5

About a half year ago, my department lead verbally promised me a promotion to "principal developer", which comes with a pay raise and lots of perks. When annual reviews came up in October I was told that my work is top-notch, and that I will "become a principal developer" if I took over for a project that needed some serious help (i.e. big overtime, lots of experience/expertise, leadership/mentoring skills, etc.). I accepted, and took on the project, only to be told "oh, you're 'the Chief Developer for the Foo Project', not 'A chief developer'. I was quite pissed off, and spelled out the details of our discussions, and how I left zero room for ambiguity. My concerns were dismissed (and I was warned that I'd be reprimanded if I pressed the discussion further), but I was assured I would likely be 'A chief developer' if my project succeeds. So, lots of extra work and stress, no benefits, and the past 6 years of goodwill and rapport I've had with the company have been burned up in mere moments. Thanks for dangling a carrot and then poisoning it when cutting the twine. I should've demanded this in writing, but until this incident, I trusted my lead and the company to honor its commitments.

I ended up getting a job with a customer of ours (we're a large development/engineering company, with hundreds of customers), so they're not a competitor by any definition. They basically are offering to almost double my pay to do the exact same job I already do with my current company. I've got the offer letter signed and counter-signed, and already cashed the signing bonus. How do I handle the exit interview and not burn bridges? I need references from several colleagues for various certifications I'm working towards, and burning this bridge would impede those efforts greatly.

One last note: I've started to turn the project around (enough to secure a lot more funding), and am leaving at a point that pretty guarantees it will fail if I do (i.e. they have a bus factor of "1", and it involves a lot of general tech knowledge, plus "company tribal knowledge" that isn't documented). Not my problem/concern, but I'm worried this will just nuke any chance of a good reference, even if I conduct the exit interview. From an observer's standpoint, it looks bad (as if I deliberately planned my exit at a time to maximize damage and expenses).

Thoughts:

  • Decline the exit interview: my understand this results in no references and a burned bridge. Honestly, I never agree to do these, but I'm wondering if I should in this case.
  • Do I tell who my new employer is? Would them knowing it's a customer of theirs equate to burning a bridge.
  • Is there any benefit to telling them the new salary (i.e. so they know they're underpaying their top talent significantly)?
  • Do I inform my old employer that I'm doing the exact same job, but for more cash (i.e. drive home the point that they're not market competitive, despite being a profitable company)?

My goals, in this order, are:

  • To avoid accidentally screwing myself over (i.e. giving my old employer the impression I'm working for a competitor).
  • To avoid burning bridges so I can get my references.
  • Help my coworkers via a candid exit interview that spells out "the problem isn't perks or pep talks or more time off: we need more money to pay rent and buy food".
2
  • 1
    In what country is this? Feb 2 '21 at 18:58
  • 1
    Could you drastically shorten the question? Pls note it's a many times dupe on here.,
    – Fattie
    Feb 2 '21 at 21:32
12

You've already accepted the new job so all you can do at this point is hand in your official resignation. Work your required notice period. Do the best you can to document/handover the most critical parts of your project and make your colleagues' jobs as least-bad as you can when you're gone. Take any crap they throw at you with the utmost professionalism. And then move on.


To answer your specific questions:

Decline the exit interview: my understand this results in no references and a burned bridge. Honestly, I never agree to do these, but I'm wondering if I should in this case.

I wouldn't decline it, I would just stick to a very narrow range of answers. Nothing negative about your current job. Simply "I was offered a better position and I decided to take it".

Do I tell who my new employer is? Would them knowing it's a customer of theirs equate to burning a bridge.

You should definitely check your contract. And you definitely should have asked this customer to check theirs, before accepting this offer. Either one may well contain anti-solicitation/poaching clauses. Either way don't tell your current employer, and don't update your LinkedIn, until after you've completed probation at this new company.

Is there any benefit to telling them the new salary (i.e. so they know they're underpaying their top talent significantly)?

No. Same answer as above. "They made me a better offer and I decided to take it". No further details.

Do I inform my old employer that I'm doing the exact same job, but for more cash (i.e. drive home the point that they're not market competitive, despite being a profitable company)?

Really, really no.

It's not worth it. If they have even half a brain cell they'll know exactly why you're leaving. You spelling it out won't change anything, so just don't.


If you want to do even more to make sure you get those references from your colleagues, you can also tell them that you'll try to be available, informally, for a while after you've left if anything specific comes up that wasn't covered in your handover.

1
  • Depending on your new employers contract and your supply of free time, you could offer to go beyond informally offering a small amount of assistance to offering a few hours/week (outside of your new jobs working hours) as a paid consultant to your old company. If this is your first time doing something like that, remember that you need to price in self-employment tax, more complicated tax filing, and creating an LLC to protect your personal assets in the event something goes severely wrong with your consultancy. Feb 3 '21 at 6:01
8

How do I handle the exit interview and not burn bridges?

Don't bring up anything negative, or anything at all.

