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The Case for Lying in Your Exit Interview

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When you leave a job that makes you unhappy, it’s easy to want to tell your employer why you’re leaving. Whether you’re frustrated by mismanagement, not-so-challenging assignments or maddening co-workers, you want to get it off your chest. Because the Big Boss can use that information to improve the company, right?

Wrong.

Fast-forward six months. Think your company will really implement any of the changes you suggested? Probably not.

Think a few people at that company might be mad at you for airing your grievances? Probably. No matter how professionally you presented them.

We like to think our superiors are mature enough to take criticism in stride, but the truth is, some aren’t. And you need even those immature bosses on your side as a reference down the road, especially if you’re hoping to move up the ladder in that industry.

Which is why even if you’re leaving your job because it sucks, you should keep that truth to yourself — particularly if you’ve worked hard to build relationships at that workplace. Telling the truth seems like the right thing to do, but it’s not the best move for you or your career.

I like the analogy Andrew Rosen makes in his piece about how to break up with your job, that it’s similar to a romantic breakup. When we leave a person, we often have the urge to talk it out, explaining where the relationship went wrong. But the truth is, while that gut-spilling or over-explaining may make you feel better, your ex isn’t going to change because of it. In many cases, being truly honest will hurt and offend.

Now picture your employer as your soon-to-be ex. No matter how you hedge your complaints, no matter how constructive you frame your criticism, chances are someone at that organization will be mad at you for doing it. And that’s bad for your career.

(This is kind of like how Penelope Trunk says women shouldn’t report sexual harassment because it will likely hurt your career. Not exactly what we want to hear, but she has a point.)

Instead, hold your tongue, even if it’s against your nature. Put the focus on what’s ahead, and use that as your reason for leaving, telling your employer you’ve been offered an opportunity you simply can’t pass up. That saves you from having to say anything at all about the job you’re leaving, and it helps you stay honest, too.

And what if you’re asked specific questions about what it was like to work for that company?

Respond like you would if your mom asked you how you liked her meatloaf, and you didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Couch your answers. Offer positive feedback on what did work. Change the subject.

Because once you make a smooth exit, your frustration over your organization’s inefficiencies will fade into the distance, just like your ex when you’ve got a new crush. Then you can put all of that energy where it belongs — into your new job.

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Life. She blogs at The Traveling Writer.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Deansrobinson

    Sure, it would feel good to take a couple of swings at the old company, but I’ve always been hesitant to burn bridges…no matter how unstable, dangerous and in need of repair those bridges may have been. I look at it like a performance review: once you’re out the door, it has no value. Don’t leave on a bad note, because you never know what the future holds as far as having to reach out to the former manager, colleagues or company.

  • Pepperoni40

    As a small business owner, I absolutely want to know why people are leaving. If I have good people leaving and they don’t tell me why, then the company is in trouble. I wish more leaders looked at exit interviews that way. I think it is a shame that employees and their managers can’t have mature conversations about why someone is moving on from a job.

    • Alexis Grant

      This is great to hear, Pepperoni! Nice to know there are folks like you out there.

  • Bearrguest

    @pepperoni40: I like your attitude. Situations like this are why the US economy’s future belong to small business.
    we’ve seen “too big to fail” and the above article sounds like “too big to admit we’ve failed somewhere” “too big to hear the truth”

  • http://www.facebook.com/megan.a.atkinson Megan Atkinson

    I don’t agree with hiding authenticity and genuine honesty in an exit interview. Granted, it’s no place to complain about everything unpleasant you experienced, but I do think the primary reason for your departure should be expressed. I mean, if you lose 10% of your workforce in a year because they found comparable positions with better salary or they felt opportunity for advancement was not available – and you didn’t hear that from any of them – your company is bleeding talent like a sieve over infrastructure issues that could be addressed if you’d have been made aware of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashishpns Ashish Sinha

    I think

  • Aymanadam

    I totally disagree, exit interview should definitely include that vital part of your reasons for leaving but it should be bundled with your view for improving that part and it should not take all interview time only talking about it when you just said it and felt its time to change the topic then just do it.

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  • Eric Spitzfaden

    You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to spill it all either. No matter how bad your current job, the real reason you are leaving is because you found something better (unless you are just walking out, and then it’s in the hope of finding something better).

    The reason you went looking for something better is because you were not getting what you wanted/needed at your current job. Every employer should already understand that.

  • http://www.mohka.co.uk/ canvas prints

    This is a great piece of advice – i’ve made the mistake of being too honest in the past and it didn’t help at all. As Pepperoni illustrates though – sometimes the boss can handle it.

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