#1151: “Doing an Exit Interview when you’re PISSED OFF.”

Hey Captain,

A week and some change ago I (she/her) was told that my position is being terminated at the end of October. I’m sad to be losing reliable income and health insurance, but I am SO RELIEVED to be out of this miserable office. The day I had the terrible, no good meeting, I was already working on the process of job hunting.

My question is about how to do an exit interview when you’re filled with rage over your experience at your job.

Examples of this unending hell: My direct manager never acknowledges my existence. I literally don’t remember the last time we spoke to each other. The kicker is that he sits about 10 feet away from me. (For clarification my boss’s boss was the one that informed me of my impending layoff.)

To piggyback off of the previous issue, most of my department doesn’t acknowledge me. They never ask how my weekend was or in general anything about myself. I’ve tried to be personable with them when I first joined the company but it never goes anywhere. The only people in the company that talk to me regularly are people outside of my department.

I literally GOT ENGAGED and never got to celebrate it with my coworkers like other people sometimes get to do. As far as I’m aware of only one person in my department even knows I got engaged.

Beyond the personal reasons, this position didn’t improve my career very much. It was such a disappointing experience that it makes me want to leave my chosen career field entirely. I was hired to do web design but never did any web designing while I’ve been here for 9-ish months.

There are other issues as well with this job but those are the main few that I’ll mention here.

Do you have any scripts that I can use to express my fury of a thousand suns without burning bridges? I am very aware of the possibility of seeing these coworkers at future jobs so I don’t want to damage any professional relationships.

Merry Christmas
Kiss My Ass
Kiss His Ass
Kiss Your Ass
Happy Hanukkah
(how I wish I could walk out of here)

Hi there MKKKH,

Congrats on being out of this terrible job, and I hope your job hunting is bearing fruit!

Alison at Ask A Manager has a lot of wisdom about exit interviews and honesty (for example)(here’s another)(this is also good)(and so on).

True story time:

When I was 26 I resigned from a job I’d had for four years, and on my last night I sent an email to the entire company about why so many people at my level were leaving (we had had a TON of turnover, think, 85% of people leaving my department in a single year) and what I thought the company could do about it.

Basically, goodbye, this is where I’m heading & how you can reach me, I’ve loved working with all of you, and then KAPOW! WORD VOMIT! à la “You may have noticed a lot of departures lately. I can’t speak for everyone, but from my perspective, most of us love this place and this work and would stay a long time if we could, but there’s no path for us to grow without leaving. As an international consulting firm that prides ourself on ‘building capacity’ on all our projects, here are some inexpensive ways that the company could harness the enthusiasm and energy of the younger staff and grow our capacity to do the work + giant list…Peepas out.” 

An all-staff “Goodbye!” email was a company tradition.

The eight paragraphs of “free consulting” from a 26-year-old was not.

If I’d had someone like Ask A Manager or Future Me to guide me would I have sent something like that?

Probably not. The risks to me of looking unprofessional & silly & maybe poisoning my network were greater than the potential that anyone at the company would do anything about it. I was young and naive and emotional and probably someone should have told me not to do it, or to discuss it only with my manager (hahaha, couldn’t! He’d quit right before me, along with all but one person on my team) vs. sending a literal manifesto.

Did people in senior management really care what a departing junior project manager thought about how they ran their business?

It turns out, yeah, they did.

That night and all the next few weeks at my new job I got emails from senior project staff all over the world saying “We wish there was a program like this to get Jr. staff out in the field more, we would love to facilitate something like that, we would love to mentor people like you and teach you everything we know!” Whether or not the company listened to me right then, they listened to the many other smart people who said the same thing after I left, they listened to the senior managers who were tired of having to replace their hardest workers when we inevitably hit our “more salary & more interesting work, now, please!” wall, and over time they totally overhauled their career path and staff development planning with the goal of retaining junior people and home-growing them into senior people. A dear friend who was a little bit senior to me at that time is now running the whole place.

Do I think everyone should replicate my quarter-life-crisis stunt when they leave a company?

Oh helllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll no.

I’m telling you this story because sometimes I think it’s valuable for people to think of exit interviews as free consulting. As in, if the company really wanted to know what you thought and how they could improve their operations and retain people like you, they had a chance to get that info anytime while you worked there. So, now that you’re leaving, what do you owe them and how likely is it to matter? You don’t really owe them anything, is the answer, so before you engage at all, ask yourself 1)How much free consulting do I feel like doing for this employer right now?” 2) “At what personal risk/cost/how much energy do I want to expend on this?” 

