Why Honesty Is Not The Best Policy At Your Exit Interview
By Jacquelyn Smith
At some point between giving your two weeks notice and your last day, your employer will likely ask you to meet with HR for an exit interview. The purpose of this meeting is for your company to gather information about why you're departing. A tremendous amount of time, effort, and money is invested in hiring and training employees - so it is important for companies to ascertain what might be causing the turnover, says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What's For Work?, a career site for women.
However, Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, says that oftentimes HR doesn't do much with the feedback they receive. They don't pass it along, and no organizational changes are made.
That's why some experts say there's no point in being completely honest in your exit interview. "You have nothing to gain, and potentially a lot to lose, depending on what you say," says executive coach Stever Robbins.
Here are six reasons you shouldn't be completely honest in your exit interview:
It won't matter anyway. If the problems or issues you want to bring up in an exit interview are fairly well-known at the company already; they seem to be systemic or long-standing; and you don't think any positive changes will come from your honesty, those are all good reasons to not be completely honest, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs. "Stick to only those that you think would be helpful for the company to know about, and that you think they might be able to change."
You could end up burning bridges. You don't want to tick people off because you got carried away in the exit interview, Sutton Fell says. "Keep things positive, and bring up any problems from the perspective that you want to help the company to be better in the future."
Be especially aware that what you say about your manager and colleagues could get back to them, so if you are hoping for a professional reference from someone, think twice about bashing them in the exit interview.
"Also, realize that if you had a serious HR issue with someone when you were at the company, and didn't bring it up to your manager or HR department, that can also reflect poorly on you, not just the person you're pointing the finger at. Instead, keep it professional and productive," she says.
It could compromise any pending legal issues. If there are any pending lawsuits, less is more, Hockett says. "If the answers to the questions could in any way compromise proceedings, either decline the exit interview altogether or say 'no comment' when you're in the hot seat."
Furthermore, if you're planning to take some kind of action against the company, Robbins suggests you check with your lawyer to find out what you should or shouldn't say. "It's possible that things said at an exit interview can affect any case you plan to bring against the company."
You could ruin your reputation. It's perfectly fine to bring up less-than-positive aspects of working for the company, but an exit interview isn't an invitation to list every complaint you've got, Sutton Fell says. "Making yourself out to be a whiny complainer won't help you or your reputation moving forward." Even though you won't be working there anymore, your reputation has a sneaky way of following you around, especially if you want to stay in the same industry.
For example, Robbins offer this hypothetical: "Let's say you reveal something dysfunctional about the inner workings of your team that wasn't previously known. Your team gets reconfigured as a result. If people ever find out it was due to your exit interview (or even if they just deduce it), your reputation with those people could get trashed. In your future career, it could come back to haunt you," he says.
You may sound like a liar. "If your answer as to why you are leaving is different than what you've been saying all along, you can be labeled as deceitful," Kurow explains. The company will start to wonder what else you haven't told them. Thus, it's a slippery slope you don't want to climb.
You may come off sounding bitter. If you are exiting because of a toxic boss, anything negative you say will sound like "sour grapes," Kurow says. "Don't let bitterness about a dysfunctional boss be your license to get revenge during the exit interview. Unless there is a chorus of past exiting employees saying the same thing, it's more than likely that nothing will be done." And you may not be believed anyway if your boss holds a position of power in the organization, she adds.
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