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Stay in Control of Your Exit Interview


You’ve had a horrible boss, crazy colleagues, and an extremely stressful job, but you’ve finally been able to break free and now have an offer from a new company. You can’t wait to start at your new job. In most organizations, you will be scheduled for one last meeting with HR — your exit interview. The question is, what to say during that final chat. Do you spill your guts and spit out all the pain, because this is, after all, your last chance?


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The answer, not surprisingly, is no.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

The HR professional interviewing you will try to understand the reasons for your decision to move on from the organization. From a broader organizational perspective, he or she is also trying to assess the areas to focus on, in order to improve the company in the future. At least, that’s the intention. But unfortunately, exit interviews are also treated as mere administrative formalities to check off from a to-do list, when an employee leaves. So you need to tread carefully.

If you are called for an exit interview, bear these points in mind:

1. Don’t badmouth: Stating that your manager was brutal could get a load off your chest, but corporate world is a small place. If you are too negative about your experience, it reflects badly on you, too. Don’t burn bridges completely before you move on. You may still need references from your team or may end up working with them in a different capacity, as an external client or a contractor, for example. 

2. Share your feedback, but be diplomatic about it: In the right spirit, your experiences should aid the company. So sandwich your experiences — share positive experiences, not-so-great ones, and then positive ones again. If you are proud of being associated with a particular product or particular department, let them know. Also, let them know where you think your department needs to really step up. Base your feedback on facts, not just on your impressions.

3. Acknowledge the support you received: Whatever the reason for your exit from the organization, do your bit in recognizing your colleagues for their contribution to your work. It leaves a positive impression. You could actually be aiding your colleague’s career. Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time, says, “A departing employee should always mention their positive experiences with the company first and if you enjoyed working with any people in particular, mention them by name and explain why you enjoyed working with them.” 

4. Know the time and the place: There is every possibility that your HR colleague will ask you, “What could the organization do to retain you?” This question is especially tricky because the HR person may or may not act on it. Do you really want to work in this organization? Are you leaving for specific reasons, or is the culture not a fit?

Factors like pay and promotion work on parity and performance, usually. Exceptions can only be made by your reporting line. If your manager and his manager have accepted your resignation, there’s little that HR can do.

In addition, your exit interview is not the place for salary negotiation. As career counselor Ellis Chase says in Forbes, “…Even if your employer offers to boost your compensation to persuade you to stay, you will likely lose out a year later, when your colleagues are getting raises, because you already got a pay hike.”

If the politics and atmosphere are too stifling, you can just say, “It’s a great company, but I couldn’t find a personal fit,” and leave it at that.

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Do you have any suggestions or experiences to share? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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