Exit Interviews – How honest is too honest?

Ange Connor

If you’ve ever had to complete an exit interview you’ll be able to relate to the feeling of how much should you say? How honest should you be? And what will they do with your feedback anyway?

Some organisations are big on exit interviews and others don’t bother with them at all. The purpose of your exit interview is for the employer to gather feedback and use the feedback on why you are moving on to improve the organisation. Whether your employer does anything with that feedback is another matter.

However, if you do get asked to complete an exit interview upon resigning from your job there are a few things you probably want to consider before you jump in and share your thoughts and opinions with your former employer.

What should you consider?

Preparation is key

Just like you would invest the time preparing for a job interview, the same goes for an exit interview. Regardless of if you have an exit interview form to fill in or you are meeting with someone who is going to ask the questions and gather your feedback you want to be prepared and have a plan of what feedback you intend to provide. Without any preparation, chances are you will only remember the negative things that have happened in recent times. On the spur of the moment you won’t remember the positive things that happened during your employment, or the good experiences and learnings you’ve had.

A little bit of balance is good

Have you ever had a friend or colleague who was a glass half empty kind of person? No matter what, they see the negative in everything. If you’ve experienced someone like this you’ll know how demotivating and draining they can be. You definitely don’t want to come across as this kind of person at your exit interview. Regardless of your motivations for resigning from your employer you want to make sure that you provide balanced feedback. While you might think things were pretty ordinary towards the end of your employment, at some stage there has to be something the organisation did well; even if it was in the early days of your employment. Think of the experiences you have been exposed to, to make you a better person, or a more skilled person. Don’t simply focus on the negatives or what frustrated you. Balanced feedback shows you can be objective and by providing balanced feedback there is a greater chance the employer will actually value your feedback and do something with it. If you are overly negative its more likely that they’ll dismiss your feedback as being unrealistic, unfairly emotionally charged and irrelevant.

Don’t vent – Stick to the facts and provide context

If you’ve completed a career coaching session with me you’ll know I talk about context a lot! Context in a job interview is no different to context in an exit interview. It’s crucial that you paint the picture. Let me give you an example. If you tell me at an exit interview that “communication in my department was poor” it doesn’t really mean much to me. I’m left wondering well what does that really mean or what did that look like in your department. However if you say to me “communication in my department was poor; my manager kept his door closed and the only form of communication we had was a quarterly department meeting. This resulted in double up of work, lack of clarity in who was doing what and caused us to frequently miss deadline ABC” – that’s a completely different scenario. With this kind of context I end up with a different picture in my mind of your work environment. Context is crucial. Venting is definitely not appropriate. An exit interview is not a venting or bitching session. If you take this approach it will do you no favours and will destroy your credibility. Keep the discussions business like, you want to remove the emotion, provide the facts and provide examples.

It’s your reputation on the line

How you handle the exit interview is likely to be how you will be remembered by the organisation. You might have a stellar performance record but if you don’t handle the exit interview appropriately this is how you’ll be remembered. Just like first impressions; last impressions count too! In a regional city like Ballarat you just never know who might end up where or you never want to close the door on future relationships with individuals or organisations. Hence it’s worth in the preparation stage, putting the shoe on the other foot. If you were conducting the exit interview and were delivered the feedback you are planning on providing what would you think, how would the feedback be interpreted and what lasting impression would it leave? It’s your reputation that is on the line, never completely close the door on an organisation because you just never know where your career might lead you.

When it comes to exit interviews you want to be honest. Providing positively fake exit interview feedback is also not going to do you any favours. Honesty is the best policy; just make sure you balance it with context, prepare your feedback delivery and don’t be jaded by your most recent memories; make sure you reflect on the entire period of your employment.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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