I'm worried this will just nuke any chance of a good reference

You're looking at this wrong, from a perspective of weakness. But you're not in a weak position, they have a bus factor of 1 and no leverage since you're leaving. Alienating you is not a great idea, in fact it's never a great idea, but in your case even more so.

I need references from several colleagues for various certifications I'm working towards, and burning this bridge would impede those efforts greatly

This should not be dependent on anything but your expertise, if your colleagues are professionals it won't be affected. I've signed off on certifications for a person who I disliked on a personal level but fulfilled all requirements.

4
  • 5
    Nice answer, especially for the last sentence! Whether the person is qualified for certification has nothing to do with your personal opinion of them
    – Anthony
    Feb 2 '21 at 20:20
  • 2
    "Alienating you is not a great idea" - this is a very good point. If the OP is looking forward to a doubling of salary with a new employer, then if I were him I'd consider that full and final settlement of any grievance he has, and leave on good terms with no mention of any bad will towards the departmental manager.
    – Steve
    Feb 2 '21 at 20:38
  • 1
    @Steve best policy is to walk in positive and walk out positive, nothing constructive about doing otherwise, that chapter is over, leave the baggage there before leaving.
    – Kilisi
    Feb 2 '21 at 21:02
  • Especially since the OP is working at a customer. Even if it's not critical, it's a bad idea to anger somebody who will be working for one of your customers. And if this customer is hiring with fat salaries, I would definitely want to stay on OP's good side. Jul 12 '21 at 21:58
5

First, you're worried about entirely the wrong thing. The exit interview is irrelevant for all your goals. What matters is your notice period. From the moment you tell them you are leaving, all your priorities (and those of your team) completely change. Right now the bus factor is 1 -- you get hit by a bus, the project is dead. But you're not getting hit by a bus. You're leaving with two weeks notice. And you are going to spend those two weeks on a course of actions that not only happen to be The Right Thing, they also pretty much guarantee glowing references for you if you ever need them.

You're going to document all that tribal knowledge that isn't written down. You're going to sit with someone junior and make sure they know how to do a particular thing only you ever did. You're going to create summaries and overviews and lists. You're going to draw diagrams. You're going to work as hard and as well as you always do, not to move the project forward but to get the project to a place it can carry on without you. You're never going to say "not my problem/concern" about it while you're still working there. You are going to make sure that project has every chance to succeed and succeed big. After all, that's what it's going to say on your resume for this company. "Planned and started the BlahBlahBlah project, which was a huge success because I left it in a great state." You're going to show that you don't just know how to do things, you know how to share knowledge and how to lead projects.

If, on your last day, someone wants to give you the opportunity to tell them that the reason you're leaving is you feel ripped off by not getting a promotion, I would recommend declining that opportunity. They know. Finding a gentle and polite way to tell them is a lot of work, and they already know. Just be a chief developer for your last two weeks, and do it so well that everyone wishes you still worked there. Don't give them any excuses ("selfish", "sour grapes", "all about him and never about the project or the team") to think less of you or be glad you're gone.

And in this next job, learn from the previous one. Don't let things get like that again. You'll be happier and so will they.

2

Help my coworkers via a candid exit interview that spells out "the problem isn't perks or pep talks or more time off: we need more money to pay rent and buy food"

You won't be helping anyone if you do that. If they had been interested in getting good feedback, they would have asked all their existing employees already. The only thing that might happen if you do the exit interview is that it will get you angry and you'll probably say things that you wished you hadn't said. Do not put yourself in that situation.

Never do an exit interview. There is nothing of benefit to you that can happen from it. If an HR person corners you in the hallway, just repeat the same phrase over and over again. Something innocuous and polite-sounding. "I just found a better opportunity." If they hand you something to sign, take it home with you to review it. Obviously, you should not sign anything unless it is to your benefit.

Never tell them the name of your new employer. This includes any of your close friends at work since they can be coerced into letting them know. Then wait until you're properly settled in at your new workplace before you update your LinkedIn or let your friends know.

1
  • One point, an alternative to "not doing" an exit interview, is do it absolutely nominally. Just speak total platitudes, and leave.
    – Fattie
    Feb 2 '21 at 21:35
0

See How do I resign gracefully from a professional job? for a general guide on resigning, what to do and what not to do.

From that answer,

Attend and give light feedback in your exit interview, but don’t burn bridges by getting too stroppy, they are not going to change anything based on your feedback. See How much should I say in an exit interview?. Do not sign any new legal agreements after you give notice unless they pay you separation $ to justify it and you're comfortable with what it says (lawyer review as necessary).

And the meat of the top answer from the linked question, by Joe Strazzere, says

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".

You can't control people's emotions no matter how professional you act - they may be mad and burn the bridge themselves for any number of reasons. But for your part, you show up, you be pleasant, you say "this was great, no really, but I am ready for a new challenge now," don't get baited into saying anything negative, don't sign anything, and leave.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .