When you leave a job, it's customary for the company to ask you for an exit interview. If you haven't had the opportunity to participate in one of these interviews, trust me when I say that they are tricky at best. Basically, the goal of an exit interview is to give the Human Resources department the chance to find out why you are leaving and ask you a few questions about your time working for the company.
If you're leaving a job that you really hate, or even one that you disliked a great deal, it can be tempting to go into an exit interview a tell the interviewer about all the things you disliked about the job. Let them know how much you hate the boss, how your co-workers are uptight snobs and be sure that they are aware of every grievance you've ever had.
The flip side of that is the knowledge that even if you vented all of your frustration, you might be viewed as an unprofessional cry-baby and ruin you chances at getting a decent reference later on. In addition, you're complaints could make things worse for the employees who stay with the company. Depending on the situation, it might not be a wise idea to alienate your ex-co-workers and make enemies.
So, should you just smile and lie? It depends.
In order to decide how to proceed with the exit interview, you have to first ask yourself a few questions:
What's the real reason you're leaving - Put aside all of the things that make you unhappy about your job. The petty disagreements and any conflict you might have had in the past with a boss or with corporate policy. Then, think really hard about the real reason you are leaving. If you have been offered a job that will give you more opportunities and pays better, then feel free to share that information during your exit interview. When you get down to the real reason for leaving, you'll have things that you can share during the interview that could actually be helpful to the company. For example, if many people have left the company stating a desire to have more creative control, chances for advancement, better benefits or the like, the company will have the data it needs to consider changing their policy. If, however, the real reason you are leaving is because your boss is a jerk and you can't take it another day, you might just want to say that you are leaving for personal reasons and leave it at that. It's completely normal to want to give them a piece of your mind before you leave, but most of the time, it's better to not burn bridges.
Do you care about the job reference or the connections you've made - It's really sad when this happens, but sometimes the job isn't very important. If you don't need the reference or the connections, you might feel justified in setting those bridges on fire just to watch them burn. The problem is, it's not very effective. If you have a legitimate complaint and really want to make the point clear, in hopes that the company will make changes, there are better ways to do it than complaining during your exit interview. If you get angry and dump all of your frustration on the exit interviewer, you'll most likely be written off as someone who was just unhappy, rather than making any real difference.
Always ask questions - Although the primary purpose of an exit interview is to have a formal record of why you are leaving, it's also a good time to find out what happens next. Use the interview time to ask questions and find out who gets the data from your exit interview and whether you should submit any feedback in writing. Also, be sure to ask questions about your final paycheck, when your benefits are set to expire and any other questions you have about the process of leaving your job. At this point, ask about collecting your belongings and you can even ask who you should contact at the company if you have any questions or problems after your last day.
Be professional - After your exit interview, move on with class. Whether you decided to tell the exit interviewer know about everything you hated about the job or you simply said that you were leaving for personal reasons, try to leave yourself in a position to walk out with your head held high. Handle leaving a job with as much grace and professionalism as you can muster. Even if your job performance wasn't that great or you had lots of conflict during your employment, leaving your job with class will give your office a great leaving impression of you. Making a huge scene is embarrassing to the office, to yourself and a couple years later, it will be the thing everyone remembers about you.
How do you handle exit interviews? Do you smile and lie or be completely honest? Please share your thoughts in the comments.