Make a Lasting Impression in Your Exit Interview

by Ashley Mancill, Senior Assistant, INALJ Alabama

Make a Lasting Impression in Your Exit Interview

ashleymancillMost companies and organizations conduct exit interviews as a way of obtaining feedback that will (ideally) help improve the workplace and employee retention. From an employee’s perspective, this type of interview can be time-consuming (especially if scheduled close to the employee’s departure), cause uneasiness or anxiety, or serve as the perfect opportunity to voice frustrations about the company, management, or any other aggravating aspect about the departing employee’s job.

In a way, the exit interview is all of these, but it is also a great opportunity to leave a lasting impression—to leave with one’s professional reputation intact and with head held high.

The exit interview is essentially a formal conversation about your contributions to the company or organization, what obstacles you faced that may have deterred success or are hindrances to operations, and what ways the company can improve in terms of polices, processes, training, etc. In general, those conducting the exit interview will ask why you are leaving your position, if there was something in particular that prompted you to separate, and what incentives or improvements would have made you decide to stay.

It’s always good practice to prepare for an interview, even one for leaving your job. Make a balanced list of positive and negative aspects that you want to address. You may find yourself thinking back to particular situations and incidents for the latter. Condense those statements, identify the main problem or challenge behind them, and, most importantly, remove any negative language. As with hiring interviews, it’s best to avoid exaggerating and using language that appeals to the emotions. Practice your answers or write them on note cards to take with you.

On the day of your interview, make sure you dress appropriately; just because you are leaving your job doesn’t mean you should wear attire that you wouldn’t dare wear to work. Dressing well shows that you respect the interview process and the company (even if you are one of its disgruntled employees). This will also be one of the last instances that you will a have face-to-face interaction with someone from the company, so leave that individual with a memorable impression of how presentable you are.

The format of the interview will vary, but a good way to start is by sharing what you feel are good aspects about the company and your job. Mention policies or procedures in place that you feel are good business practices and beneficial to employees in terms of getting work done. From here, you may shift into discussing some of the challenges or problems you faced as an employee and areas where you feel the company can improve. This is where the other half of your list will come in. Again, make sure to convey your comments in a diplomatic, noncritical way. If prompted, provide examples but stay objective.

Most career counselors strongly advise that exiting employees avoid venting or harshly criticizing their employer, warning that doing so will cost those leaving their references and any chance of coming back (should the worst happen and you get laid off from your new job). Author and blog writer Alison Green takes a slightly different stance:

“A bunch of people are going to tell you not to bother…but the reality is that there are some workplaces that do make it safe for people to give candid feedback. You just need to know if your company is one of them or not.”

It’s up to you to decide if brutal honesty is the best policy, but remember that what you are saying and how you are saying it is as much a reflection on you as it is on your employer and others who work for the organization.

The exit interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions and get feedback. “Exiting employees should use the opportunity to ask for constructive criticism,” says ArLye Diamond. Ask the interviewer if there are any areas where you can improve and if he or she has any comments on your performance. Preparing a few questions for your interviewer will show how thoughtful you are in terms of your performance and career goals, which may benefit you should you return or have some form of interaction with the company in the future.

Lastly, thank the interviewer for his or her as you would during a job interview. This is a sign of respect and consideration. Moreover, such courtesy highlights your professionalism and will likely be remembered.