by Meridith Levinson

How To Navigate an Exit Interview

Mar 29, 2011

Most departing employees view the exit interview as a colossal waste of time. Here's advice for making the most of it.

Today I posted a story, How to Quit Your Job the Right Way, which explains how to tender your resignation without burning any bridges. One aspect of leaving a job that I was not able to address in the story (because I didn’t want it to exceed four pages) was the exit interview. So here I’ll share the advice I received from my sources on how to handle what most departing employees view as a colossal waste of time.  

Workers on their way out tend to approach exit interviews in one of two ways: Either by airing all their grievances with their soon-to-be former employer or by saying nothing remotely negative. Neither tactic is constructive for any of the parties involved. And since the exit interview is likely to be your last official engagement with the company, you want to make a good impression and leave on good terms.

To make the most of your exit interview, understand what your human resources department is trying to get out of the procedure. They’re trying to ascertain your level of job satisfaction with the company during your tenure and why you’re leaving. Be prepared to rank the top reasons for your resignation, as well as answer questions about the company’s culture, compensation and your boss’s management style. You might also be asked if you had the resources you needed to do your job effectively.

“The exit interview is an opportunity for you to say not only what you really liked [about the company], but also to mention some things that might make your job easier for the next person or that might make the company more attractive to potential new hires,” says Kathy Simmons, CEO of Netshare Inc., a web-based networking community for executives.

Career and HR experts agree that you should be honest during the exit interview without casting aspersions. Steven Miranda, chief global HR and content integration officer for the Society for Human Resource Management, recommends commenting as much as possible on the company’s processes and policies, as opposed to specific individuals. However, if you’re leaving due to some egregious behavior in which your boss engaged, Miranda says HR needs to know about it.

Simmons offers the following litmus test to help you determine whether or not your feedback will be constructive to the company: “If what you’re going to say is going to help the company or help other employees, say it,” she says. “If you’re just wanting to vent because you’re ticked off, get over it. Letting it rip isn’t going to serve a purpose other than to make you feel good for about 15 minutes.”