Anyone who’s moving job and has been asked to take part in an “exit interview” may feel like it’s an invitation to air all those petty grievances you’ve harboured over the months or years.
It may be tempting to leave a metaphorical mound of canine faeces on your, soon-to-be erstwhile, employer’s doorstep, before ringing the bell and running away.
Perhaps fortunately, most of us are too scared, polite, or mature to tell the boss exactly where he or she can stick their separation questionnaire.
We recognise that we work in sectors – small, incestuous silos – and the chances are soon we’ll, once again, be colleagues with many of the gormlessly inscrutable faces ranged around the boardroom table, asking us to name the three best things about working for Grinn, Bendover & Clampitt.
Exit interviews are a comparatively recent addition to employers’ compendium of tricks, intended to be a way of improving things for the colleagues you’re leaving behind.
As you’re packing away your stapler and post-in notes, you may well wonder why you should do anything to make life easier for the bunch of finger-stamping, brown-nosers currently necking the last of the lukewarm, Home Bargains Chardonnay at what was laughingly passed-off as your leaving do.
It doesn’t seem to strike anyone as ironic that the first time you are asked for your opinion by someone in a leadership position at the firm is the day before you’re due to leave.
Anyone who’s signed a new mobile phone contract will know the frustration of the tortured conversation you’re forced to have a telesales executive from your existing provider who’s clearly been given license to offer you the sun, moon, and stars to convince you to stay.
You want to scream down the phone that, had they offered you same deal while you were still a customer, you’d have had no cause to move.
Another downside of the exit interview is its subjective nature. Unless you’re one of several people leaving the same department on the same day, the interview can’t possibly be anonymous.
There’s little benefit to be had from making a series of bland, self-defeating generalisations about the wider company. If you’re motivated to take part in an exit interview the chances are there are some things you want to get off your chest. Let’s face it, things are going to get personal.
That’s the time to stop and take stock. Think about what you’re doing and who’s interests your actions from this point will serve.
If your ability to do your job has been compromised an innumerate Finance Director, a sexist and racist Equalities Officer, or a Luddite Head of Change Management, then it’s clearly the fault of the CEO, who’s responsible for hiring the right management team.
Failing to square up to the boss risks allowing blame to trickle down the chain-of-command, but you might be relying on that person to give you a glowing reference to land your next job.
So, should you refuse to take part altogether? That might give the impression everything in the garden’s rosy and that you have nothing critical to say about the company or your soon-to-be erstwhile colleagues.
Alternatively, if you make it clear you do have criticisms of the firm but that you don’t believe airing them retrospectively will do any good, you may be accused of failing to look out for the people you’re leaving behind.
It would be naïve to think the manner of your departure won’t affect you in the future. Even if you’re moving to a new city but staying in the same industry, people talk off the record and gossip spreads.
However emotional you feel about your departure; you should resist the temptation to offload.
Don’t express opinions, stick to facts and, if you’re going to level accusations of bad practice, particularly against individuals, make sure you have plenty of examples to hand.
Don’t say that your line manager is an imbecile or that your team has been underpaid for the past six months unless you have the evidence to back it up.
The exit interview should be a footnote in your career history. Exciting times lie ahead and this thought should carry you through your last days with the company.
So, exit stage left, behave yourself at your leaving do and remember an exit interview is more about what you don’t say than what you do.