You thought the interview to get your job was stressful enough, but now they want another interview when you’re leaving? What’s up with that?

Don’t worry if you’re asked to have an exit interview when you leave a job. Rather than screening you to make sure you’re a good fit for the company, an exit interview is usually HR’s way of figuring out if a bad fit is why you’re leaving.

Even if you aren’t interviewing for a job, you have to be cautious in what you say. A company wants to hear what they can do better – they aren’t interested in hearing you gripe about your boss.

But if interpersonal relationships or management style or even lack of career advancement is to blame, you don’t want to keep that quiet either.

What exactly can you say during an exit interview?

1. Express Appreciation

They weren’t your dream company? That’s okay. In all but the most extreme cases, they still provided you with an opportunity. Be professional and acknowledge that in your exit interview.

2. Stay Positive

OK, this is tricky. You’re probably leaving because you’re unhappy, and you might not be feeling too positive about your experiences. It’s okay to give a little constructive criticism, but you need to walk a fine line between voicing something that could be made better for all employees and just flat out complaining. Saying, “I had to work so much overtime, I felt like I was making minimum wage,” sounds entirely different from, “I felt like the work-life balance was tough in this role.”

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3. Tell Your Experiences

Try to find a few examples of how your time at the company helped your career. Did you gain more leadership skills? Did you take advantage of any professional development opportunities or lunchtime seminars? Those are examples that can help balance out any of the constructive criticisms you offer. Don’t pick on specific people or use the exit interview to tattle on those who are slacking off on the job. That’s not the point of the interview.

4. Play Fair

Remember the person doing the exit interview is still employed at the company, so insulting the company can seem personal. Be as professional and focused as possible. Yes, it’s an exit interview, but you never know if you might return to the company (never say never!) or if you might work with a colleague in the future. Don’t burn any bridges.

Exit interviews are often just as nerve-wracking as job interviews, but for vastly different reasons. Your intent should still be the same – be professional above all else. Speak highly of the good things and gloss over or re-frame anything negative. An exit interview is not the time to let loose all the reasons why you’re leaving. Doing so, although it might feel good in the short term, could end up causing some career damage in the long run.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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