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Exit Interviews: A Guide

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For whatever reason, you’ve handed in your notice and have been invited to attend an exit interview. It could be with your boss, it could be with HR, it could even be with both.

Are you accepting the invitation or politely declining?

Exit interviews are becoming more and more common across countless areas of business, with a recent LinkedIn discussion jumping into the debate and asking professionals in all industries whether an exit interview can ever be truly beneficial. The results from the discussion are varied and take in
some interesting opinions and thoughts - and this blog is going to dive right into the heart of some of
them.

The Advantages
It can be easy, in this kind of discussion, to forget that in many cases people are resigning on good terms and have very little in the way of negative comments to share about their role and their employer. In these instances, where an employee is progressing with their career or leaving a job
because of a change in situation or location, an exit interview can present a multitude of opportunities to discuss what worked and what didn’t work in their role; with the outgoing individual able to share their thoughts in an unbiased way and perhaps give some advice for an incoming employee taking over their role.

Then we have those who are leaving following some issues but are still able to hand over constructive feedback and ideas for the ongoing development of the team and business they are leaving - whether or not the business really wants to hear them or plans to take their thoughts on board.

The long and short of it is that those instances where an exit interview is an advantage come when a lack of emotion is brought to the interview - and when the discussion is fuelled by unprovoked honesty and positivity.

The Negatives
Unfortunately, exit interviews do not always go that way - and in many cases can become an outlet for the leaving employees to share their woes and issues experienced during their time with a company.

The question that remains is this: does it actually do the outgoing employee any favours to air their grievances, or would they be better keeping quiet?

Again, it comes down to the delivery and progression of the interview from both parties. A lack of emotive discussion can create a constructive back and forth where both parties are able to discuss and work through any problems, in a way that could benefit both sides in the future. However, when
emotion gets involved, or if the outgoing employee has particularly strong feelings about the way they were treated or the work of the organisation, then exit interviews can quickly go from constructive to dangerous, especially in the case of the leaving employee.

Some of the problems that can face an employee who passionately airs their grievances in an exit interview include:

 The employer withholding a reference. This can be damaging for future applications as it can raise questions with future employers about why the employee has no reference.
 Damage to the employee’s professional reputation. No business wants to hire someone who has a problem with authority or is unable to get on with colleagues, and unfortunately a negative exit interview and reports of issues can follow you around - particularly if you stay within the same niche field or industry.
 A lack of change. No matter how passionate the outgoing employee is about a certain issue they came across during their time, there is no guarantee that their words will create any chance, and so they might be putting their future career in jeopardy for no other reason than to unload and air their issues.

Too Little Too Late?
There is a definite argument for the simple idea that an exit interview is too little too late - for both sides. This leads us to question whether or not there is really any point to exit interviews, as there is nothing that the employer can do to make the employee stay at this late stage, and there is no
action to be taken to fix the issues aired by the employee that they will actually benefit from.

So, why do we have exit interviews at all?

Different industries and different organisations have their own reasons - and for those leaving on a positive note it can be an opportunity to secure ongoing engagement and a long term working relationship that could benefit both parties in the future. But if the outgoing employee has little in
the way of positive notes to share, the exit interview could well be considered a disaster waiting to happen.

On the whole, the takeaway is this. If you have issues to raise, do so with the relevant team members and in confidence - but be careful what you say and who you say it to. If there’s a chance that speaking out could harm your reputation and future career opportunities and you are leaving
anyway, there may in fact be no point in speaking out at this late stage.

And in the words of one Team Leader and Strategist who partook in the LinkedIn discussion: “Employment is an exchange of skills and work for money. We wrap it in layers of emotive reasoning and social interaction but fundamentally it’s just business. Never forget that in any exit interview.