Secrets to a Smart Exit Interview

Secrets to a Smart Exit Interview

How to Say Goodbye without Burning Bridges

So you’ve made the decision to move on. After an exhaustive (and exhausting) job search, you’ve aced all of your interviews, accepted an offer, and given your 2 weeks notice.


Now, with the intensity and stress of interviewing behind you, you’re probably looking forward to coasting these next few weeks. Just tidy up any loose ends, pack up your desk plant, and enjoy your farewell cake before walking out that door.

If that’s your plan, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you’re not quite finished interviewing yet. There’s still your exit interview. And if anyone tries to tell you that an exit interview is little more than an opportunity to vent your unfiltered frustrations to HR, I’m here to tell you not to listen to them.

They’re wrong. This interview is important. more important to your career than you may have thought. In fact, a mangled exit interview can haunt a candidate for years. In the run up to your exit, take the time to prepare for this final formal conversation. These 5 tips will help you do just that.

1. Know what’s at stake.
Sure, you’re leaving… for now. But who’s to say you won’t find yourself applying for a new job with I employer some time within the next few years? Scoff if you like. But your opinions may change once you’ve been gone awhile. One thing that’s less likely to change: your employer’s opinions of you, especially if your parting words include a scorched earth tirade about every imbecile who ever worked there. Outbursts, insulting language or accusatory comments will likely be documented. They will definitely be remembered. Worse, that last – and long lasting – impression you create will do more than lurk in the dark corners of an old HR file, waiting for you to return. It will follow you around because, in the age of social media, it’s so much easier for recruiters and hiring managers to tap into their own personal connections where you used to work. Every time you need a reference or informal recommendation from a former employer, your exit interview can either help clear your path to new job opportunities or obstruct it.

2. Know your audience.
You’ve been invited into a conversation with HR, not your best friend from college. Certainly not a therapist. Get it all off your chest with one of those other people beforehand. Don’t bring it with you into the exit interview. Seriously. While constructive criticisms that are phrased professionally and backed up with specific information are entirely appropriate for this meeting, HR doesn’t want to hear your highly personal, unsubstantiated frustrations.

3. Plan in advance, bring facts, and stick to them.
Treat this interview like a job interview. Your job is to be honest, fair and to present yourself in the most positive possible light. The content of the questions – and your answers – will differ significantly from a job interview, of course. If you’re leaving because of systemic problems that you believe prevented you – and possibly others – from being able to do your best work, earn appropriate promotions or best support the stated goals of the organization, you should share those concerns. But doing so in a non-emotional way might be difficult. Work with a friend to practice how you’ll convey the messages you want to share without veering into the personal or the bitter.

4. Pick your battles.
They’re not hiring you to assess the overall health of the organization and submit an improvement plan. They’re saying goodbye. So, even though you’re aware of 17 fatal flaws within the company, share the top 3, at most. This is another reason that practicing is so helpful. Once you’ve unburdened with the Big 3, you may well feel like you’re on a cathartic roll. And once you’re rolling down those tracks, it can be unbelievably hard to stop that speeding train. But believe me when I tell you dumping it all on the HR rep during your exit will likely not lead to 17 corrections within the organization. It will likely lead to you being viewed – and described – as a whiner.

5. End with something positive.
Think long and hard about the best 3 things you can honestly say about your boss, about the job you’re leaving, and most especially, about the company. Do not leave that chair until you have expressed at least one from each category. And be sure that, no matter where else the conversation goes, you steer it back to one or all of these points before you shake hands and walk away. Not only will this boost the positive final impression of you with the employer, it will actually make you feel better about the time you invested in the job you’re now leaving. Before you enter your next job, you deserve a moment of dignified closure, spoken on your own terms. This is especially true if you have chosen to share criticisms.

Far too often, employees squander the rich opportunity an exit interview offers them to boost their own personal brand as a professional, level headed and insightful communicator. This time, do it right.

Tony Fornetti

Tony Fornetti