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I sent in my two weeks' notice for my current employer. My boss accepted my resignation, then set up an in-person meeting to discuss my reasons for leaving with him. The problem is, I'm not sure what I should say.

The reasons I am leaving include not being assigned the duties I was hired for ("other duties as assigned" is the majority of my work), being underutilized, not being trained in relevant areas, and generally poor communication throughout the company. I have expressed these concerns to my boss in the past, so he wouldn't be surprised to hear these reasons if I were to say them. That said, these are all flaws in the company and I'm wondering if stating these reasons might amount to "burning bridges" (not sure if this is a rational fear or not).

I imagine that I could just decline to provide any answers and say something vague like "I decided that it was time to move on". But my boss seems to want the genuine reasons and I'm not sure if it would be rude to be evasive like this.

So what should I say to my boss when we meet in person and he asks again for the reasons that I am leaving?

  • 52
    If genuinely constructive criticism would really result in burning bridges, they are probably bridges you could live without... – Julia Hayward Sep 15 '14 at 8:35
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    @JuliaHayward In this job market, can anyone afford to burn bridges just for the chance to speak one's mind at an exit interview? – Lilienthal Sep 15 '14 at 11:34
  • As for the question, I believe that the OP is best placed to judge whether honestly raising his reasons for leaving will be appreciated or punished. There is a lot to be said for never giving harsh feedback in an interview as it can only impact you negatively, but if the interviewer is a Sane Person he would most likely be grateful for candid feedback. Figuring out what reaction you're likely to get is best left to the employee. – Lilienthal Sep 15 '14 at 11:38
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    Whatever you choose to do, I think it's important to remember that your goal here is not to convince or persuade and you don't need to reach a consensus of opinion on anything. Your boss is asking for your perspective on an issue. However, you don't have an obligation to convince your boss that your perspective is more valid than theirs. If you decide to give your perspective, just be respectful, provide whatever detail you feel comfortable giving and, if faced with resistance, realize that you really don't need to push through it. Good luck! – Dancrumb Sep 15 '14 at 13:35
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    @Lilienthal “…can anyone afford to burn bridges just for the chance to speak one's mind at an exit interview?” You have a point but you are also missing a point. It might be this poster’s current employer is so bad that no matter what they say/do a “bridge” will just be burnt no matter way. In cases like this I find it’s better to keep connections with peers & others not “the boss” to not completely waste connection. – JakeGould Sep 16 '14 at 2:57
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Right now I'm experiencing the same thing, by conducting a thorough research, asking the individuals who encounter that same thing I am able to provide this kind of answer.

Answer: Simply state the reasons why you want to leave; being genuine can help both parties (You and the company). Also by doing this your boss will know and therefore notice that there are problems in the company.

By declining to tell the truth the problem will not be solve, worst is that even the future employees might suffer the same thing as you. While by telling him the truth he might even change the way of the company and also you may have a chance for discussing it further with your boss.

Worst case is after you tell him the truth your boss will still insist that kind of system in the company and report you to the HR Department; you can’t get a good letter of reference for your new company. If the case is like that, you really need to leave the company. It is not ethical for your boss to do that kind of thing given that you are just opening a certain problem in the company that might help them in the future.

  • 1
    @Jasper you must read some boring mysteries, if the detective's conclusion contains no new information. – Digital Chris Sep 15 '14 at 12:29
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    @DigitalChris In a good mystery, the conclusion puts known information together in a way that you didn't think of. If the conclusion introduces information you had no way of knowing, that's called a deus ex machina – Jasper Sep 15 '14 at 12:47
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    No, a worse case is that you get in trouble with HR, everyone at the old company hates you, and you can't get a good letter of reference. Your current boss calls up your future one and slags you off, and you can't escape the bad reputation as a disgruntled employee. – brian d foy Sep 15 '14 at 21:26
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    Don't say anything! Or if they ask point blank, give as little away as you can. Let them think what they want. A potential reference for you in the future is more valuable to you than any constructive criticism you can give to the company. – cameron.bracken Sep 16 '14 at 0:46
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    -1 for honesty. I've never worked for anyone that would have been able to accept criticism nomatter how constructive, given in this fashion, without repercussions like no reference, etc. It's not your job to fix the company you are leaving, and so long as you've raised genuine problems to give management a chance to sort them prior to leaving, then I don't see any problem with "it's time for me to move on" being all you say. – nurgle Nov 30 '15 at 13:35
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My best advice to is simply beg off the question, even lying by saying "for personal reasons". People think it's good to tell the truth and it's constructive to get feedback, but like talking to the police, there's no upside for you and plenty of risk. You'll probably get an emotional, defensive response and you don't want that in the way of your separation. It's no longer your problem and you're not responsible for fixing it.

