How to Make a Great Last Impression in Your Exit Interview
There are countless articles that offer advice to people looking for jobs, but not nearly as many that provide tips and insight on what to do when you're preparing to leave a job. Once you've put in your two weeks' notice, you'll likely spend most of that time dealing with things like training your successor, finishing any outstanding projects or assignments, or completing some final paperwork with your HR director or manager. But how you conduct yourself during those final weeks is incredibly important, however, because it will form the lasting impression many of your former colleagues have of you.
In many cases, the very last thing your employer will ask you to do is to participate in an exit interview. Exit interviews, if conducted effectively, can prove to be a vital tool for managers to use in order to understand how their employees perceive their organization. For many departing employees, successfully navigating an exit interview is equivalent to navigating through a field full of landmines. Should you be totally truthful about your experience, or just do your best to smile through it? To help you ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward during an exit interview, we've compiled some tips on how to use this last interview to your advantage.
Keep it positive
When a person leaves a company, there will likely be some negative feelings and criticisms associated with the decision to leave. A point to be mindful of during your exit interview is to try and list some positive feedback for your HR representative or personnel conducting the exit interview. No matter how awful your experience might have been while working at a company, there are always at least one or two things that you've taken away from the work experience that you can mention as a highlight. Perhaps you learned a thing or two on professionalism and workplace conduct while at the company. Or maybe you picked up a new skill during your time there. Maybe you made some good contacts or friends during your stay at the company. Whatever it might be, try to think of at least some positive points to mention during the exit interview. This will provide HR with something to list as an asset of the company while also ensuring your last impression with a company is a positive one.
Always speak professionally
When you mention any criticisms about the job, workplace, colleagues, executives, supervisors, etc., be sure to speak of them with professional courtesy and for a specific reason. Never use profanity, racial slurs or gender discriminating remarks. This type of language will not only put you in a bad light with the person conducting exit interviews, but also with others who might hear about it once the exit interview is over. Although the content received during exit interviews is usually not widely shared, ultimately, you can never know for sure exactly who might hear about what you said.
Another thing to be mindful of is not blatantly speaking ill of soon-to-be former colleagues, supervisors or others who work at the company. When you openly air your grievances without filtering or holding back any negative comments, you might hurt your chances of retaining relationships or contacts for the future. Don’t give into the temptation to simply “go off” on colleagues and the company – the professional relationships you have developed with those people are far too valuable. You never know when you may need to rely on those you've once worked with for a reference or future introduction.
Mention any highlights
If you were truly passionate about the work you did for your former employer, or if there was project you worked on that gave you a great sense of pride, or even if there was a particular co-worker or experience that made your time there enjoyable, make sure to mention it during your exit interview. The person conducting the interview, as well as anyone you mention, will greatly appreciate these comments.
Offer some constructive criticism or suggestions
Providing constructive criticism is different from rattling off a list of grievances. An exit interview is the perfect time to offer constructive criticism or suggestions you feel your previous employer could easily implement or might improve the overall success of the company. Just make sure you’re doing so professionally and with courtesy. Make sure to cite specific situations, and provide details about what occurred, how it went wrong, and what could have or should have been done to prevent any negative outcomes.
Here's a good rule of thumb to use when determining whether you should bring something up in an exit interview:
Before bringing up any criticisms or suggestions during your exit interview, ask yourself: “How will mentioning this help the company, supervisors or employees here?” If you have a clear answer, go for it! If not, save your breath. You'll be out of there in no time, so just hang in there.
If you’ve got an exit interview coming up, the best thing to do is to treat it like a regular interview. Even though you’re moving on, take this opportunity to ensure that you’re leaving your employer with the best possible image of yourself. Keeping your answers positive, speaking professionally of your former colleagues, mentioning career highlights and offering only constructive criticism during your exit interview are surefire ways to make a great last impression.