You have made the decision that it is time to move on.  You have given your notice, cleaned out your desk/locker/work space and said good-bye to your friends.  Now, all you have to do is sit down for the exit interview.  Should be a piece of cake, right?  You should feel free to vent about all the wrong that has been done to you? You should be able to express all your opinions regarding company and your direct supervisor?  Right?

Well, no.  You should not do any of this.  Your exit interview is the final impression you will make on your former workplace.  Just like first impressions, final impressions are lasting impressions.  Treating this exit interview as a personal venting session can have repercussions in the form of problematic referrals, difficulties around future networking possibilities, or the lost opportunity to return to this workplace in the future.

However, unlike job interviews, exit interviews are somewhat misunderstood, and this misperception can be exacerbated if you have never been involved in one. So here are some things to think about when the time comes for you to take part in one:

  • Prepare

Everyone says things they regret when they get tongue-tied and caught off guard.  Just the same way you need to prepare for a job interview, you should prepare for an exit interview.  Most interviewees use a standard list of questions, so walk into the interview prepared to answer the following questions.

    • Your reasons for leaving the company.
    • Your level of satisfaction with managers, co-workers, company culture, compensation/benefits and opportunities for career development.
  • Focus on the  Big Picture

Exit interviews are not the time to focus on the “little things” that bothered you about the workplace – your cube neighbor talking on the phone too loudly, your co-worker’s lunch smelling bad, etc.  Focusing on these types of issues makes your final impression one of pettiness and discord.  Talking about the challenges to superior job effectiveness or a lack of communication with your manager or among co-workers is valued feedback.  This should be the focus during the exit interview.

  • Control Your Emotions

While venting about the inherent unfairness of the fact that managers played favorites and that this influenced promotions may make you feel good at that moment, chances are that your actions are being directed at the wrong person, in the wrong manner, at the wrong time.

Remember, venting or behaving in any other manner besides a professional manner is a bad idea.  There is no point in burning a bridge, especially in matters dealing with job security and future job opportunities.  Time erases most difficulties we experienced in the past, but a direct, emotion-laden criticism is never forgotten, and this could burn a future bridge for you that you never knew you had.