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May 27, 2005

Treat Your Exit Interview Like Your Hiring Interview

I'm friends with a former coworker who's still working for the same company, and soon she may get laid off. She's been unhappy there for a while, so she's not too upset about it. When I ran into this article about what to say in an exit interview, I sent it to her right away.

I had a lengthy exit interview when I left said company. The head of HR told me at the beginning to be careful what I said, because I didn't want to burn any bridges. So as tempting as it was to open up and really vent, I kept my criticisms confined to the company as a whole, not specific individuals, and made it clear that my leaving was for an amazing opportunity and was not a condemnation of the company. To this day, I get great references from the organization.

When you're really unhappy in a job and finally able to escape, it's tempting to use the exit interview as a forum to read off the laundry list of complaints you've been carrying around in your head about your company, job, or even boss and coworkers. But though you've got one foot out the door, you still want to watch what you say. When you had your initial interview with this company, would you tell them you wanted to leave your current employer because you hated your boss? Of course not. So why would you say that when you still work for said boss (although not for much longer)?

True, companies use exit interviews to gauge trends about why workers are leaving, and they do want to hear some of the bad and ugly. But remember that whatever you say will officially be attached to your name forever and may tick off your soon-to-be-former manager, who you might want to use as a reference. Try to keep it general, be constructive in your criticism to help your coworkers left behind and save the serious venting for your friends and family. You never know when you may have to walk over that bridge again -- and you don't want it burned to a crisp.

These articles offer more advice on how to handle yourself when it's time to part ways with an employer:

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Posted by Christine on May 27, 2005 at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack (1)


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» Resigning with Grace from Blue Sky Resumes Blog
Normally, I write about looking for a job, but this week I ran across a great post on Monster about leaving your job gracefully. As they point out: When you're really unhappy in a job and finally able to escape,... [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2005 3:45:11 PM


Reading this story, I feel dejavu. But in my case I left on good terms and my boss is unwilling to give me a reference because I left before finding another job. But when I found something she was unwilling to give a reference eventhough I have worked for her over 2 years with little to no conflict. My biggest problem in this position is that she was unwilling to promote me to senior accountant after 4 years of service. So burning bridges may not always come from the exit interview but just pure vengance in the behalf of former supervisors. As a result, I now use former co-workers as points of reference.

Posted by: BIJuan | May 28, 2005 10:57:12 PM

If your boss really is that terrible, chances are he's already heard your complaints in a previous confrontation. I agree that the exit interview is a time to be courteous and constructive (and general) in your comments. As a leaving employee, I would hope to be treated in the same way... it's just not the time to be nasty from either end.

Posted by: Marcus | May 30, 2005 10:53:33 PM

What's the point of doing an exit interview as an independent contractor leaving an open-ended contract voluntarily?

I fail to see the benefit to either party. I certainly don't want to answer a bunch of obligatory questions nor do I want to sugar-coat the answers. I just want out - plain and simple. I don't want to highlight control issues rampant in a small business nor do I want to highlight the 15 minutes of verbal abuse I tolerated that put me over the edge. I really do just want to move on without harming what's left of a good thing...

Is there a legal reason in CA to do an exit interview as an independent terminating a contract voluntarily?

Posted by: 4 big cats | Jun 10, 2005 12:03:51 AM

Let's see if I got this straight....for the entrance interviews, don't tell the truth about your former position if it's bad. Then, in your present position, don't tell the truth if it's bad because it may damage your upward progression, job scope, and may cause job loss; and for the exit interview, don't tell the truth about your co-workers or your boss if the truth could be viewed as negative.
So...to fit your business model....lie, lie, lie!
Is it any wonder we live in the world we do? How about if we all apply these rules to our personal relationships!? What fun, huh?

Posted by: Jim D | Jun 10, 2005 9:21:25 AM

I just quit a job in which I think I set a record of number of times quitting, but was talked into staying except for this last time. That company had so many problems, that I felt duty-bound to state perceived problems to hopefully benefit future and present employees. The final straw that made me leave was the owner's dismissing the wonderful ideas of a new administrator that would have benefited the company, plus expected him to lie. At this job, I was verbally physically abused by an employee--the first time I had experienced such treatment in all the 35 years I have worked. The owner was verbally abusive. I feel the owner has emotional problems that he takes out on employees. The company's problems were too much for me to tolerate. I already knew letters of recommendation were not permitted by the owner, so I told them why I was leaving.
As a rule, though, one should not disparage a former employer.

