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The Exit Interview: Preparing Yourself and Leaving a Positive Impression

by Hallie Crawford, MA, CPCC

In my profession as a career coach, I am often asked about job interviews and scoring a coveted position. Less often does the topic of the "exit interview" come up, but even so it's an important element of job transition. The exit interview should not be intimidating; rather, it can be viewed as an opportunity to make one last good impression and share meaningful dialogue with your former employer. Below are some points to help ready you for a successful exit interview.

Why would a company want to interview you if you're leaving?

For many companies, an exit interview is part of standard human resources legal procedures. Its purpose is to file a complete employee history. The answers to the interview questions are recorded in order to clarify and document the reasons why the employee is leaving the company. This way, the organization can avoid a potential discrepancy between termination and voluntary resignation, should the question arise in the future.

Many "forward-thinking" companies have adopted what is known as the "360-degree" exit interview, where not only is the employee's performance evaluated, but she/he is also given a chance to analyze/critique his manager and/or coworkers in the department. In this way, a company is able to gain insight into organizational dynamics, productivity, and areas that need to be improved.

What's a good way to prepare for the exit interview?

Jotting down a few notes in advance often helps. Practice stating what your issues or concerns were without finger-pointing or assigning blame to any one particular person. When the time comes, ask your employer or the human resources representative who will be handling your departure process whether this will be a 360-degree interview - and if not, is it possible to request one. Then, ask yourself: how can you make the feedback constructive as opposed to derogatory? For example, if you felt lost and like your job description and responsibilities were unclear, you can say something like "I needed more direction, this wasn't a fit for me because I was unsure of my role on projects xyz."

If there is a question of abuse or harassment, there will likely be a paper trail assuming you have pursued the matter. In this case, you may want to seek advice from your lawyer on how to best handle this interview, what to say and what to hold back until further action is taken.

What types of things are appropriate to reveal during your exit interview, and what should you avoid doing or saying?

If you're asked point-blank for feedback, give it. And do it in a way that doesn't make the employer feel like he or she is in the wrong. Focus on how the situation can be made better, and offer possible solutions. This will help set a positive tone and prevent you from leaving people with an unfavorable impression of you that could tarnish your professional reputation.

And consider this - how well will they take feedback, or a complaint? If your gut instinct tells you that your honesty won't be well-received, then just ask yourself: what's the benefit to me of providing the feedback? If it is important to you, go for it. You have to be the judge. Go with your instinct a bit here.

If you know that there's an exit interview in your near future, keep in mind that old saying, "Don't burn your bridges!" No matter what the situation is at your job, it's always best to take the high road and leave things on a positive note. You never know what the future holds in store and honestly, when you’ll need a recommendation from your previous employer.

All the best for a rewarding and fulfilling career doing what you love!

Copyright 2007-2013 Hallie Crawford.com, LLC. All rights reserved.


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