Leaving a Job: Exit Interview Advice

    September 15, 2006

Leaving a job is often a very difficult and traumatic period in a person’s life. In fact, many people are simply devestated by the loss of employment, regardless of the reason for the termination.

Whether by layoff, business closure, voluntary resignation, or from being fired, the process of leaving a job is never an easy one. Despite the emotions involved, it should be treated as an important step into the future.

An employer will often call former employess in for a formal exit interview. The reasons for the disucussion are many, and the former employee would be wise to not treat the talk lightly. It could be one of the most important interviews of a person’s career. A professional discussion of the issues could lead to future re-employment, outsourced sub-contracts, employment counselling, or a very strong personal recommendation for a new position elsewhere. On the other hand, a badly handled exit interview could sabotage your career almost beyond repair.

While exit interviews are often made voluntary, taking the time and effort to appear will count in your favour. If the reason for the termination was a massive layoff, you should know and understand that the job loss was not your fault. Remove those feelings of guilt and remorse from your table as it wasn’t your fault. No action of yours would have changed anything. Once those feelings are out of the way, the exit interview can be approached in a professional manner without any pent up aggression or hostility. While it’s almost asking the impossible, don’t take it personally.

Once in the disucussion room, answer the questions in a positive way. Don’t ever bad mouth the company or other employee at any level. As with a hiring interview, criticism of previous employers is a sure way to not get hired, the same dynamic is at work in the exit interview. In this case, however, you are talking directly to that former employer. This advice counts double if you were fired from your job, and any missteps could be very costly to your future. If questions are asked about specific employees, think of something positive to say. Everyone has some good qualities; even if they might be very well hidden.

When asked to return company property, do so immediately, but with one caveat. Have the company sign a list of the returned items as a receipt. Company property is more than just keys these days. It can include company cars, laptop computers, cell phones, pagers, company credit cards, and so on. Their dollar value is large. Treat the transaction as an important one requiring appropriate paper work, and the company will respect your professionalism. In any case, don’t try to keep anything that belongs to the company. Return everything in good order. They do know what you have in your possession so this is no time for keepsakes.

If you were fired from your job, control your emotions at all times. Don’t get involved in arguments, blame, or displays of anger. Be calm and professional. The person conducting the intervieww may even reconsider their actions and rehire you. If not, make certain that you have a good recommendation in return for your attendance at the interview. Don’t sign anything until you have read it. No one will fault your thorough professionalism and businesslike approach. Often, the request will be to forfeit items to which you are entitled by law.

Your exit interview is a chance to show the company that you were a valuable employee who will be missed. Conduct yourself as a professional at all times, and you might find yourself back on the job or given a contract for your new business. Dress for the interview as you would for any other employment discussion. Be courteous and businesslike. Your career might depend upon it.

In other words, don’t burn any bridges as you never know when you might want to cross them again.

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