15

I already know not to say anything of substance in an exit interview. My question is - how do I do that effectively?

My impression is that most exit interviews are conducted by HR staff that don't really care that much and are just filling out a checklist. However, I work (for the moment) at a small startup. There isn't even a single HR employee. My exit interview will be conducted by my manager and the CTO. I think that they have pretty good BS detectors, and I think that they could connect the dots and realize that I was unhappy - it's not just that I have a great new offer, I went and found one for a reason (that I don't want to share).

What strategies are there for approaching this? I had a similar situation in the past, and my manager seemed skeptical that there was truly nothing wrong with my experience at the company.

  • 2
    You really shouldn't give a damn about this interview, there's nothing for you to worry about since there is nothing for you to lose, other than reputation if you try to start pointing fingers. Keep it simple as pointed out in the answers. – Jonast92 Dec 14 '16 at 12:59
  • @Jonast92 What about the ability to come back or use the company as a reference down the road? Never say never.... This is so easy to handle its not worth it to not pay attention to it or at least act as though you care. – Mister Positive Dec 14 '16 at 13:47
  • Of course you should imply that you care, but don't get into details, it won't help you. Stick to simple things as pointed out in the answers. Worrying about this interview is pointless :) – Jonast92 Dec 14 '16 at 13:57
  • Decide ahead of time (before you go in) what you will say and what you don't want to say. For example, the reason you said you don't want to share. Don't let that slip out if you decided ahead of time not to mention it. – Brandin Dec 14 '16 at 13:57
  • 2
    You are assuming it's a problem they see your BS. It is not. We easily forget the answer: "I'd rather not comment on that" is a perfectly reasonnable answer to any question. – François Gautier Dec 16 '16 at 16:46
27

Use the same strategy as breaking up a romantic relationship: "It's not you, it's me." And make it value-neutral.

"I looked for and got a new job because I wanted a change. It's not that you're doing something wrong here, it's just that I want to do something else."

7

Offering a counter view: Not all exit interviews are bad and "say nothing" isn't the only strategy. If you have a good and trusting relationship with your current management and if there is a genuine desire from management to learn and get better, it's okay to open up and share some of the reasons. Obviously that should be done delicately, but it can be quite helpful. Once the CEO asked me to write up all the reason for me leaving and to share them with the two senior VPs of this department. Since I trusted the management team and felt this may be a good learning experience, I did. They still threw me a nice good-bye party, bought me lots of beer and we parted as friends.

  • 5
    If your CEO/VPs cared so much for your opinion, it is strange they waited until you had one foot out the door to solicit it. One might think that asking a current employee how to improve conditions might be more fruitful. – BryanH Dec 14 '16 at 22:38
  • @BryanH People learn... They may have realized that later. Or not. – Jan Doggen Dec 20 '16 at 12:43
  • The exit interview really is not the place for giving honest feedback. If you really had a good and trusting relationship with management, they would already know why you are leaving and could fill out the exit interview sheet without you. At this point, there is nothing to say anymore. – daraos Jan 4 '17 at 18:42
  • Daraos- I disagree. I always encourage leavers to give me the real reasons, so I can actually do something about them. I also give my reasons when I leave a role. It's an opportunity for the employer to learn. Why wouldn't you use it? – Rory Alsop Jan 5 '17 at 8:12
6

Make yourself a little set phrase. It might be

I am leaving for my own reasons and I don't have anything useful to share about [what you just asked me].

or

I'd really rather not provide those opinions at the moment.

or

That's not a topic I am comfortable discussing with you.

Then simply trot that out in reply to EVERY question. They'll catch on. Think

I'm just here so I don't get fined

It may feel weird at first, but it will meet your needs. You're leaving, so weird is not your problem, right?

3

how do I do that effectively?

It's perfectly reasonable for you to ask this, since generally when communicating we are concerned with making sure our message is both received accurately and believed. However, this situation is different. You don't care if your message is received accurately, or believed.

So:

Boss Conducting Exit Interview: "Was there anything wrong with your experience at the company?"

Departing Employee: "No"

BCEI: gives a look that says "I don't believe you"

DE: gives a look that says "What do I care?"


Oh, and "I think that they could connect the dots" - even the most expert dot-connector will struggle when there are no dots.

  • Vague + noncommittal = perfect! – BryanH Dec 14 '16 at 22:39
1

This can be tricky, as you do not want to burn any bridges ( never say never ) and you probably need them as a positive reference in the future.

I would say to "Say a lot of nothing".

  1. This place has a great culture.
  2. This opportunity came to me, I was not actively looking when the recruiter called.
  3. My manager is great to work with, seems to really care about the team.
  4. I really like my team-mates, etc..
  5. This is such a good opportunity for me go grow that I could not pass it up.

Notice I am not mentioning anything regarding the company, the boss, or my team.

Long and short of this is I would not keep saying the same one liner, or anything to "robotic", I would just talk with the exit interviewer and say a whole lot of nothing. Just have a general relaxed conversation.

  • 1
    Most (US) corporations, in fear of litigation, will only commit to verifying dates of employment, but never reasons for it ending or quality of work. – BryanH Dec 14 '16 at 22:40
  • @BryanH that is true, but they can record your feedback in the exit interview and potentially either not hire you back or not provide a good reference. And I should add most companies can answer the question "Would you rehire this person?". – Mister Positive Dec 14 '16 at 22:51
1

Be Positive, and Focus on Strengths.

In addition to the other answers here, another valuable strategy is to focus on the positive aspects of your answers.

Focus on the positive. If they ask you about the company culture, perhaps there are things that didn't resonate with you, yet there are likely to still be positives. Focus on those. Imagine that you were a salesman, trying to sell this position: what would be the best selling points? Focus on what they're doing right, and encourage them further along that path.

Realize that no values are in black and white. Everyone's mind works in different ways, and everybody reacts to situations differently. Perhaps you feel an environment is too stifling, but others may thrive in a more structured environment. Perhaps you feel the environment is too loud and noisy, but others might thrive in a more 'collaborative' environment. Simply identifying what currently exists in the company, and focusing on the types of people that would benefit from that environment would be most helpful.

protected by Chris E Dec 20 '16 at 17:24

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