Monday, March 17, 2014

The Exit Interview

As a result of my previous blog entry about how to manage your resignation, I received a reader’s comment / question asking about the exit interview, and whether they should avoid it altogether.

There is no need to avoid it but I suggest an exit interview be handled as you would conduct your resignation -- by exercising some restraint, regardless of your feelings as you’re heading out of the door, both mentally and physically. Let me explain: an exit interview is conducted with the intention of learning from the outgoing employee their thoughts and insights about how the company might gain from your constructive feedback. It is a great concept in theory and, in a perfect world, we’d all part ways as pals and forever get together for holidays and summer cookouts, playing badminton with all of our former bosses and co-workers. But that’s not the way it is, is it? If there were such events I dare say that in the minds of many the games would instead involve sharpened lawn darts or throwing horseshoes; wearing a well-meaning smile whilst presenting a bowl of potato salad left out in the sun just a little too long; yeah right, “kumbaya” indeed! I am an optimist about most things but I reserve a measure of realism / pessimism as it regards basic human nature. This concept of a group hug of an exit interview, I find a bit funny. I know of very few organizations that really value, much less, would implement the suggestions of an outgoing employee. Likewise, the exit interview is often the one time at which a departing employee might take advantage to settle scores and only occasionally do both sides enter into such a meeting with mutual good intentions toward one another.

So, I suggest that, if you must attend an exit interview, be sure to separate the personal from business and bite your tongue if it was anything but the best working experience of your lifetime (thus far). Be generic, thank them for the experience and opportunity to work with them, agree that you’ll stay in touch, conclude, shake hands and move on. Do not use the occasion to get even with anyone, as no good can come from it. There are two primary reasons to play nice even if you are inclined to deliver a verbal equivalent of a knuckle sandwich to the jaw. First, you want to have the option, if you need it, to extract a good reference(s) and second, this business world is shrinking, one never knows when you might end up working for or with some of these same people at a later date due to a merger or for various reasons.

If you do have that warm, fuzzy feeling and you’ll be parting best of pals, then you should especially keep your comments to a minimum. Above all, don’t fall into the trap of thinking your opinion is so valued that you can just open up about any perceived woes; if you make one suggestion they don’t agree with, all that goodwill can evaporate. If you want to make some technical or process suggestions, go ahead, but perhaps they should have asked for your suggestions while you were in their employ; why is it your responsibility to give free advice, let them hire a consultant who is more objective. And if you are coaxed into a line of conversation regarding team structure, hierarchal or policy changes, avoid it, you don’t need someone hiding behind words attributed to you, dropping your name in order to better their own status.

Above all, do not allow an exit interview to become a last opportunity for them to make you feel any sense of regret about your decision to leave. Don’t get me wrong, exit interviews are fine and often necessary to hand over company materials, keys and what not. Shake hands and say “it’s been great”. If your mind is made up to leave and move ahead in your career, the exit interview is just another procedural step in the resignation process, nothing more. Once again, my advice about exit interviews is to smile, refrain from settling scores, say “Thanks, let’s do lunch sometime” -- part ways amicably if possible, but always professionally.

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