How honest should you be in an exit interview?

When things at work get bad enough to make you hand in your notice, it can leave you with mixed emotions. You may feel frustrated, and want the satisfaction of calling out the company’s shortcomings. But equally, if you care about the business and don’t want to see them fail, you may want to use the opportunity to help them turn things around. 

Just how honest should you be at your exit interview?

First up, I’d be overplaying the role that exit interviews typically play if I said, ‘you should be really honest!’ and you said ‘great!’, and then expected loads to happen as as result. This is because exit interviews don’t often lead to meaningful change. 

What they can lead to though is that your confidentiality is ignored and you are seen to be speaking ill of ex-colleagues and the company. It’s high risk. And as such, my general view is not to use the exit interview as a chance to speak out. 

Oh, but I know that some of you will choose to ignore that advice. If you do, assume that what you say is public and that it will get back to the people whose performance isn’t up to scratch. Assume that it may also be a bit twisted on the way. As such, try to be as evidenced as possible. 

If you were feeling really bold, you could you just go straight to the people who you’re going to be criticising and say it to their face, in a soft, measured, evidenced way. Then there’s no chance of what you’ve said being misconstrued.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and I say you absolutely SHOULD speak out in two particular exit circumstances:

  1. Whistleblowing. If you have something serious to report, that fits under whistleblowing then you should make that happen. However, that wouldn’t be under the banner of an exit interview, but rather under your company’s broader whistleblowing policy.
  2. If you were working for a pro-social organisation where your decision to keep quiet might negatively and significantly impact the lives of others. 

Three resources that could help you

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