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I am the only expert in a certain area in my current company. I have tried bringing up suggestions to improve my working conditions, but because company and my boss don't understand exactly what I'm doing they've turned down my requests leading to additional stress to perform with inadequate resources.

Because of these conditions, I've decided to leave the company.

During my exit interview, how can I decide how much I should say to give them feedback while not burning any bridges?

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    Hey MeltingDog, your question was getting close votes so I edited it a bit to make it more open-ended. If you think I totally missed the mark, feel free to edit! – jmac Oct 7 '13 at 23:10
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    I use only one phrase - "I feel this move is what's best for me right now" – Raystafarian Oct 8 '13 at 12:41
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    You've already made your suggestions. Repeating them now might make you feel better but probably doesn't serve any useful purpose. Better to exit on as positive a note as possible. If you were leaving because there was something that was an immediate critical hazard to the survival of the company or its employees I might feel differently, but "I didn't like the working conditions" is likely to sound like it's your problem rather than theirs. – keshlam Sep 15 '14 at 12:55
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    I resigned my last position with a fairly straightforward resignation letter. I was on a good enough relationship with the department manager and with most organizationally related managers, but the overall company didn't fit with me. I actually called the manager ahead of time (from remote office work site) to give a heads-up. In followup discussions, reasons were asked and I answered honestly and pleasantly. I'm currently asked to work as contractor on the two major projects that I'd lobbied for for years and that had been rejected just as much. Professionalism and honesty can work well. – user2338816 Mar 6 '15 at 4:34
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    Who is conducting the exit interview? Several answers are predicated that this is going to be done by some HR person and not your immediate supervisor. – user8365 Jul 8 '15 at 16:48
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Should I be honest and tell my current employers that the reason I am leaving is because of there nonchalant attitude towards my role? Or do I avoid burning bridges by keeping it all genial and making up some other, unrelated reason?

I usually suggest taking the high road, and giving only generalized reasons for leaving like "I really loved working here and learned a lot, but this is an opportunity I couldn't turn down".

Weigh the options, and the likely outcomes. You have to decide what good can come of being brutally honest, versus what bad can come of it.

The best that you could hope for as a result of being very honest is perhaps sympathy, or perhaps a better investment in your replacement. None of these are very likely, and none benefit you much (if at all) in the long run.

On the other hand, by being very honest, you could burn bridges with your manager, your co-workers, HR, and others - any of whom could be in a position to aid in hiring you into some other company in the future, or providing a good reference.

And trashing the company you are leaving is never a good way to exit. The folks you are leaving behind still have to continue to put up with whatever it is that drove you out - at least for a while. Don't try to make them feel foolish for staying. It's a small world - stay professional to the end.

Most exit interviews are just formalities anyway. When you are asked "why are you leaving?" HR reps seldom actually care if you are giving a really honest answer - it's just something they are required to do.

An exception to this would be if you are working for someone you trust completely, perhaps a manager who is also a long-time friend. She/he may actually be interested in your insight. These situations seldom happen, but it's possible.