I was leaving under my own steam, but I still cared about that job, the company, the people in it, my projects there, the work we were doing. I cared enough to want to offer “free consulting,” even if it made me look silly or unprofessional or if no one ever acted on it. I knew that I worked with thoughtful people who cared about their work and I was naive & hopeful enough that if they knew how to fix the problem they would try. I also stayed friends with many of the people there, and ended up freelancing & working with others in other capacities down the road.

Letter Writer, you aren’t leaving under your own steam, you’ve been there less than a year, you don’t have close relationships with your manager or anyone on your team, you were miserable and overlooked the whole time, and you probably don’t have a strong expectation that anyone will listen to you or want to change anything. Looking at the calendar and the number of friends (+ Mr. Awkward) who got laid off recently, you’re literally a “we need to make our 4th quarter numbers” casualty for them – it’s not about you at all. You’re also looking for a job and you need to be mindful of references.

So, how much free consulting do you feel like doing for these people right now and at what risk/personal cost?

‘Cause one possible way to handle an exit interview is “Thanks for the opportunity, I’ve got nothing in particular to comment on, bye!” It doesn’t help them, it doesn’t hurt you, it’s the path of least resistance.

If you do want to say something more, let’s talk scripts. First, don’t mention your engagement or people’s failure to celebrate it, etc. For you it was a one of a long list of signs that people were unwelcoming, but the company doesn’t really care and it will weaken your case. Unleashing your “fury of a thousand suns” might seem cathartic, but mostly it just gets you written off as disgruntled.

Good news, for your fury, though! In corporate settings, there is a kind of fierce neutrality or even a faux positivity that communicates fiery contempt more clearly than the sharpest screed. For maximum impact, you want to refashion all of the anger you’re feeling into specific, actionable suggestions that the company could use to improve the way it runs and better retain people like you in the future. You want to treat them as if they are asking in good faith and will act in good faith in the future. If they don’t, it won’t matter, you’ll be gone anyway. In the meantime, that’s the only language they’ll even pretend to listen to.

So let’s try this out:

I’m happy to give some constructive feedback.

I really enjoyed working with [Coworker 1] and [Coworker 2] in [Outside Department]. (Just pick your two favorite/the most competent people in company & say something strategically nice about them & their work – “Archibald is so proactive and responsive with training, Lakeisha is a wizard with the database, I hope someone in charge knows how wonderful they are.” It’s good karma for you & them and it prevents the whole thing from being a firehose of negativity.)

My job description when I was hired was x [refer to the job description and be specific]  but my actual duties were y [again, be specific]. If you were to bring someone else in to this position in the future, it would probably help to revisit the job description and make sure it accurately matches what the department needs. As a web designer, I was not the best match for [specific job functions] and more clarity from the start might have saved everyone some headaches!”

Re: Your boss, if they ask, you could just say “We didn’t work together very closely,” and leave it there. It will speak volumes.

You could also say: “As for my department, I had so little interaction with my manager and my team that it’s hard to say anything specific. We didn’t even say ‘hello’ most days. [Manager Name] is very hands-off, and sadly he and I never developed a good practice for giving & receiving feedback on projects or structuring expectations. I’m very sorry to be leaving [Company], but I’ve learned that I work best in a friendly, team atmosphere, with more frequent guidance and I’ll be looking specifically for that in my next position.

Thanks for the opportunity to work together, I wish [Company] every success in the future.” 

Any more than that is free consulting that you don’t need to be doing for a place you hate that laid you off. Trust me when I say that this script communicates:

“These specific people are great, the whole dang job was a bait and switch, & my manager SUCKS ASS.” 

…In a way that makes you look somewhat polite & reasonable. And  I’m sure commenters will have very good suggestions for tweaking the wording until it’s just right.

It sounds like a bad fit all around, so best of luck finding your next thing.

Readers, tell us your exit interview stories! Ever verbally unloaded the full extent of your discontent on the way out the door? Ever had an exit interview that actually constructively addressed problems?









135 thoughts on “#1151: “Doing an Exit Interview when you’re PISSED OFF.”

  1. Not during an exit interview, but when I quit a job a few years ago, my boss was like “Oh well I was thinking of trying to get you guys health insurance …” (too little, too late …)

    (the background here is it was a very small office, I was one of like two people who was not a student and was unmarried, and everyone else had health insurance through their husbands or school. So yeah, I definitely left and got a job WITH health insurance.)

