The Ins and Outs of Exit Interviews

You’ve been unhappy in your current position for a few years. While you love the job, you haven’t been able to work out the differences with your manager. So, when you receive a terrific offer at a new company, you’re thrilled—and ready to hand in your notice.

But in your excitement to move on, don’t close the door on future opportunities. A graceful exit enhances your professional reputation, and—because businesses often take the interview information seriously—your comments could lead to changes within the organization.

Leave On a Positive Note
Remember, it’s not about revenge. Even if your boss makes Tony Soprano look appealing as a manager, don’t use the exit interview as an opportunity to lambaste him or her. While venting your frustrations may feel good at the time, you could regret it later. Your desire for vengeance is apt to be transparent and may prompt the interviewer to discount much of what you say. Try to keep comments regarding any problems you encountered fairly general, and don’t single anybody out. For example, if you’re leaving because you didn’t get along with a boss, you might simply say, "My supervisor and I weren’t a good fit personality-wise, so I decided to move on."

It’s also important to be balanced in your answers. You can come up with a hundred reasons why you’ve chosen to leave, but don’t let this prevent you from mentioning the good qualities about your employer. Compliments will help temper any criticism you deliver and may improve conditions for your coworkers. It’s OK to be specific when delivering praise, so feel free to commend your colleagues by name.

Keep It Short and Sweet
Answer all questions truthfully, but don’t go overboard in your responses. Similar to a job interview, you’re more likely to say something you’ll regret if you talk too much. Even if the interviewer remains silent once you’ve answered a question, don’t press on to fill in an awkward pause. Instead, smile and wait for him or her to continue. If you’re asked a question that’s too personal in nature (e.g., How much more money is your new company paying you?) simply state that you would prefer to keep that information confidential. Finally, remember to take care of personal business. The exit interview is a good time for asking questions pertaining to your benefits, such as your 401(k) rollover, your last paycheck and any other details you need to discuss before you leave.

Because your former manager and coworkers could serve as references or connections to future jobs, a diplomatic approach as you prepare to leave is essential. By presenting a positive, professional attitude during the exit interview, you pave the way for a smooth departure—and keep your options open.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.