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    "HR reps seldom care if you are giving a really honest answer" - in my last (only) exit interview, I gave what I thought was carefully worded constructive criticism of how some things were handled in the company/department (without singling anyone out) which contributed to my decision to leave. The HR rep's response was "yeah, we've heard that quite a few times" (there had been a non-trivial string of departures before my own). I wanted so badly to say "then why haven't you done anything about it!?" but that was the moment that I realized that what I said in that room didn't matter one iota. – alroc Oct 8 '13 at 13:03
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    A lot of times the people who are aware changes need to happen are also in the same castrated roles, unable to make the changes they know would have the best results. So yeh, don't blame the HR reps as it's probably frustrating for them to not be able to do anything about their retention numbers. – jmort253 Oct 12 '13 at 22:44
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    I agree with the answer, but a word of warning - some HR people are very good at getting to the bottom of things during an exit interview. It can be difficult to get away with generalized responses in the face of insightful follow-up questions. – Steve Campbell Mar 7 '15 at 13:54
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    The effective period for constructive criticism is far in advance of even suggesting your exit. Only then can those who wish to do something about it consider it, as well as follow up with you on it (not impossible, but certainly more difficult to follow up with you after your exit). Also, just by discussing it in advance it may even change things! – tniles Jul 14 '16 at 17:56
  • @SteveCampbell I mean, at that point you could just say "I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable discussing this further." (Also, sorry for the necro) – Nic Hartley Jul 10 '18 at 19:18
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First off, you never want to burn bridges. Burned bridges have a way of landing on your career at the least opportune time. It is best when engaged in an exit interview to be honest but obtuse in any criticism of the company. In any switch away from a company, you must keep in mind that this is not about them, it's about you. Something in your current company is not keeping you satisfied (whatever it is). So I would say, if your criticisms or comments can truly help the company you are leaving adjust its priorities, goals or plans, then by all mean provide those comments.

Never deride a specific person or process. Always keep it general. The moment it becomes specific it begins to get personal, and that's the point at which the bridge starts to smolder. You are exiting their fold, and someone is ultimately going to take that a little personally, so if you can't say something constructive or helpful to them on your way out it's best just to say nothing at all (that is always an option).

How you leave a company is just as important as how you behave while you're there. Your new employer, and also your future new employers, may always become privy to any bad break-up regardless of the industry it's in. As with all things, maintain your professionalism right to the very end. If you can't say something positive/constructive, just keep it to yourself.

  • I can't imagine ever having generic, non-specific criticism received well. How would your former employer act on anything that broad? How would you feel if your annual review was like that "some of the things people at your level do are not very productive"... great, now what? If you're going to say anything, make it useful "Sam struggles to give clear directions to subordinates", "Chris tries to manage outside the chains of responsibility". Yeah, that's very personal... but you're not telling Sam or Chris, you're telling their boss - who can act on it, or not, as they see fit. – Móż Oct 17 '16 at 23:41
  • @Móż: In an exit interview, it is not the time to identify a specific individual or very specific process. At that point, the problem is YOURS and not something the company can deal with. The general approach I'm referring to would be something like "I've lost faith in management's ability to deliver on promises.", "I've come disagree fundamentally with the direction of X program." At the point of the exit interview, the usefulness of specifics is already exhausted. That should have been covered through other means before the decision to quit was made. – Joel Etherton Oct 18 '16 at 1:14
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The exit interview is not the place to give effective feedback. In the best situation employers would listen to their people while they are still working rather than when they are going out the door. Admittedly, that doesn't happen much in places where people are apt to leave.

It seems that you have already voiced your concerns well in advance of announcing your departure. That's good. The people who were in a position to actually make changes had an opportunity to help you (and themselves) out and did not. At least they know why you're really leaving and that is what is important.

Any interaction with HR other than a quick and friendly signing of forms and checking of boxes will amount to nothing good. Just tell them you're moving on to a new opportunity and wish everyone the best.

  • The last paragraph here is the key. If the company really, really wants OP to help them improve, they can always bring him back temporarily as a contractor, $500/hr, 4 hr minimum. – BryanH Feb 21 '17 at 15:10
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My personal guideline is that I never say anything against a specific person, but I may bring up certain corporate policies especially concerning pay and benefits that may have recently changed for the worse.

For instance, if a copmany has frozen pay raises, they should know that it is causing people to leave. If a company has required pay cuts, again, that is something that they should know had a cost. If they dropped the 401 K match (hey that is a cut to my compensation) or changed to a bad health insurance provider, then yes I will bring that up. The people who made those particular kinds of decisions are not ones who will negatively impact my career later on. People bringing up these types of things when they leave gives HR ammunition to help fight bad corporate choices. People not ever saying it affected them means that the company will be happy to do more and more draconian things until people start to tell them they are leaving for that reason (and until the retenion numbers get to a certain point).

