I recently had an exit interview. I was leaving the company. As part of standard HR practice, the Human Resource Manager met with me for half an hour.
She started the conversation by saying: "Before we talked about the details such as COBRA, your last check, vacation balance, etc, we want to find out why you’re leaving the company. We’re not like our parent’s generation who will stay with the same company for their whole lives. We understand people will change jobs. But, we want to understand why you are leaving so that we can do a better job to retain employees".
I knew I would be asked this question. I had rehearsed my replies before I came to the meeting. I was quite frustrated at certain aspects of my work, and that’s why I was leaving.
However, I did NOT want to burn any bridges. And HR was not the place to express my frustration and speak my mind. To understand the dirty secrets of HR, I highly recommend you to read Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them .
So, I replied: "I really enjoyed working at Company X. I’m very grateful for the opportunity I was given. I’m leaving largely due to career development reason. I found an opportunity that allowed me to do something that I was really passionate about. My decision to leave really has more to do with the next opportunity, and has less to do with Company X. I really like everyone here. I’ll remain to be a shareholder."
The HR manager then asked: "We understand that most people leave because of career development reasons. But, there must be some reasons that triggered your decision to leave. What can we do better?"
This was a tricky part — I wanted to provide an honest answer, but again I didn’t want to burn any bridge. So, I framed my answer this way:
"Our Company has been growing for the past couple of years. I’m very fortunate to be part of this growth. As a result, I plan to remain as a stockholder. As a stockholder, based on my understanding of our business model, product, technology, etc., these are the three things that will keep me awake at night." I then listed 3 things that I think the company needs to improve in light of rapid growth and the challenge of scale the business. I focused on describing the challenges, and never mentioned a single person’s name.
The HR manager was satisfied, and went on to explain COBRA, final pay check, etc. to me.
It was an amicable exit interview. I didn’t burn any bridge, but still provided the company some feedback to improve.
How is your exit interview experience? Any story to share? I’d love to hear from you.