After you leave and you're long gone, your various benefits have transferred to your new situation, all the checks have cleared, and so on, you might sit down for a drink with someone to tell your story.

If you complain and throw some people under the bus, you might not be able to come back. Keep your options open. You don't know what the future holds, and you might need a letter of reference from this employer later.

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    I've never known a company to care about your reasons for leaving, it is just a box ticking exercise. A colleague worked his 6 week notice and on the very last day HR (not his department!) had the exit interview with him. They had 6 weeks to understand his reasons, address them and convince him to stay, yet chose not to. – VictorySaber Aug 4 '16 at 9:01
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my boss seems to want the genuine reasons and I'm not sure if it would be rude to be evasive like this.

I think your boss is looking for constructive feedback. He needs to know what went wrong (if any) in your experience with the company, so he can prevent other employees leaving for similar reasons.

That is, yes, you probably should give your boss the real reasons you are leaving.

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    How optimistic. Most exit interviews I've seen have been done out of obligation to policy, not an actual desire to improve. – Telastyn Sep 15 '14 at 14:19
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    It is indeed a bit optimistic/simplistic. I have not had exit interviews in most places I've been, but in the last place where I had one, I asked the HR guy what they were doing with the answers. He told me it was a matter of statistics ("if x% of leaving people say "because of a small salary", the company will increase salaries globally"). The desire to improve may not be on the mind of the interviewer at all (and it may only be an abstract goal in the mind of the policy designer). – utnapistim Sep 15 '14 at 14:55
  • @Telastyn - it depends on the size of the organisation and the manager involved, along with how hard it is to replace/retain staff – HorusKol Sep 15 '14 at 23:38
  • @HorusKol - I don't see how. The engagement level of your employees is pretty much the primary contributing factor to their effectiveness, in any industry. The desire to improve that should be ubiquitous. – Telastyn Sep 15 '14 at 23:47
  • @Telastyn - yes, it should - but as your own comment on "optimism" points out, that isn't always the case. – HorusKol Sep 16 '14 at 0:21
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You can say that you are leaving because your skills were not being fully utilized and that was affecting your morale because you'd like to feel like you performed a day's work for a day's pay. Leave the negativity out of your feedback, as your decision to leave is already made and what's done is done, there is no point to making past gripes come alive when the future and its possibilities are waiting for you just outside the door.

  • This answer is good @Vietnhi Phuvan. Thanks to this "there is no point to making past gripes come alive when the future is waiting for you just outside the door." – Cary Bondoc Sep 15 '14 at 7:09
  • Rude answer.... – user18840 Aug 28 '15 at 15:50
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If you want to be diplomatic, personally I think the "other duties" thing is a satisfactory reason to leave and not particularly critical of your employer, and gives your boss something he can easily do better in future (advertise the post differently).

So the safe option would be "as we've previously discussed, I'm keen to work on Widgets. I only spend a small proportion of my time here on that, so I've found a job more focussed on Widgets." Or if you're not actually working on Widgets in your new job, "I've found a job more focussed on a single field."

The others are a little less easy to raise diplomatically:

  • under-utilized: is a somewhat subjective assessment of your capabilities. Your boss might feel that you're adequately utilized.
  • not trained: is a difference of opinion with your employer over the value of training.
  • poor communication throughout company: is a difference of opinion with your employer how to run a company.

By all means discuss them if you think it will help your boss, especially since you've mentioned them before. If your boss wants to know the real reasons it might be for two purposes:

  • What he can improve.
  • What he can say to others in the company: "We've had two people now who have left, citing lack of training in their exit interview. This is strong evidence that we need a bigger training budget, it's cheaper than staff turnover." He might agree with you against your common employer.

Be clear in your mind which of those things are "the reasons you're leaving" and which are "bad things about the company that, if the main reasons had been dealt with, you'd have put up with". There's a difference between saying why this has happened, vs. a laundry list of complaints, and your boss hasn't asked for the complaints yet. If your boss invites you to list every single thing in the exit interview, though, for his own information, then fair enough, do it. But he already has your previous remarks on those subjects (and probably other issues), so it might be important to him just to get the decisive ones.