Posted by: A. Balch | Jun 10, 2005 10:20:48 AM

I have read through many of the examples, comments and appropriate behaviour recommendations for employees in these exit scenarios by respected professionals. What amazes me is that the burden of avoiding truths and actually lieing, is put on the employee- but on the other edge of the sword, if a prospective employee is not entirely forthcoming in all truthfullness in all aspects, this is viewed by most companies (as well as stated in their manuals) as a basis for either immediate termination or an unacceptable hire.

Second, I have yet to see books published, seminars given, recommendations tendered that equally put that burden on the employer. In other words, the requirement of the employer to be as accountable as they are expecting, no demading the prospective employees to be.

Where are those models?

So the issue of teaching our children and students the morality of truth, especially when it deals with employment, is exactly what?

Are there any of these 'trusted' professionals that write all these books, and are paid speakers on employee progression and etiquette willing to step forward and be accountable to answer this? - Or as anyone who reads this commentation will surmize, that it will fall into the writers or speakers own category of fantasy.

Posted by: B.G. | Jun 10, 2005 12:23:20 PM

What should one do in the event that one's soon to be ex-boss hurls insults and questions your competence? I had just that situation. I looked him right in the eye and said,'Mr. ____, it's a good thing that I do not agree with your assessment of my capabilities." I know that he was trying to 'break' me due to previous interactions we had had, where he perveived that I had caused him to loose face. Believe me when I say this, it was not my intent to cause him insult or injury. It was his own lack of expertise and interpersonal skills.

Posted by: CMC | Jun 10, 2005 1:19:35 PM

This week I quit a job that I had only for two months. I could have had handled the secretarial stuff--even though I trained to be a paralegal--because I wanted the experience. What I couldn't handle was being yelled at for things like accidentally missing the wastebasket or leaving the bathroom light on. He even told me I was too intelligent to have any common sense. I am starting a new paralegal job in two weeks. I gave my notice yesterday, saying the new job was closer to my area of interest. If I had stayed he might have fired me, and I would have blown up. It wouldn't have done any good, anyway. He knows why he can't keep anyone, but it makes him feel superior. He thinks he just has high standards!

Posted by: mature woman | Jun 10, 2005 11:40:50 PM

Except in cases where abuse was an issue, if an exit interview was demanded of me and I had hard feelings, I would smile, look the interviewer in the eye, and say, "My mother always said if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." If pressed, I would state the facts. Former employers will say what they want whether you jumped through the hoops to their liking or not, as evidenced by an earlier post where the employer kept refusing to give a reference even after the employee did all she could to appease that boss.

Keep in mind that in almost every case when you fill out a new job application, you give a blank check to anyone the prospective company contacts for references in the form of the indemnity clause at the end of the app. You sign a statement that says you hold harmless, regardless of outcome, anyone who says anything about you. I always modify those clauses, initial them, then sign.

It further states in that disclaimer that you have told the whole truth and if you haven't, you may not get the job or you may be discharged for omitting facts. That is Catch 22.

I don't put down the contact information of any former employer who I know has given a bad reference in the past - of me, a predecessor, or a co-worker. I put down the job description, dates, and salary to let the prospective employer know what my experience is. If pressed, again, I will provide the actual details. I worked for an attorney who, for six months after my predecessor left, referred to her as an "F----g B--" to anyone who would listen to him on the phone. It was disgusting.

If an employer wants to hire you because of your experience and respects your honesty, you are 90% on your way to having a decent working environment.

Remember that if you worked for someone who yelled and screamed, threatened, or otherwise intimidated you while you worked there, chances are that supervisor did it to others, the company was already aware of it, and the company didn't bother to disclose that to YOU in your interview.

Posted by: Sharon | Jun 11, 2005 12:15:15 AM

I have found others' comments extremely valuable. As a senior, trying to get back into the job market, it seems one must be diplomatic (not bashing, even if justified), yet leave a truthful impression. This is doable, if one reflects and practices restraint.

Posted by: Lee | Jun 12, 2005 10:23:36 AM

I am going on a second interview this week for a new job and I am pretty confident that I will be offered the position. Now what do I say to my current employer when leaving?

First, I have heard from everyone at my current job what the problems are in this company. I have also experienced each one personally. After only 7 months, I am totally "done" with trying to make a difference. My only regret is that I am leaving the 3 employees whom I hired, and without me running interference, their tenure is going to be as damaging to them as it is currently for me.

What to say when I give my notice? I will of course thank the company for giving me the opportunity of working for them. Then I will make a suggestion on the type (and duties)of the person they should hire to replace me. I will cite some of the more serious problems with the structure of the company and how that structure would make it very difficult for anyone with the same type of aspirations as myself to be a successful employee. In other words, I will try my best to give a truthful exit interview while at the same time keeping my dignity. It probably won't matter, but I can't know that for certain.