However, if your problem is your manager is a jerk or incompetent or not supportive of your needs to get the work done, don't bring that up. It could potentially affect your career. He is likely to have friends who are hiring managers other places in the same field. He might be likely to be someone you see again at a another company.

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Don't even bother saying anything that can be taken in a negative light during an exit interview. HR doesn't care about problems and has no desire to fix them.

Avoid burning bridges, use the typical speak of you enjoyed your time and are looking forward to this new opportunity and wish everyone the best

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I guess it depends on who you are talking to and how large the organization is. If this is with HR and you ask if your responses will be kept confidential, then unload. Tell them how you repeatedly asked for accomidations to do you job and were repeatedly turned down. As a result you are leaving to find a company that understands you and gives you the tools you need.

If you are dealing directly with your supervisors ask these questions of yourself.

  1. Is there any situation I may want to come back to this employer.
  2. Will I need to use this individual as a reference (besides employment confirmation, if they say anything else, you can sue them for slander).

If 1 or 2, keep your mouth shut and just move on. Otherwise, let them have it. You don't really want to come back to work in this hellhole so at least let them know their actions had consequences.

Also, if they cave at this point, don't give in, it is just temporary and you might get some of what you want, but next year, you will be right back here again.

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    Honestly, I would careful about being candid with HR. I've run across plenty of people in HR who don't seem to fully understand the concept of "confidential". Granted, not many but it only takes one. Be tactful and polite but also keep in mind how anything you say could come back to haunt you later. People move around quite a bit these days and that includes HR people. – ChrisL Jul 9 '15 at 20:48
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    At one of my previous companies the HR staff used to gossip with colleagues who were their friends so nothing was ever truly confidential. News about people who got wage increases was out in the open after just 1-2 weeks due to gossiping. – Stormy Nov 26 '15 at 10:07
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    @Stormy sounds like they were in need of some Ethics training. I bet that really created a bad work environment and management was like WTH is going on with people here. – Bill Leeper Nov 30 '15 at 17:21
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In my experience, actual exit interviews aren't that common any more. Often they are just to complete separation paperwork, although YMMV. There may be a few places where honest feedback would be good, but in my experience such employers are rare. Where I have gone through exit interviews, they are usually just a formality that neither the HR person conducting the interview, nor I, wanted to do, but it was part of the "process".

Early in my career I had an exit interview in which I mentioned a couple problems that had led to my departure, including problems with a dishonest senior manager. The HR person responded with something like "Well, that's not your problem any more, is it?" I thought that was the end of it. However, a couple years later my new position had fallen through and I was desperately seeking a job. I learned my old employer had an opening; the person who would have been my boss remembered me favorably from my previous time there and wanted to hire me. However, her boss - who hadn't been there when I worked there before - vetoed it based on the fact that I'd been unhappy enough to leave before and the things I had said about upper management - which was still in place - in the earlier exit interview.

I learned my lesson. Since then, I try to keep the exit interview short and sweet if I have to participate in one. If asked why I'm leaving, I usually respond with something like "To pursue a better opportunity" or "I'm looking for a new challenge". Once my new position would reduce my commute to less than one-third of my existing commute, so I mentioned the reduced travel time; however, I kept the full truth (which involved a micromanaging supervisor) to myself.

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No offense, but often programmers are not the best articulators about how we feel about certain things. Programmers can get very passionate about tools, languages and technology stacks. I personally have an aversion to repetition. The notion that I have have to click this button at the end of every month is nauseating. Taking this off my plate may only improve my performance by 0.001%, but does wonders for my sanity.

You've already made your suggestions and requests and they were declined. Your employer may not have realized how important these things are to you. I mean, who decides what job to take based on the IDE? So what if you have to program on a Windows laptop that's 5 years old; it still works. They just don't get it, so I wouldn't say anything unless they really press for it.

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