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You put in your two weeks’ notice, and after your carefully scheduled two-week break, you have a better and higher-paying job lined up. The only thing you have left to do before you walk out of your current job is your exit interview.
In most firms, it’s common for Human Resources to schedule a meeting with you to discuss your reasons for quitting, and your experience with the company.
A part of you possibly wants to let Human Resources in on your struggles – being passed up for a promotion unfairly, having a boss that wasn’t qualified (in your opinion), and having salary increases that never accounted for inflation. But, another part of you, knows that airing your accumulated frustrations won’t change the past, and probably, won’t do much good.
So what do you do?
According to Dawn Rasmussen, Chief Resume Designer, you can ask HR what to expect as part of the exit interview process. “Regardless of whether this is standard procedure or not, ask so you can be as prepared as possible,” she says.
Once informed, spend some time thinking about the issues that will come up. At least, be prepared to communicate:
Focus on the Positives
You might have forgotten that someone or something in the company that is worthy of your praise. Maybe your manager’s boss was always helpful? Or your company’s flextime policy helped you manage part-time school and a full-time job?
Discuss the projects you enjoyed working on, how much you learned at the organization, and why your time benefited both you and the company. If you enjoyed any company events, like holiday parties and/or sales meetings, mention this as well.
Giving recognition will show that you thought about your experience with the company, and the positive feedback will help your company identify what it’s doing right.
Present Negatives Carefully
Remember that exit interview information is not always confidential, so don’t present a list of complaints. If you do want to present constructive feedback, Rasmussen says to present it elegantly. “Couch the feedback in terms of “Have you considered…?” Or “One thing I have observed is…” Or “One area that could use your leadership is…”‘
Rasmussen believes that companies that want to continuously improve will listen to employees’ constructive feedback when leaving the company to find out what can be fixed. “It’s also another chance to find out where the company is missing opportunities, if you are willing to share,” Rasmussen says. “The pro from this is that the company leaders see this as a valuable opportunity to learn.”
However, she warns that if company leaders disagree, this can have repercussions for you. “If they are unwilling to accept pointed feedback, it can result in you being treated as bad news. This attitude can filter into future background reference checks for you in subsequent job applications.”
Jill MacFadyen, career coach, warns that as an employee, you will probably need human resources and prior managers as references for up to ten years. “Therefore, leaving the relationship on friendly terms is vital,” she advises.
You shouldn’t even offer constructive criticism says Lauren Milligan, Founder and CEO of Resumayday. “There are simply too many ways this can go badly for you. For example, you can get overly emotional about unresolved issues and end up regretting something you say; the person conducting the interview can get defensive or hostile; confidential information could get shared, which means that you might end up burning bridges, or getting a bad reference,” Milligan explains.
Knowing that any of these consequences are possible, Milligan believes you shouldn’tput yourself in this situation. Instead, she advises that you just thank the employer for the opportunity to acquire and apply new skills.
Keep Emotions in Check
Want to speak about that promotion that should have been yours? While it may feel good to get this off your chest, chances are that you’re expressing frustration to the wrong person at the wrong time. It’s also extremely unlikely that the person you’re talking to can do anything meaningful with the information you share.
MacFadyen elaborates: “With Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, there is no guarantee that your thoughts wouldn’t be shared or at least that the person or people knowing about your comments wouldn’t feel negatively about you. Showing anger or frustration will just demonstrate that you were too emotional and therefore the company probably is happy to see you go.”
Driving the point home, MacFadyen adds: “Being unprofessional at work at anytime is dangerous to your reputation. Negativity spreads wildly and grows in the telling. It is especially important to be professional at the exit interview which could be the last impression.”
Additionally, Milligan asks women to think about their role models in business. “Do you think that when Marissa Mayer left Google, she bent an HR person’s ear about how she didn’t like this or that policy? Of course not. If Anne Sweeney left Disney, do you think she’d share her complaints? Of course not because it’s a small world, after all. “
Remember that what you say and how you say it will be final. In most companies, your answers and feedback will become a part of their permanent records.
Don’t Burn Bridges
The future is unpredictable. In today’s job market, it’s very likely that you’ll transition through many jobs, so don’t burn bridges.
While you may believe you’re out the door forever, there’s always a chance you might want to work with your current organization or some of your colleagues at a later time. It’s also likely that you’ll encounter ex-colleagues in your future, so leaving on civil terms is in your best interest.