Also, be prepared for him to argue his case. Hopefully he won't, but he might be defensive. Since you don't want to burn bridges it's safest not to be drawn into a detailed argument. Depending on your boss's personality you might feel that since you're leaving anyway it's more valuable to him to hear your uncensored opinion, and he'll appreciate it long term even if it creates tension at the time. In which case you could do the less safe thing.

Consider in advance what you'll do if you get a counter-offer. If you haven't thought about it at all, you might be surprised and say you'll consider something that actually you should reject out of hand. Not that it makes a huge amount of difference in the long term, but it wastes a bit of everyone's time and you might as well go decisively and with dignity :-)

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In an official context, there is nothing to be gained by being blunt. You're already on your way out the door, so it's not as if they can change anything to keep you. And depending on how vindictive the company is (and you don't always know that until it's too late), saying the wrong thing may end with them messing with you in subtle ways for some time to come. I'd be honest, but only with the positives - you were looking for new challenges, it's a closer commute, you're building your career experience, etc etc... basically the things that don't reflect badly on anyone directly. Remember: you're not negotiating at this point, so mentioning salary is a no-no.

Unofficially, it entirely depends on the relationship you have the people in question. Personally, I'd suggest that if you have a good enough rapport to be honest and tell them their faults, you should have taken advantage of that before leaving, when it could have done direct good to you. If you're comfortable meeting someone for coffee/beers after hours for a gab session after all is said and done, that's on you.

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Whether your resignation is accepted or not, you should not be afraid nor ashamed of telling the truth. You have the right to speak out your concerns freely in a constructive and civilized manner of course.

Maintaining bridges between you and your current boss/company is always recommended, despite your disappointment with them.

Tell the truth, set yourself free, discuss your concerns and reasons frankly and politely. Your boss won't shoot you in the head. 1

1 unless you're working in a Mafia. :)

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The reasons I am leaving include not being assigned the duties I was hired for ("other duties as assigned" is the majority of my work), being underutilized, not being trained in relevant areas, and generally poor communication throughout the company. I have expressed these concerns to my boss in the past

These are symptoms of the real problem: The job is not a good fit for you.

Face it - you've attempted to create a better fit by bringing your boss's attention to the frictions in the job, and they haven't changed appreciably. You no longer see opportunities in the position to increase your skills and career in the desired trajectory. You know there is a position that will better meet your goals, and it's likely that there's a person who will fit this position very well.

It's not necessarily that the company is bad or wrong, or being mismanaged. It's not necessarily that it's a bad position. It may be that it is those things, but from your perspective you might not be able to objectively make that call.

So when you say, "I'm being asked to do work I didn't expect to be doing" or "I'm not being trained enough" or "People here are bad at communication" then it's just as likely that your boss will blame you for all these problems as himself or the company. Since you've talked to him about them before and nothing has changed, it's very likely that these things don't concern him. In his eyes they concern you.

So there's nothing you can gain by telling him, and little to nothing he will gain.

Worse, though, is that for the next decade or longer they will continue to appear on your resume as previous work experience. While it's possible that they actually never give more information than a confirmation that you worked there, some companies do give feedback - sometimes negative - when future employers call to verify your employment history.

By telling him all the bad things you blame the company for, he may see that as your failing, and that may be negative for you in your career.

Unless you have a personal stake in the future of the company, and you can be certain you are absolutely objective in your assessment, you should not go any further than "I have an opportunity to grow my career in a new direction. I've learned a lot here and will miss the people I worked with."

This distances both you and him from the idea that there's something wrong with you, the position, or the company. It also avoids comparing the old position and the new, avoiding questions about why you prefer the new one to the old. It is also a standard 'canned' answer that allows your boss to fill out his forms easily and simply, reducing his work in your leaving.

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Have your answers written down going into the meeting. And let your boss know that you'll share them with him, but that you're not going to be doing the talking first. Before you tell him what's on your 'crib notes' in front of you, ask him to say what he thinks the reasons are for you leaving.

The bottom line is, he has at least one employee (you) who is leaving for things he had control over. Now, they need to go gamble on a new employee, spending money to hire, train, and break-in this new employee who might end up being not such a good employee and they repeat the process again. At the very least, he has cost the company tens of thousands of dollars by making you want to leave. If he's going to fix this problem before he does it again, he needs to do some analysis himself.

So ask him, why he thinks you want to leave. Assure him that you'll tell him what he got right and wrong in his analysis, but if his goal is to really improve his environment, then don't just list your problems - make it a real conversation, and make him go first.

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