When you hand in your resignation, your HR department may request an ‘exit’ interview as part of the offboarding process.
From the company’s perspective, this meeting is an opportunity to understand firsthand why you have decided to leave the company, something that can be especially important if the business is experiencing a high level of staff turnover.
From an employee’s perspective, it can pay to approach an exit interview with care. Sure, you may be leaving the company anyway, but your personal brand is at stake, and it’s important to remain polite, professional – and considered, in what you say.
The way you respond to exit interview questions can leave a lasting impression, and potentially have an impact on your future career.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what not to say in an exit interview.
1. “My manager was a nightmare to work for.”
There are good reasons to resist the temptation to criticise your manager. You may be burning bridges, and harming your career prospects.
When you’re heading into an exit interview, chances are you have no immediate plans to return to the company.
But none of us know what the future holds. So-called ‘boomerang’ employees – people who leave a job but decide to come back a few years later, are on the rise. Data shows even 4.5% of new hires in 2021 were former employees, compared to 3.9% in 2019 .
Even if you don’t work for the same company again, you could cross paths with your current manager or a member of the HR team further down the track. You may even find they are part of a company that you’d like to work for in the near future.
Bear in mind also, that future employers are likely to contact your previous manager for a reference as part of their hiring process.
Thus, it is important to keep any comments regarding your manager general and positive, rather than levelling personal criticisms at your old boss.
2. “The pay is terrible.” / “I’m not being paid enough.”
Research by Robert Half found that 48% of employees want or would consider changing roles because their salary is too low. However, this doesn’t mean salary is something you should highlight at an exit interview.
Gripes about your income can suggest you were only in the job for the money. It can also imply that HR doesn’t have a good grasp of market salaries. In either case, complaining about your salary won’t reflect well on you.
On the flipside, you are under no obligation to disclose the salary and/or benefits you will be earning in a new role with a new employer.
3. “Let me tell you what’s wrong with this company…”
The time to discuss workplace concerns is while you’re employed, not when you’re about to leave a job.
While it can be tempting to vent during an exit interview, reeling off a list of personal grievances can make it seem as though you are the problem – rather than your boss, your co-workers or the company in general.
This will almost certainly ruin any prospects of being re-hired by the company at some future point.
4. “Everyone in my department wants to leave.”
Each employee is free to make their own decisions around whether to stay or leave. Speaking on behalf of others reflects poorly on you, especially if you betray the confidence of co-workers.
If you are asked why a high volume of employees are leaving, don’t gossip or speculate about how your former colleagues feel about the workplace. Instead, frame your response in a way that offers professional insights into company morale.
5. “It was impossible to do my job with such poor resources.”
Complaints about the printer regularly breaking down, your desk being placed in a high traffic area, or regular downtime on the IT network can make you come across as difficult and hard to please.
If you believe you were unable to function at your highest level through lack of resources, aim to offer constructive criticism on broader issues that could be impacting productivity across the organisation.
How to prepare for an exit interview
So far, we’ve looked at what not to say in an exit interview. To help you be confident of avoiding a slip-up, it’s worth taking a few steps before you meet with HR one last time:
Think about the sort of questions you’re likely to be asked, and plan your responses.
Aim to frame your answers in a diplomatic way that shows you have the company’s best interests at heart.
Keep it positive
Companies want to learn from departing employees. However, viewing the exit interview as an opportunity to air your grievances will only tarnish your personal brand, and potentially close the door on you working for the same company again.
Aim to keep your conversation polite and positive, and provide general feedback rather than targeting comments at individuals within the company.
Stick to the facts
HR teams tend to value constructive criticism.
But do stick to the facts.
Speculating on your coworkers’ views, using highly emotional language or making petty complaints based on personal opinion can see your comments disregarded by HR – or worse, leave your professional reputation in tatters.
Related: Tips for starting a new job
What not to say in an exit interview
The bottom line is that understanding what not to say in an exit interview may help you win points with a former employer rather than leaving on a bad note.
Maintaining a cool, collected approach, focusing on the positive and being mindful of your personal brand can turn a former employer into your best advocate who helps you achieve future career goals.