In the final days of your job, the last thing you probably want to get involved in is an exit interview. You’ve likely already mentally checked out, and your natural inclination is probably to look forward to your new opportunities, rather than backward to old wounds. Even if you are filled with a sense of burning injustice — depending on the circumstances of your leaving — you are probably unsure that an explosive, tell-all interview will serve any useful purpose.
You’d probably prefer that the topic of an exit interview just didn’t come up, but given that 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 87 percent of mid-sized companies conduct them, chances are that you’ll be asked to participate in one. So, the question is: should you do it?
Unless it is specified in the terms and conditions of your employment, you are not obligated to take part in your employer’s exit interview process. In my own personal experience, most employers don’t make exit interviews mandatory. You’ll most likely be safe if you decline an exit interview, if that’s what you want to do.
But before deciding whether or not to take part in an exit interview, it’s worth considering whether there will be any benefit to you. Since you’re leaving the organization, you won’t be able to take advantage of any of the changes that may come about as a result of your exit interview. Sure, you can let off some steam and vent your anger, but you may end up burning bridges if you do that. Therefore, I personally don’t recommend exit interviews for the purpose of getting things off your chest. A punching bag would be just as effective.
This is not to say that there is no reason at all to ever participate in an exit interview. Your former coworkers could benefit from the insights and changes your exit interview brings about. If you believe your exit interview could improve working conditions for any beleaguered coworkers or for the business in general, then doing an exit interview could be an important final act of altruism.
That being said, there’s no guarantee that your exit interview will make any difference. Many HR departments are not empowered enough to turn exit interviews into real change or action. In fact, surveys show that only 44 percent of Fortune 500 companies say their exit interview processes are “good” or “very good,” in terms of collecting information and using it to influence management decision-making. For mid-sized companies, that number is slightly higher: 46 percent
Think about your firm: do you ever recall benefiting from a change that came about as the result of an exit interview or employee survey? Did your employer have a habit of turning employee feedback into action, or did nothing ever really happen? If nothing happened, it’s very likely that your organization has an ineffective exit interview process. In that case, I would not waste valuable time doing an exit interview.
Of course, there is a chance that your organization will have an effective process. If you believe your organization turns feedback into real action, and if you have colleagues that you wish to help, then you might want to participate in an exit interview.
If you do wish to participate in an exit interview, you should always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Be sure your anonymity will be guaranteed and protected. I’d also recommend that you take time to cool down and compose yourself, in order to avoid unleashing a bridge-burning rant. Try to give your feedback in a considered and honest way. The rule of thumb I always follow is to ask myself whether I would be comfortable if the people I was talking about were to hear what I said. This helps me to focus on delivering feedback in a respectful and non-aggressive way.