Be vague and use positive language in your exit interview

When I left my first job, I was frustrated and a little disillusioned. I didn’t think my boss had helped me find opportunities I wanted, and I realized that my own performance didn’t matter.

So I started looking for a new job in a new industry. I applied for two jobs and landed one pretty quickly. Adios, old job!

I gave notice and began ticking off the list of things I had to do before I left: wrap up open projects, say goodbye to friends and colleagues… complete an online exit interview? What’s that? I looked it over and saw that the company wanted me to give them anonymous feedback about my experience and tell them why I was leaving.

Ah ha! It’s ANONYMOUS?! The perfect opportunity to tell them how I really feel! I’ll tell them all about this crummy assignment I had to do, and how my boss wouldn’t give me any cool opportunities and… Hmm. I wonder who will read this? To Google!

Google told me to cool my jets—the exit interview is not the place to let off steam or, as my friend Rob would say, “go out in a blaze of glory”. So I backed off and gave some general feedback—hard to find interesting projects, considering a career change, that sort of thing—without going into too much detail.

It wasn’t very satisfying, but Google said it was the prudent thing to do.

On my last day, I stopped by my boss’ office to give him my badge and say goodbye.

I sat down across from him, and he reached out and picked up a small stack of papers. “So I read your exit interview…” What? That was supposed to be anonymous! I panicked a little bit, remembering what I wanted to say on that form. Then I remembered that I had backed off and sanitized everything I wrote. “…It’s too bad we couldn’t find something more challenging for you, but I’m sure you’ll find something you enjoy at your next job.”

Well, that could’ve been awkward. If I had written what I really wanted to say in the exit interview, our final conversation could have gone much differently.

Things to consider when completing an exit interview

I’ll leave you with three specific things to consider when completing an exit interview:

  • DO focus on yourself and your own needs. “I’m ready for a new challenge” or “I found a new opportunity that I think will be a good fit for me.” This way, you can give the company some insight into your decision without pointing any fingers. This is easier if you focus on using positive language.

  • DON’T focus on others or the company. Don’t say things like, “The company culture just wore me down” or “My boss didn’t give me enough support.” It might feel good at the time, but probably won’t change anything and could hurt you later. This is easier if you avoid negative language.

  • DO remember that the exit interview will likely stay in your file, and may be read by others at the company. If I had been harsh in my exit interview, what could have happened? What might my old boss say if he was called to verify my previous employment? He probably wouldn’t explicitly mention the exit interview, but he might hesitate when answering questions about me. That wouldn’t be good.

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