November 1, 2020
Hey Heather, it’s me again.
So I’ve been meaning to write for a while but it’s been difficult. For many reasons which I won’t lament about here. At least not at the moment. That said, today I’m writing about exit interviews. You can skip the context and go to how I handled the situation if you just care about that.
A few years ago, I was asking myself a series of existential questions. Eventually I decided I was unhappy with my current situation and had to leave my job. Coincidentally, a colleague had decided the same a week prior (off by one as developer logic dictates). This meant that I witnessed the process my colleague went through beforehand and let me tell you, I did not want to go through that. Let me explain what happened.
So when you work for a large boat institution™, the general process for leaving, at least in my experience, is as follows:
- You have a meeting with your manager to announce you’re leaving
- You hand them a letter or send an email specifying last day
- You have an exit interview with HR
This all seemed fine to me until I saw the state my colleague was in after their exit interview. Without going into specifics I’ll just say that during the interview, HR persistently asked leading questions so that the answers would have it seem like the primary reason for leaving was a personal matter and not organizational problems. …
what. the. hell. man.
What’s even the point of skewing this type of information? I don’t know what type of incentives or motivations HR has but this type of institutional behavior is insidious. Not only does this conceal internal problems, but it also damages trust with current employees. People talk.
After seeing how distraught my colleague was after the meeting, I got anxious and was not looking forward to the invitation. Once I received the invite, I shared my concern with my manager who said something along the lines of “just do it”. … whoosh.
This was not the support I needed. So this is what I did instead.
How to escape the interview
I reached out to HR by email asking them if it was necessary to have the exit interview and if instead we could find another arrangement. No reply. Again, worried. Then I remembered:
I am an adult and you can’t make me.
The relationship I have with an organization is a professional relationship and therefore that was how I approached my subsequent actions.
Since I didn’t get a reply to my questions, I declined the invitation and wrote an email stating that I was not going to partake in the in-person exit interview but that I would answer questions in writing if they wished to send any. Almost immediately HR reached out saying they really preferred to talk. I reiterated that I was declining and that I would answer questions in writing. They eventually sent a link to an questionnaire. That was basically it.
Writing as evidence
An important takeaway from this experience was that it’s better to have things in writing. If the information is being filtered through another person, it’ll probably have some of their interpretation injected into it. Leading questions are also less likely to appear in questionnaires.
I’d also recommend keeping a copy of the questions and answers, as well as copies of all your correspondence with HR and management. You can BCC messages and forward replies to your personal inbox so that you have copies if you need to refer to them after you’ve left.