Posted by: Rose | Jun 13, 2005 6:57:15 AM

I am in the process of a transfer within a large company, though it feels like I'm quitting. After ten years in my current (healthcare) position what drove me away was no promotion after I brought it up as dignified as I could. Although everyone is shocked I'm leaving, as I am so "valuable", my bosses did not seem to feel so where it counts -on my paycheck. This was on top of the usual abusive situations others have described. Though I have no formal exit interview I am repeatedly asked the reason I am leaving and I am forced to be positive because I will encounter these people in my new position. I have read elsewhere here that leaving is vengeance enough, but it hurts to leave behind co-workers. It helps me to read of other's experiences as I really can't talk to many people at work right now. "Living well is the best revenge".

Posted by: Ann | Jun 14, 2005 12:36:48 PM

Has anyone had experience with pre employment testing for a Nursing position with insurance companies?
I went for testing with a very well known insurance company in response to their posting for an RN position.
Their job description was not limited to filing insurance forms, but began with assessment and care of injured and or medical needs of employees. Then on to assisting a dr with employment physicals. Some mention of FMLA forms and case management, but no emphasis on this.
Their test was a timed computer exam, with no stated number of question and to be completed in 23 minutes. It delt with multiple choice answers relating to filing numbered forms and also with choosing health plans. In essence it was to assess implemententing and following policies. I didn't do well, so no job, but I failed to see where they were interested at all in my capabilities as an experienced nurse or anything relating to how I would handle care or educate and promote health in a work place.
Is this standard to assess and reject for a stated position when being tested on things that are not stated in the job description as "must have experience"?
Feeling frustrated!.. Thanks for reading and any feedback.

Posted by: meri | Jun 14, 2005 1:54:33 PM

I agree with the posts that stress the lack of honesty in seeking and leaving employment. In my opinion, the exit interview should be the time to constructively reveal why an employee left. To hold that right against the employee in unfavorable recommendations is ridiculous! I'm given the impression that employers don't really want to know what areas they should improve on as a whole. Let's all just stay as uptight as possible, and not get to the root of the pain.

I agree that former employers should not be viewed in a negative light to new employers, but the exit interview is the employees time and right to be honest.

Posted by: Trina | Jun 14, 2005 2:21:26 PM

I saw this thread and I would like to add to it. I began working for an employer who at the time, I believed to be truthful. I worked very hard for him, was always honest, never took days off and was always there when an extra hand was needed to complete a project. Many of the ideas that I came up with and introduced, made the business very efficient and profitable. During this time, I got to see what the owner was like. This person was verbally abusive, coniving, deceitful and treacherous. I did not condone his actions and began looking for another job. I figured the best way to end a bad situation would be to leave and find something better. I did eventually find another job and this is where I thought the story would get better for me. I could not have been more wrong and it would prove to be one of the worst choices I could have made. Upon landing the new job, I gave my resignation (Two week notice). I was harrassed and basically interrogated every day of those two weeks. The owner continued to tell me that I couldn't quit because he wouldn't allow it. On the final day, I had an exit interview. I answered the questions to the best of my ability without "burning" any bridges. I gathered my stuff and left.

About a week later, my car tires were slashed. I began receiving virus laden emails from an unknown source which I traced down to the owner's subnet. The police came to my home to question me because my former employer had related that I had stolen equipment from him. I was more insulted by the accusation then the questioning as I am a very honest person and would never take a scrap of paper from anyone.

Upon the second week of employment at my new job, I was let go without explanation in which I believe my former employer had something to do with.

About 3 months go by and I receive a 1099 in the mail and my former employer filed me as an independant consultant instead of as an employee. This was worth $15,000.00 worth of unpaid taxes.

I began to understand that this world is a corrupt one. It favors those who betray human beings for the almighty dollar without morale. Dead is the world where hard work, loyalty and honesty were respected. Now it is about lies, deceit, treachery and the correct behind that is kissed. The so called interview is a worthless tool. How does spending 45 minutes with someone allow you to gauge their strengths or weaknesses? By what is written on a piece of paper?

It is actually a system of judging and facade. It is built on fabrication and lie designed no more then to control and strip the individual of his/her dignity and his/her rights. I weep for the future but more so, I feel and sympathize for those who suffer a situation similar to mine.

It felt good to read the posts above because I can see I am not alone. Thank you all for who have posted, you have made my day by doing nothing more then being generous with your time and telling your story. have a good day to each and all.

