(Especially of they are a human resources professional.) I know, I know it’s easy to rag on the incompetent HR person who doesn’t seem to have a clue about what is really going on in the company. The fact is, most HR teams are in fire fighting mode and therefore overworked in the day to day operations. It’s unreasonable for them to be everywhere at the same time and to fully understand top to bottom what is going on in the company. Sometimes they have the chance to get context through conversations and investigations, but it’s never the full picture. Consider suggesting to the HR professional which areas need the most support and questions they can ask to get to the heart of the issues. Your HR representative will be appreciative.
The goal to the exit interview is to say your final words on record so that the company can use your insights to make positive improvements to the overall employee experience. While it may seem that nothing is possible; any feedback can demonstrate a tension or trend that will lead to a next step. Offer your feedback as a gift to the future state of the company — there's no sense on not speaking up just to prove a point that you are resentful.
Most employees go through the exit interview process at some point in their lives. And, yes, it should be a face-to-face interview and not just the completion of an exit interview form, so it can be uncomfortable. Just be sure to handle the exit interview questions with professionalism, give honest feedback and say your goodbyes to the other people in your office with whom you had working relationships so you leave on a positive note with both your former employer all the people in the company.
Emily Chardac is a people operations leader designing the future of work. Throughout her career, she has designed and implemented best in class “people products” from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. Emily focuses on the employee experience from hire to retire and everything in between. Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyChardac.