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 Answering the Exit Interview Question

By Joe Stein

If you are on the WNYJOBS.com website or reading the weekly paper, you are getting closer to landing your new position. For those who are currently employed, you will need to begin thinking about giving notice, which will most likely lead to being asked to provide an Exit Interview.
 
If you are not familiar with an Exit Interview, it is an exercise where, as an employee is departing, he or she is asked a variety of questions by the current employer. These questions can range from why you are leaving, to what you thought of the job or your supervisor while you worked there. The concept of the Exit Interview can be a little controversial because it is an activity done after a person decides to leave, sometimes leaving one to wonder why the questions were not asked when it could have possibly helped you.
 
Most Exit Interviews are done with an in-person conversation, which can be intimidating if the Interviewer does not work hard to make you comfortable. In a smaller company, it is often done with the Manager of your supervisor or (perhaps) even directly with your boss (now this can really be an awkward conversation). The setting can vary from being formal in an office, or it can be a short conversation while on the work floor. In some larger companies, you may do it online via a survey software tool, or with a Human Resources professional. 
 
Being presented with the possibility of an Exit Interview creates a couple of basic questions that need to be answered.
 
#1:       Should You Even Participate? Most people think that you have to participate. You really don’t, but it is natural to feel some pressure to do so if asked. Personally, my belief is that you have little to gain and have a lot to lose by participating. Since you are leaving, there is not any direct benefit for you if your departing employer decides to take action and change anything based on your feedback. You may decide to answer the exit questions in the hope that it will help your former co-worker, or because you are bitter (which is not a good idea). The decision to participate is a lot easier if you truly do not have any negative feedback and will be leaving for reasons such as a shorter commute, or a promotional opportunity that is not linked to any specific dissatisfaction with your employer.
 
#2:       Should You Provide Negative Feedback? If you decide to participate, the logical next question is how honest you should be with the Interviewer. Again, you do not have anything to gain and can definitely lose by giving criticism. You may wonder what the downside to your feedback is. It mainly focuses around re-employment and networking. If there is ever an opportunity to return to this employer for a promotional opportunity, they may well remember your Exit Interview. Similarly, in many professions, networking is very important and word may circulate that you were negative on your way out.
 
As mentioned previously, I would personally be very cautious regarding providing an Exit Interview. In most situations in my career, I did not participate in the Exit Interview, by either “avoiding” scheduling an appointment, or not completing when it was done via an online link. 
If you really feel like you should participate, then I have several suggestions for you to consider.
·         Leave the emotions out of your answers. Only participate in the Exit Interview after you have reconciled with yourself about why you are leaving, and no long harbor any hard feelings. Answering these questions in “anger” will probably result in a situation that you will later regret.
·         Don’t make your responses personal. This is especially true in situations where you did not like your supervisor. If you are going to provide constructive feedback regarding your supervisor, then focus on what leadership behaviors need to be improved and not on personal traits.
·         Share only what you have communicated already. In my opinion, the Exit Interview is not the time to break out new issues. I believe that if it was important enough to call it out in the Exit Interview, then you should have communicated the problem prior to leaving. I would even go as far as stating that you should have already shared this feedback with your Manager (or others) in the past.
·         Take the “high road”. I don’t believe the Exit Interview is the time to brag about your new employer and how much better they are. Keep in mind, you have not started with them yet, and every employer has flaws that you don’t see until after you have started with them.
·         Share some positive. If you loved your departing job, then this will be easy. For others, it may be a bit of a challenge. I still suggest you try to point out some aspects of the company, your supervisor, or the position that you did like. It will provide some balance to your answers, and may even enhance your overall credibility.
·         Don’t overshare information on your new employer. If you are leaving for a competitor, the Exit Interview may actually may be a ruse to gain information on your new employer. Whether this is the case or not, I do not recommend you overshare regarding compensation, benefits package, growth plans, etc. in regard to the new company. This information should be confidential.
 
An Exit Interview is a reactive way that an employer uses to find out more information regarding why an employee is leaving. It may be done out of ritual (we have always done it and everybody does it), or because they sincerely would like to use the information to improve. Whatever the reason of the employer, you have to determine if participating is the right decision for you. I would use caution if you decide to complete an Exit Interview, and recommend you consider fully any feedback you decide to provide.
 
As always, best of luck in your job search