The Proper Way to Handle an Exit Interview
Career Growth

The Proper Way to Handle an Exit Interview

You’ve braved the job search process and survived the final two weeks of awkwardness after giving notice. But then an email lands in your inbox about scheduling your “exit interview.”

Exit Interview. No two words make me cringe quite as much, except perhaps when a waiter says, “We’re out” in regards to my dessert choice or “The End” scrolls across the screen signaling my favorite movie is over.

You’re familiar with the laundry list of details involved in preparing for a formal job interview. Answer prep and company research. Check. Professional ensemble. Check. Questions to ask the interviewer. Check. You’ve even read articles like “Everything You Need To Bring To an Interview” and “The Perfect Answers To Common Interview Questions” to ensure a smooth and efficient interview process.

But seriously, what is an exit interview? Take a deep breath because you’ve got this: exit interviews are just a less intimidating version of their big bad sister, the job interview. And whether you find yourself fighting the urge to scream “Later, suckers!” as you bound happily out the door or shedding tears just thinking about leaving this place you’ve called home, when done right, they can actually benefit you, your next endeavor, and your career. Follow these tips to breeze through that final meeting—and do it in style, too.

Phrases like “This place is a sinking ship” or “Everyone is incompetent” don’t help anyone, least of all yourself (remember: future references). 

DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE END

It can be tempting to spill your guts when you know that in T-minus 2 hours you will be rid of the dreaded company that seemingly ruined your life. No exit interview should feel this way. Speak up during your course of time at the company. There is nothing worse than letting hard feelings fester. People aren’t mind-readers. While it’s acceptable to offer some critical feedback during your exit interview, nothing should come as a shock to your interviewer.

DON’T DWELL ON THE NEGATIVE

An exit interview is not the time to say immature or rude things to your former employer. Phrases like “This place is a sinking ship” or “Everyone is incompetent” don’t help anyone, least of all yourself (remember: future references). Your duty as a soon-to-be-former employee is to try to focus on the positive aspects of the job. Maybe you thrived in the projects you completed but weren’t a fan of the culture, or perhaps the grueling hours made you want to scream, but you discovered what traits your dream job truly includes. Don’t let yourself be blinded by the bad experience—there's a good chance you learned something that will impact your future career. Include both aspects in the discussion—it proves you’re an insightful human being, which will leave a more lasting impression than an angry rant.

DO OFFER CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

Whether you loved your time here or hated it, there’s always room for improvement. {click to tweet} Just as you are expected to learn something from your time with the company, the company should be open to learning from you as well. Don’t be afraid to suggest a more organized way to store data or discuss a new strategy for team building efforts. The exit interview is in place to mend current issues and boost positive elements for future employees. How can you make the company better for your colleagues? What about your new replacement?

By including both the negatives and the positives in the discussion, you'll prove you’re an insightful human being—which will leave a more lasting impression than an angry rant.

DO REMAIN PROFESSIONAL

The person you’re speaking to is not your best friend (or your worst enemy). Remain professional. Suppress the eye rolls. The same rule applies when mentioning your boss or your coworkers. This isn’t the place to tattle on a fellow professional about that time they lied about being late for work nor to talk about how much you bonded with so-and-so singing T. Swift over $2 margaritas on Taco Tuesday. This is your moment to honestly share your professional views and conclude on a positive note. 

DO ASK FOR FEEDBACK

It can be challenging to ask for feedback no matter the circumstance. It's uncomfortable to be told what to work on and what you could do better. But this step is vital. You committed X amount of time to the company, and even if you weren’t passionate about it, we’ll bet you still put in your best effort. We are all here to learn and elevate our skills for our next steps in life, so take this opportunity to address a mistake you made or ask the questions you've always wanted to ask. This is your last chance to get honest feedback. It never hurts to know what you could work on to blow your next employer out of the water.  

+ A FINAL DAY CHEATSHEET

Don’t forget to finish all your work before the last day and be sure to tie up loose ends

Don’t get lazy

Do request references and resume review before your final day

Do talk to management about the best ways to stay in touch

Do send a handwritten thank you note (or bring one to your exit interview)

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Do you have any additional tips to share on how you’ve handled past exit interviews?