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The Ins and Outs of Exit Interviews

How to Exit Like a Pro and Keep Good References

The Ins and Outs of Exit Interviews

By Susan Johnston

Exit interviews are one of the last items on your to-do list as you leave a job. Though you might be itching to just finish the job already and say sayonara to a micromanager or a position you've outgrown, human resources managers appreciate it when employees take the time to give a thorough and thoughtful exit interview.

Here's how to handle an exit interview and leave on a positive note.

Ask for Anonymity

You'll feel more comfortable discussing management styles or communication issues if you know that your interviewer will not mention your name when sharing feedback with management. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) considers anonymous exit interviews a best practice, because it ensures honest, open communication.

"If I were the employee, I would ask and make sure you like the answer before you give out comments," Deb Keary, director of human resources at SHRM.

Hannah Seligson, author of New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches, says that unless you have it in writing that what you say at an exit interview is confidential, assume that it is not. "Don't just assume things will be kept confidential," she says. "Put it in writing."

Anticipate the Important Questions

Chances are you will be asked why you are leaving and what (if anything) would have persuaded you to stay. "They want a candid answer," Keary says. "HR hates turnover, and they hate to lose good people. You should anticipate and give an honest answer."

Keary adds that employees leave for any number of reasons: They were offered more money or more career growth, they wanted to change industries, or simply needed a new environment. You probably already know your reason, so think of a diplomatic way to explain it without pointing fingers.

Offer Constructive Solutions

Maybe you didn't work well with your manager or took the fall for an error that wasn't your fault. "If blame was misappropriated to you because of leadership or communication issues, an exit interview can be a good time to clear that up," notes Seligson. "However, make sure it doesn't sound like you are pointing fingers, or that could come off sounding too victimized."

HR departments appreciate recommendations instead of rants. "I hope you're not leaving angry, but if you are, it's better to talk in generalities," Keary says. "For instance, 'My department's management could use some guidance in interpersonal relations.' They can't do much with 'So-and-so is a witch.' Offer suggestions to help. I'd be in the recommending mode rather than the taking-it-out-on-HR mode."

When HR departments hear the same comments about certain departments, they get the gist without you spelling it out. And by taking the high road instead of bad-mouthing a boss or coworker, you'll be better positioned for a reference later on.

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