Here's Why You Should Say No to an Exit Interview
Are Exit Interviews Required?
You're leaving your current employer, and your Human Resources (HR) department requests an exit interview on your way out of the door. That doesn't mean you have to agree. Here's what an exit interview is, its real purpose, and why it's generally not a good idea to accept that invitation.
Now that you have announced your plans to leave—because you've resigned, are retiring, or have even been laid off—HR may seek your candid feedback about the organization. They're also soliciting suggestions for change. An exit interview is a request (not an order) for help in understanding why you're leaving before too many others follow in your footsteps.
Topics Frequently Covered in Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are information-gathering exercises that seem harmless enough. Typical questions include your:
- reason(s) for leaving
- new job and level of pay
- ideas for building a better workplace and
- opinions about whether you had the resources to do your current job.
Your interviewer will also probably solicit your evaluation of
- the company's top leadership and strategy
- your supervisor
- your work group and the organizational culture
- pay and benefits
- training and development and
- work-life balance.
You may feel honored that HR asks your opinion, but before you make a mistake by agreeing to that exit interview, take a moment to consider your company's true motives and the risks involved with participating.
Reasons Not to Do an Exit Interview
Alleged Benefits of Saying Yes to the Exit Interview
... But Here's the Flipside
Fosters goodwill so you can keep the door open in case you want to return to the company later as a "boomerang" employee.
Exiting employees frequently overshare during exit interviews. Or, what they say is perceived the wrong way.
You can provide helpful suggestions on how to improve the workplace.
Why? You're leaving. If the company truly wanted to know, they would ask those who are currently employed then take action based on the results.
Keeps relationships positive with professionals you may see later in your career.
Declining an exit interview isn't rare. Unless you make a jerk of yourself, they're likely to either not recall it or not hold it against you.
Allows you to reach closure regarding leaving.
An exit interview is not therapy. Often, it's not confidential either, regardless of well-intentioned assurances from HR. And again, employees frequently vent and cause damage to themselves.
You can be candid without fear of retribution because you're leaving.
Hold on there. That candor can burn a bridge faster than gasoline and a bucket full of dynamite. You may need a reference or run into these folks again somehow. Besides, most exit interview feedback is simply given a cursory glance and never produces actual change. You just wasted your time and a lot more.
Why Companies Conduct Exit Interviews
HR is listening! They're asking you questions and writing down your profound answers. The floor is yours! As you leave, you may be tempted to unload about that incompetent, micromanaging boss, those lazy coworkers who waste work time on social media, and those unbearable corporate policies.
However, before you go shooting yourself in the foot, stop to consider why companies conduct exit interviews. There's a stark contrast between the stated reasons that companies perform exit interviews and the real motives behind them.
Doe-eyed neophytes may profess that agreeing to an exit interview builds goodwill between you and the company, that you'll help improve the workplace with your insights and suggestions, the exit interview process will give you closure on leaving, and as an exiting employee you finally have the freedom to be candid.
Should You Tell the Truth in an Exit Interview?
Oh, no, no. That is simply naive and wishful thinking. In practice, what the exit interview chiefly seeks to determine is your intent to sue the company. That's why a good HR representative
- asks the exiting employee whether they have any compliance issues to report and
- requests that they review then sign the interview notes.
Some workers do indeed wait until they leave the company to report harassment or some other major policy issue. Although it's a case of better late than never, waiting until an exit interview to report an egregrious problem raises eyebrows regarding potential credibility even as HR is legally compelled to investigate it.
If you make such a major revelation, expect your exit interview to be used by the company in defending itself against your claim. Beyond this type of disclosure, exit interviews often receive just a cursory glance (and perhaps distribution to others in the organization) before being filed away.
Thus, employees who are providing feedback about cranky supervisors, poor work-life balance, and lack of training and development are speaking into a black hole. True organizational change rarely comes from this ineffective HR process, and you've just wasted your time and emotional energy. Besides, if you're like many exiting employees, you probably overshared candid opinions on a variety of subjects and in so doing burned at least one bridge.
The Downsides of Exit Interviews
Exit interviews often degenerate into at least mild venting sessions even for employees who don't intend for the session to go that way. Remember that HR documents and shares your verbal diarrhea. This is regardless of any well-intentioned assurances about confidentiality or only sharing the information on a "need to know" basis. (The more you "dish," the more there's a need for others to know!)
As a result of your oversharing, you risk tarnishing your professional reputation on your way out as others inevitably learn of your criticisms about them and the company. Sure, you may not need supervisors or coworkers now as references for your new job, but what about the job after that? Will you see them again in your professional life, perhaps in a new capacity? (Good luck mending those relationships!)
Also, consider that a copy of your exit interview will go in your personnel file which is kept for many years after you leave. Although in today's litigious climate, companies often verify employment by just checking dates of employment, job title, and salary, sometimes they do ask questions such as "Would you rehire?" A lengthy exit interview detailing problems with supervisors and coworkers can certainly be perceived as evidence of an attitude problem or trouble getting along with others.
