Anyone who’s moving job and has been invited to take part in an “exit interview” may feel justified in asking themselves what purpose there is in such an exercise and whom it will benefit.
Exit interviews are a comparatively recent addition to the human resources compendium in mainly large-scale organisations and are intended to be a way of improving things for the colleagues you’re leaving behind.
Your decision to seek employment elsewhere may have been prompted by the realisation that your employer has no effective means of flagging-up bad practice, other than through exit interviews.
Anyone who’s tried to switch mobile phone provider will know the frustration of the conversation you’re forced to have with the telesales executive who wants to know exactly why you’ve decided to switch and if there’s anything at all they can do to convince you to stay.
You want to scream down the phone that the main reason you’re switching is because it’s the type of company that only wants to know how they can improve things after you’ve decided to leave.
Another downside of the exit interview is its subjective nature. Unless you’re one of several people leaving the same department on the same day, the interview can’t be anonymous.
There’s little benefit to be had from making a series of bland, self-defeating generalisations about the wider company. If you’re motivated to take part in an exit interview the chances are there are some things you want to get off your chest. Let’s face it, things are going to get personal.
That’s the time to stop and take stock. Think about what you’re doing and who’s interests your actions from this point will serve.
If your life’s been made a misery by a toxic atmosphere at work, in most cases it’s been created by your departmental manager, or someone else in a senior position, who’s responsible for setting the tone.
Failing to single out the manager risks implicating others, but you might be relying on that person to give you a glowing reference to land your next job.
So, should you refuse to take part altogether? That might give the impression everything in the garden’s rosy and that you have nothing critical to say about the company or your soon-to-be erstwhile colleagues.
Alternatively, if you make it clear you do have criticisms of the firm but that you don’t believe airing them retrospectively will do any good, you may be accused of failing to look out for the people you’re leaving behind.
It would be naïve to think the manner of your departure won’t affect you in the future. Even if you’re moving to a new city but staying in the same industry, people talk off the record and gossip spreads.
However emotional you feel about your departure; you should resist the temptation to offload.
Don’t express opinions, stick to facts and, if you’re going to level accusations of bad practice, particularly against individuals, make sure you have plenty of examples to hand.
Don’t say that your line manager is an imbecile or that your team has been underpaid for the past six months unless you have the evidence to back it up.
The exit interview should be a footnote in your career history. Exciting times lie ahead and this thought should carry you through your last days with the company.
So, exit stage left, behave yourself at your leaving do and remember an exit interview is more about what you don’t say than what you do.