When you quit a job, there’s a good chance HR will ask you to partake in an exit interview.
People tend to have mixed feelings about these conversations. Some say an exit interview is the ideal opportunity to be completely honest about your experiences with your employer and offer them critical and constructive feedback; while others argue it’s awkward and not worth the risk of burning bridges, as your criticism probably won’t inspire any significant changes, anyway.
But regardless of your attitude toward the exit interview, it’s imperative that you be cordial and professional.
“This could be the last impression you’ll leave your employer with,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work.” “And don’t think this conversation doesn’t matter since you’re leaving anyway. People talk. It’s your reputation and your personal brand on the line. And those will travel with you wherever you go.”
You also never know when you’ll work for that HR manager or boss again. “I can’t tell you how many boomerang stories I’ve heard where employees return back to their former employer after a year or two, or even wind up working with those colleagues elsewhere,” Kerr says. “No matter how certain you are you won’t return or come in contact with these people again, never burn bridges.”
Here are 18 phrases you should avoid in every exit interview:
“I never really liked [coworker],” or, “[Name] was never very nice to me.”
Don’t get personal. “Attacking certain managers or employees will only reflect poorly on you, and make you come across as bitter or vengeful,” Kerr says. “It’s ok to discuss some behaviours that you feel had an impact on your decision to leave, but resorting to name calling or character assassination will never get you far and will only make it look like you were the difficult person to get along with.”
“My boss was the worst because…”
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” says you must remember that just because you’re not speaking directly with your boss, doesn’t mean you should lose your cool or make any last-minute snarky comments. “By being too honest about your manager you can shoot yourself in the foot if you ever want to return to the company, or expect a good reference from that boss,” she says. “Remember to keep your comments general, concise, and make them overall positive.”
“This place is a sinking ship.”
“Why do people feel compelled to make remaining employees feel badly just because you are moving on? I don’t get it. But stop it,” says Dana Manciagli, a career expert and author of “Cut the Crap, Get a Job!“
Kerr agrees. “Never wish them poor by saying things like, ‘I hope this company dies a slow, painful death.’ If you are leaving on bad terms you may feel this deep inside, but using your outside voice to express this is a big no-no that will only serve to make you look petty and spiteful, and it will will say more about you than it does about the company.”
“I heard [name] did [xyz],” or, “[Name] was actually the one responsible for that error.”
Don’t gossip, and definitely don’t throw your colleagues under the bus. It’s unprofessional and unkind.
“I was really amazing at this job,” or, “Good luck running this business without me.”
Don’t gloat about how fabulous you were, thus implying that it’s a huge loss on their part, Kerr says. The time to boast a bit may have been on the way in, not on the way out. “It’s fair to say that you felt like your talents weren’t being used fully and to offer examples, but it’s not wise to tell them you were the greatest thing since sliced bread and they’re going to be sorry after you’re gone.”
Now’s not the time to be curt, non-responsive or offer a terse, “no comment.” “Being evasive or tight lipped will only make it seem as though you are hiding something and not cooperating with the process,” Kerr explains.
“This company’s pay is not market-competitive,” or, “I’m leaving because I was offered a lot more money elsewhere.”
Don’t make it about money. “A statement about your compensation, even though it may be true, will be perceived as a negative slam against the company in your future career endeavours,” Taylor says.
Manciagli agrees: “Unless you have done a statistically sound market study, then you do not know if your pay was market-competitive.”
“I never really liked where I sat,” or, “The printers never worked.”
Don’t focus on trivial matters, Kerr says. “Focusing on minor, trivial items will make you appear high maintenance and be viewed as wasting everyone time. Instead, offer constructive ideas on larger systemic issues that you feel might have a serious and lasting impact on the culture.”
“This is the worst company I have ever worked for.”
“You’re basically nailing the coffin shut on any opportunity to return to that company, or have the company be a positive reference,” Manciagli says. “There is no upside to bashing the company you are exiting. None.”
Taylor says your time to try to change things and communicate any issues you had was during your employment, not as you leave.
“My new job/company is amazing.”
“Don’t minimize your former employer by bragging about how you’re moving onto much bigger and better things,” Kerr advises. “It’s great to be positive about the future and show enthusiasm, but don’t do it in such a way that comes across as a backhanded compliment.”
“I think [name] is really unhappy here,” or, “Nobody is happy here.”
Don’t speak for others. “This can hurt you in the eyes of people who may have shared confidences with you,” Kerr says. “Just make this about your story, no one else’s.”
Also, don’t try to suggest the ship is going down with you. “Even if it’s true, your coworkers won’t appreciate it, and you’re not their spokesperson,” Taylor says. “If they’re about to jump ship, that will be their task.”
“I’d never work here again”
“If it was so miserable for you while you were earning a paycheck and benefits, then why did you stay?” Manciagli asks. “Every employee has choices to make. I don’t see bars on the windows and doors or your feet chained to the floor. Yet now, because you are on your way out, you disclose it was that bad. A little dramatic for my taste and makes you look totally unaccountable for your own career.”
Plus, remember that your last day is rarely the last affiliation you’ll have with your employer.
Kerr says it may be difficult to find the right balance between being honest and cordial, especially if you’ve got any pent up anger or frustrations — but he says if you frame your opinions in such a way “that you are first and foremost thinking about what’s best for the company, you’ll have a far greater chance of having a real impact and leaving a more positive impression.”
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