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I am currently about 2 weeks away from my final day at my current job and I was wondering how honest I should be in my upcoming exit interview with my CEO.

Some background, we are a really small agency based in London and I have been here for the last year. I am leaving due to being overworked a myriad of other problems that mean I no longer wish to work at the company any more. I'm only a mid-level developer and so I don't hold a lot of sway here but I really want to use the opportunity to improve the working lives of the people I work with (who I like a lot) and to make the job better for the next person who takes my position.

My fear is that in doing so it will appear that I am telling my CEO how to run his company and in turn will burn a bridge that I may need later in my career.

I will obviously try to be tactful but I fear that he may take offense or I may miscommunicate something which would lead my employment finishing poorly.

My question is, is it worth risking it?

  • An exit interview? What? Anyway, keep bad stuff to yourself and just focus on that the whole package simply wasn't fitting you. – Jonast92 May 22 '15 at 15:52
  • Sorry, I thought the terminology was fairly well known: businessballs.com/exitinterviews.htm – Marche101 May 22 '15 at 15:53
  • I would be very general. Start with "I felt overworked". If if the CEO engages in a proactive manner then give more. – paparazzo May 22 '15 at 15:57
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    @Marche101 I would also consider the terminology to be well known. – mcknz May 22 '15 at 16:27
  • OP you should just say that your experience was a blast, you enjoyed working for them, and move on. Do not get tricked into saying a "reason" you left. Do not get tricked into criticizing anything bad about the job, even if it really was bad. – nanonano Jan 11 '16 at 15:32
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Here's the problem with being honest in an exit interview: any given fact can be interpreted in at least two ways, and the circumstances of an exit interview (you're leaving and have in effect said you don't like working there any more or aren't up to working there any more) can sway your CEO to use the interpretation that will not achieve your wants (an easier life for your colleagues) and may hurt you in future. This is true whether you make entirely neutral fact based statements, or provide value judgements and give opinions.

Example: "I was really overworked" or "deadlines were routinely set too tight" or "[person] did not manage our team deadlines well." You think you're giving important information about process and expectations. But it's easier to interpret as "Marche101 wasn't able to work at the pace we require."

Eventually, when a steady stream of people who appeared in the hiring interviews to be able to work at an industry-appropriate pace continue to leave and make the same claim in their exit interviews, the other interpretation will kind of force itself on the CEO. But you have no idea how long that will take and in the meantime, the CEO remembers you as the one who couldn't work at an appropriate pace.

So is there no room for honesty? Some would say no. I would say to sow a seed for the day the CEO is ready. So don't draw conclusions or offer advice, or say any sentences that start with I. If you can, don't offer anything until you are asked. Some exit interviews will ask "is there someone here that you had particular trouble working with?" or "if you could have changed one thing about this job, what would it be and would that have been enough for you to stay?" Rarely do they ask "why are you leaving?" directly.

If you're not asked a specific question, just for "any advice or things you'd like us to know?" you really need to tread carefully. Perhaps "the work pace leading up to deadlines is not what it is in other firms" or "the process around scheduling here is unusual and I'm not sure it's the best it could be." A CEO who is interested and wants to make things better will ask more questions; one who has written you off already will thank you for sharing and move on to the next item on the exit interview checklist. By not saying anything super memorable before you know it will be well-received, you lower the chances of leaving a bad impression.

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Never give honest feedback in an exit interview, no good comes of it.

If they care about you, the quality of the work environment and employees in general you wouldn't be in the spot you're in now. Just go through the formalities and get on out of dodge

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    this is wildly overgeneral. I care about my staff and the work environment. I think I'm a pretty good boss. People have left the company anyway - for personal reasons like following a spouse, or because another firm offered a great opportunity. To suggest that the mere fact someone is leaving means nobody in the company cares is really over-reaching. – Kate Gregory May 22 '15 at 16:45
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    Not sure why they are down voting you, because this is honestly the truth. Exit interviews are designed to make the employee "fess up" as to why they are actually quitting and then use this as reasoning of not giving you a good reference or worse, trying to reason why you should stay and guilt trip you for leaving. OP you should just say that your experience was a blast, you enjoyed working for them, and move on. @Kate - it's not over general, this has been the case at nearly every company I've worked for, except for 1 which did not have an exit interview. – nanonano Jan 11 '16 at 15:30
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Although it is admirable to want to be honest, and attempt to help the company by providing constructive criticism, your fears are probably well-founded.

It is not in your best interest to say negative things when you leave, even if you have the best of intentions.

Focus on the positive -- say thank you for the opportunity to work there, and mention the good things that happened while you were employed.

If asked why you are leaving, simply say the other company made you an offer you couldn't pass up, and that you've already accepted the other position.

  • So long as he isn't selling out his references there isn't much to be worried about. Companies DO want honest feedback, that's why they do exit interviews. There are good and bad ways to present feedback though. Coming up with something like "the median salary for my position in this area is $x above my salary here" is just simple, pure facts that can't really be spun against you and may help them reevaluate how they value your former coworkers. – greggle138 May 22 '15 at 17:38
  • @greggle138 Your assumption is that all actors are rational. :) People can and do take comments the wrong way, and take offense where a reasonable person would not. I agree companies do want honest feedback, but that is not the OP's responsibility once the OP leaves the company. – mcknz May 22 '15 at 17:56
  • @greggle138 - not sure they do want honest feedback. Some want no more than the appearance of caring about staff that they think an exit interview process gives, while at the same time not caring about the staff or responses, – Kickstart Jan 6 '16 at 10:15

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