Posted by: Jose G | Jun 14, 2005 3:06:03 PM

I actually just left my company (where I'd worked for 4 years). In my case, I left to return to school full-time. I KNEW I didn't want to "burn" any bridges there so I was CAREFUL in what I said during my EXIT interview. However, I did mention 1 issue (which never affected) me, but did my quite a few co-workers and MUCH to my surprise our HR-Manager made an IMMEDIATE change company-wide to that policy! At this point, I intend to inquire about a possible (non-paid) Internship in the future at my previous company in my field of study (Network Admin) so I'm glad I left as a "shiny, happy" person in the end.

Posted by: Michelle | Jun 15, 2005 6:08:12 AM

In my opinion, most of the times, exit interviews are conducted as "formal" ceremonies and there is very little or no follow-up done on the minutes of the interview.
A true and ethical professional will always keep the bridges and keeps his/her networking world intact.

Posted by: Shrini K | Jun 16, 2005 7:55:30 AM

I almost had an exit interview, where I currently work. My position was deleted, and, another position was created. Most of what I do, relates to my former job.
What I did, at my potential lay off interview, was to suggest to my boss, that, I am willing to help through the "transition process." I knew that there was work that needed to be done. I worked, several months, through the transition, and then, another position was created for me.
I am currently looking for another job, for potentially, more money. I am glad to stay here, and, if something better comes up, I will apply for it.
My co worker decided to take the lay off. I guess that worked for her.
We all decide what is best for ourselves. I felt that working a longer time, and, potentially loosing my job later, was better. It gave me more time to look, like on Monster, for a new position, somewhere else.
Right now, a prospective employer, who, I actually worked for, about 15 years ago, is wanting to interview me.
I am curious to find out about the position.

Posted by: Patty | Jun 17, 2005 10:46:22 AM

On AN EXIT INTERVIEW, be exceptionally cautious if the interviewer turns his attention to your peers. Co-workers from other departments, e.g. My company had recently been bought out by a small group og out-of-state entrepeneurs. As it turns out they were most interested in "other employees who might be unhappy" so thet could replace them before they quit. I lost a very good position because I was mentioned in another employees exit-interview as "possibly being unhappy in my current position". Please, keep the rest of us out of it!!!!!

Posted by: David Summerville | Jun 25, 2005 6:22:05 PM

After reading some of your tales of abuse, I realize I have been very fortunate during my past 19.5 years as an Air Force officer. I have encountered only two raving, treacherous superior officers, and had the satisfaction of seeing one forced into retirement ahead of his plans. I was lucky he was not in my supervisory chain. I'm sad to say the other progressed to a very high rank, but I have had no direct interaction with him since. On the whole, with few exceptions, the officers and senior noncommissioned officers with whom I've interacted have been professionals who've kept their personal ambitions synchronized with the team mission and corporate values (integrity, service and excellence).

It strikes me that having a pervasive corporate sense of identity and a culture of personal and collective integrity are keys to an effective, humane workplace. In today's free-agent society, with frequent job changes and immense performance pressures on companies and individuals, who needs to add psychotic or sociopathic supervisors to the mix! I recently watched an interview with leading social psychologists who estimated that one in 25 Americans has strong sociopathic tendencies (including antisocial, abusive and predatory inclinations). It follows the law of averages that some of these would be supervisors.

In the end, those who possess a conscience and a desire to contribute to a good greater than their wallets or egos must find a balance between the need to earn and the need to live authentically and productively. Anyone can stumble onto a predatory boss or co-worker, or other corporate mine. If the company does not offer a reasonable path to resolution, either do battle smartly (if you can win) or move on.

Is there a service that rates employers on the quality of the work environments they maintain? If not, there's a potential business idea.


Posted by: Mark Harris | Jul 4, 2005 1:15:17 PM

I've written a reply to this post, but Monster.com's TOS requires that I waive my copyrights on anything I post here. Since I'm writing a book and need to reserve my legal copyrights, I won't agree to that. So instead, I've uploaded my reply to my own blog at


For resources on workplace bullying, visit


J. E. Brown
relationship activist
Los Alamos, New Mexico USA

Posted by: J. E. Brown | Jul 15, 2005 3:15:38 PM

Don't assume your employer will owe you anything or give you anything. I prefer to use past clients as references (assuming you interact with clients), and sometimes past co-workers. I often find past employers are out of business within a few years of my leaving. Either they get bought out or fold. When you have delighted a client, then is the time to bring them into your network.

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Hey, can anyone recommend a site that supports [url=http://www.veoh.com/users/ringtonejones]3410 Nokia ring tone[/url]? Nokia forums weren't much help unfortunately.
I'm an IT guy but apparently I suck at cell phone tech. Heheh :)

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