Is the Exit Interview Valuable?
In this article, we seek to understand if value still exists in the practice of exit interviews, when departing one job for another.
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Every day, someone is ending their employment to pursue the next step in their career. This scenario has been in existence for centuries, as individuals navigate their way through life. Within a few days, updates of the career change echo across LinkedIn and the various other social media outlets which consume our daily life.
In the 25+ years I have been in Information Technology (IT), I have found myself in a position where I am leaving a job more than a handful of times. My personal experience has demonstrated exit interviews being handled a few different ways:
An in-person meeting with Human Resources (38%).
Me filling out a form-based document in Microsoft Word (12%).
Me responding to an online survey (12%).
Nothing happening at all (38%).
In my experience, nearly 40% of the time my employer did not seek any information from me prior to my departure - at least, not in an official "exit interview" session. In every case, I spent time with my manager on (or close to) my last day of employment, but I only met with someone from Human Resources 38% of the time. Did the employer who did nothing not care about employees leaving? Or do these employers realize something the other 60% do not?
What You Want to Say
When leaving a job, there is the option to bring a laundry list of issues and challenges to discuss during the exit interview session. In the mind of the employee exiting the company, they are finally getting the opportunity to state everything that is *wrong* with their former employer (or former job) - without any consequence of losing their job.
At the same time, individuals in this position might want to exercise that sudden power to talk openly and candidly about all the things that are wrong with the company or the position that is being abandoned. There is often an endless supply of open ears, hanging on every word spoken - like a water cooler gossip session on steroids.
While the job may be a passing milestone for the person leaving, harsh words and actions can often have a negative impact on the former employee - especially in markets where the IT community is considered small. Social media certainly makes the overall IT community much smaller than when I started my career.
What You Should Say
The exit interview is designed to provide an avenue for constructive feedback - interacting with a mediator (such as someone from Human Resources). This is really not much different than a Sprint Retrospective. Before leaving, the employee should feel comfortable enough to illustrate challenges and issues that may have had a part in the decision to seek alternative career choices.
In contrast to the laundry list (noted above), the focus here is to provide feedback that is constructive. Instead of saying "I have no idea what is going on most of the time working here." A better way to state your point is to note, "it seems like there is an issue with communication" and proceed by providing input when asked by the mediator.
After all, being an IT professional means that you are expected to be a professional. While the situation did not work for the individual leaving, their opinions may not match the views of others who remain employed by the company, and the future employees down the road.
What Difference Does It Really Make?
Early in my career, I have wanted to bring that laundry list to the exit interview, but I opted out after spending time thinking about what I would actually say, how it would be interpreted, the impact it would have on my career, and the difference my words would really make. Aside from recognizing the potential harm any harsh words could have on my career, I realized that such words would not lead to any drastic changes in the organization that I was leaving.
Certainly, any decent management structure would already have insight into the items I would bring forth in haste. Looking back on those situations, a short time later, most of those elements were addressed - when touching base with employees who remained at the company I had left. In those cases, things tended to work themselves out without my critical feedback being voiced.
The other side of the coin, which most may not consider, is that everyone else may not agree with the thoughts of the departing employee. They may listen to every word, but opt to do nothing - because the employer's team simply does not feel the same way. In this case, the working relationship just wasn't a fit and it was truly a case where it was best to move on to new opportunities.
During a leadership session earlier this year, I heard that people leave their managers more than they leave their jobs. When I look back at my personal career, I do see value in that metric - as I can certainly admit leaving a job because of the management structure guiding my position. However, I believe there are other factors that drive seeking alternative employment options: stability, challenging work, more responsibility, and financial incentives.
Regardless of the reason for your departure, more often than not your employer may ask for feedback in the way of an exit interview. It is truly your option to excise any of the approaches noted above. However, I only urge that you give serious thought and consideration with regard to the message and words that you express. While the world of IT is vast, social media makes that world much smaller. The satisfaction you gain in the short-term may have a negative impact on your career in the long-term.
Have a really great day!
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