Finally, don't forget that your employer already had ample opportunity to ask you about your feedback before you decided to leave. Why open yourself up to these risks now, particularly with no clear benefit? You don't owe anyone this exit interview. If the organization truly cares about what employees think and feel, it will solicit feedback from those who are staying, then take decisive action based on results.
How to Decline an Exit Interview
Don't let anyone tell you that exit interviews are mandatory. Unless you have a specific contractual agreement requiring participation, you can decline. (Ask to see a copy.) However, you need to decline professionally and with finesse.
The best case scenario is avoiding the exit interview altogether. Be polite and choose an option that fits you and your situation the best. Here are some ideas:
- Say that you're slammed with saying your goodbyes, completing a key deliverable or tasks, transitioning work to coworkers, training a replacement, and packing up your workspace. You don't know how all this will get done and you're so sorry but you cannot squeeze this in right now.
- Say that you've shared all the feedback and ideas you have for the organization and can't think of anything more you have to offer. But thanks anyway for the invitation!
- Say that you appreciate them reaching out to you, but in the time that you have left you prefer to focus on looking forward rather than backwards. You sure hope they understand.
Be brief. Don't defend or explain further. Use uncomfortable silence if you need to. Repeat your key phrase if you're not being heard. And be sure to say these things with such sticky sweet sincerity that even you almost believe it.
If You Still Feel Compelled to Do an Exit Interview
I hate offering these choices because you really should decline. However, if the desire to be "nice" has overwhelmed you and you feel compelled to participate in this useless and potentially harmful exercise, minimize your risk with these options:
- Ask your interviewer to email you their exit interview form because you are so incredibly busy tying up loose ends. Say that you'll return it to them with your written answers. (At least this gives you an opportunity to think twice about the impact of your responses.)
- Request to schedule the exit interview via phone for a date after you leave. You may or may not get around to returning that call, however, because your new job will have you so busy. You'll also have a more detached, balanced perspective then.
- Give in and attend the exit interview, but offer vague platitudes.
- "I'm not sure. I haven't given much thought much about that."
- "This role isn't the best fit for me right now."
- "I just feel like my work here at this company is done."
- "I wanted to explore other opportunities."
- "I don't feel comfortable divulging my new pay rate. That's private information."
Be calm and professional in your demeanor, and refuse to get sucked in to negativity. Imagine the people you're talking about—executives, coworkers, and supervisors—sitting there listening to your feedback. Burning bridges or even telling white lies doesn't help anyone.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to participate in an exit interview is yours alone, so carefully consider whether you want to invest the time, emotional energy and risk. As you waltz for the door, strive to keep your dignity and reputation in tact. Your new chapter awaits!
What is your approach to exit interviews?
Have You Ever Refused to Do an Exit Interview?
Share Your Experience in the Comments Section Below.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
My former employer has sent me 4 emails requesting that I complete an exit interview. I left the job 2 months ago. He did not receive my resignation well. He raised his voice and hung up on me on a different occasion. How do I get rid of this guy?
I'm assuming, of course, that you don't owe your employer anything, such as unreturned property or company files. His behavior sheds ample light on what probably motivated you to quit. More than three requests for an exit interview is more than "reminding" someone. It's verbal harassment in my book.
Don't be tempted to sink down to his level with raising your voice and other heavy handed behavior. He does not control you anymore, and it's driving him crazy.
You don't owe him an explanation for choosing another employer. You don't owe him any further communication now that you're gone. You can SPAM the email address and screen calls. You can report him to higher management via a certified written letter stating that the contact is unwanted and that you're hereby requesting that the company immediately cease and desist (i.e., stop it now).
If the harassment persists, contact a lawyer regarding a cease and desist letter or the police regarding harassment. Keep a copy of all emails and a log of his phone calls in case you need them. You don't have to put up with his behavior. I bet you're glad you're gone!Helpful 9
Is it legal for leadership to take part in the exit interview?
While it's legal, yes, it certainly doesn't encourage healthy criticism, especially if they are part of why you left. This is another reason why you should say no to an exit interview -- you cannot control the structure of the exit interview, the questions asked, who attends or conducts the interview, or what they do with the information.Helpful 8
Several of my subordinates have recently resigned, and my employer is using information obtained from them to take disciplinary action against me. What are my rights?
Multiple former employees have apparently raised a concern about either your general management style or an alleged violation of a company policy. HR has likely investigated the matter, including talking to you and other relevant parties and gathering additional data such as your performance reviews, prior complaints against you, the history of turnover on your staff, etc.
Based on HR's investigation, the company may determine that corrective action is necessary (i.e., discipline up to and including discharge, performance coaching, job change). The fact that the complaint(s) came from employees who are no longer with the company does not negate the allegations. Investigative complaints commonly come from not just current employees but also customers, vendors, family members, ex-employees, and sometimes anonymous parties. If there are multiple people saying the same thing that makes allegations more credible unless they have a motive to hurt you.
As far as your rights are concerned, you can ask whether there is/was an investigation and what has been specifically alleged against you, but HR does not have to disclose it. It's not a court of law but rather a company's process. Therefore, your best bet is to tell your side to decision makers, listen to the feedback, and not even think about retaliating because that could make it so much worse.Helpful 6
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