Exit interview? 7 things to share

Many of us think of exit interviews as purely perfunctory. Whether you've been laid off or found a better job, your attention naturally gravitates towards the days ahead of you rather than behind.

But in a tight job market, the odds are good you'll work with some of these folks in the future. That means you don't want to bash your boss, company or co-workers in a way that screams "disgruntled employee." Demonstrating insight about your time there conveys to the HR person (and likely management) that you're someone who might be valuable in another situation.

Here are a few things you'll want to unload on your way out the door (and no, not one of them involves words inappropriate for primetime TV):

Constructive criticism

When you're being asked specific questions -- like how helpful orientation was, if you felt you had opportunities to develop professionally, your thoughts on company morale -- your employer is giving you an opportunity to help them, says former HR executive Sharon Armstrong, author of The Essential HR Handbook. "The information we obtained resulted in better selection, placement, and development and training practices, as well as improved supervision. The knowledge helped reduce attrition, enhanced working conditions, and detected and corrected problems on the job," Armstrong says.

In other words, the person talking to you might actually be listening, not just going through their paces. Help them now, and they may do the same for you later. Or you may just be helping out future employees, and a little good karma never hurt anyone. What can hurt you is being super-specific or accusatory, so try to keep names out when you're criticizing, Armstrong says.

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Any suggestions for the transition

Another part of leaving on a positive note means trying to smooth the transition. No, it's not your job to do this, but it can help you maintain relationships for the future. "It would be wise to prepare a list of the projects you are working on and how those assignments will be transitioned. Just because you're leaving the organization doesn't mean that the work goes away," says Amanda Haddaway, director of human resources for Folcomer Equipment Corporation and author of Destination Real World: Success after Graduation.

That you need time to sign the paperwork

When you leave a job with little notice, processing the news and trying to switch gears takes a lot of your attention. Therefore, signing a severance package might require more than a minute or two--and that's fine. "Instead, the employee may request that he or she have time to review the information and return them within a day or two," says Haddaway.

Specific compliments for your soon-to-be former colleagues

If you're going to miss working with any people at the company you're leaving, share that sentiment. "Did you enjoy working with a teammate or find a key influencer in the organization? Mention those people's names and specifically why, and how, they add value to the company," says human resources consultant Adriana Llames, author of Career Sudoku: 9 Ways to Win the Job Search Game. Your compliments just may make it back to them.

Nothing that can be turned against you

The No. One rule of exit interviews should be to keep them brief. If your job interview was your first impression, this is your last. "Keep your exit interviews short, professional and avoid anything that could be used against you," says Martin Yate, CPC, author of Knock 'em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide 2012. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself, 'How will this comment be perceived when I'm not around to clarify it?' Keeping the conversation short and sweet helps you avoid revealing too much and digging yourself a hole.

Why you were hired elsewhere

If you aren't being laid off, you'll be asked why you're leaving. Besides giving the move a positive spin, you'll want to mention why someone else hired you. "Figure out a way to note that your new employer was impressed with your skills, personality or training. This isn't likely to cause the interviewer to ask you to stay, but it may point out that you had more to offer than they realized. In the future, they may be looking for an individual with your skills and attitude and it just may result in a job offer at that time," says John M. McKee, career coach and founder of The Business Success Coach Network.

Your best wishes

No, hugs and promises to write are not necessary. But a simple "all the best" can go a long way to leaving a great last impression. "Show that you are positive about the future and harbor no negative feelings toward the company," McKee says. Being the bigger man or woman in the situation may make you feel better and will leave the door open for future opportunities long after you walk out of this one.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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