Exit, Gracefully

Dear DW,
I’m leaving my job soon and have to do an exit interview. How honest should I be?
Signed, On the Move
Dear On the Move,
It’s a good idea to be straightforward—but you should also be judicious, in both what you say and how you say it.
Too many people approach exit interviews as a place to vent about the reasons they’re leaving. And the top reason people give for changing jobs is trouble with their boss.
“One would hope the exit interviewer wouldn’t run back to that boss and say, ‘You have a problem,’” says Lisa Orndorff of the Society for Human Resources Management. But company practices vary; it’s quite possible that any complaints you have about your supervisor or co-workers will get back to them, with you as the source. You never know when you might need to draw on your connections from that company, so it’s best to look forward and not burn any bridges.
By all means, talk about the reasons you’re leaving, but do so in a professional way. Remember that you’re under no obligation to talk about anything you don’t want to.
And it’s certainly okay to ask beforehand what will be done with the information. That can help you assess how open you want to be.
Take a little time to prepare your talking points, particularly if your tenure at the company was rocky, or if it’s likely to be hard for you to discuss some aspects of your time there. The interview will be more worthwhile if you can find things to say that might be useful, such as concerns that salaries aren’t keeping up with the market, or that employees aren’t getting the training they need. And for you, reviewing the ups and downs of the job you’re leaving can free you to focus on what you want from your next position.

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