    1. I retroactively wish upon that ex-boss an irritating minor ailment that is not covered under their health plan.

      1. Maybe like a pilonidal cyst. Even if it is covered by insurance, it can lead to years or decades of problems. I feel a bit evil wishing that on someone though so I won’t. Maybe the reason he is so antisocial though is because he does have some sort of brain ailment in which case he may already be suffering a bit anyway.

        1. Hey, can you please not? The script “acts like a jerk = there must be something wrong with their brain” is ableist, unhelpful and unkind as fuck to everyone who is neurodivergent and not a jerk.

      2. They should maybe need a dental implant on an important tooth. It’s no more painful than a root canal, but little-to-none of it is covered on insurance and damn but it costs some $$$$. (Source: me.)

      3. My go to pretend curse ailments are hemorrhoids and toenail fungus. Both irritating and hard to treat but I don’t have to feel bad about wishing a bad boss gets one of those.

        1. They both have over-the-counter treatment, too. Not necessarily effective OTC treatment, but it exists. “And that’s why you don’t need health insurance, folks!”

          Yeah, I’d wish they get a simple but annoying ailment that has OTC treatment, and they stick with OTC treatment, because going to a doctor for a real prescription is too much money (and they’re too cheap to pay for their OWN health insurance, let alone employee health insurance), and it lasts for months and years, and then, finally, after they succumb and give health insurance to the whole group, they go to see a doctor, and he prescribes them a miracle that heals it, permanently, within the week. Yeah, that’s my revenge-dream.

          Because people who *finally* do get it right deserve a small cookie. Like, a Cookie Crisp cereal sized cookie.

    2. Unfortunately, a small business doesn’t have much in the way of bargaining power if they’re looking for health insurance for approximately two people. (Single payer now!)

      1. They can subsidize private health care. Single-patient health insurance is a thing (I know. I pay for my own), but it is expensive. If they can’t get group insurance, they could subsidize the private health insurance, and that will let their employees know that they care *at least a little bit* about employee health (and continued productivity).

        1. At least in the USA, they can go through a broker, and thus get group discounts with the rest of the broker’s clients.

  2. In 2013 I was laid off from a government-funded university research center. On the first day of the government shutdown. No one was working or even allowed to go into our building; management had to take over an office elsewhere on campus, call all the people who were being laid off (a quarter of the staff!) and have us all make a special trip in to do our separation paperwork and exit interviews. There was a whole tearful assembly line of people in the anteroom and parking lot waiting to get called in for their turns, and it was three weeks before the surviving security staff could even get into the building to start packing up our offices.

    1. Same same, because Ellen and I are friends and colleagues. [waves to Ellen] (And that suuucked, did it not. I might still be a little bitter about it.)

      Some years earlier, though, I’d left my First Real Job to go back to grad school, and spent a fair amount of time thinking about how satisfying it would be to tell the Manager Of All Peons Of Which I Was One all about the morale problem in her department and precisely who I thought was responsible for it and why. I don’t think we did exit interviews there (though I might have been able to get one if I’d asked), but there was definitely an expectation that you’d write the Manager Of All Peons a memo before you left and send the whole place one last email on your way out the door. I didn’t snarl about the morale problem in the Peon department, but I definitely remember writing that my time in that job had been “instructive,” which my teammates and I agreed was the correct way to spin “I’ve learned a lot” to mean “… about how not to run a department” without actually using those words. And because I’d given my non-work contact information individually to the half-dozen or so people I cared to be able to stay in touch with, for the farewell email – in which most people waxed on for a paragraph or two about how great it was to have worked there and how much they’d miss everyone and blah blah next chapter in their lives – I sent the following:

      TO: All-Firm
      FROM: Aunt Vixen
      SUBJECT: Good-bye . . .
      MESSAGE: . . . and thank you.

    2. Wait. They pack up your stuff? Do they send it to you? Because the one time I got laid off, the didn’t do that. I was just really grateful that my personal objects still at my desk were really cheap.

      Yeah, I worked regular hours on a Friday, went home, and over the weekend I got the message to just never come back.

      On the plus side, I didn’t miss that office, at all. It was too Dilbertesque, including “You need the appropriate clearance/rank to make a copy.” So, there I was, working as a low-level admin, frequently asked to make copies, and I always had to beg some higher-up to let me borrow their badge, so that I could access the locked copy machine. Nobody blinked about it, or thought it was unusual because ALL the admins had to do it!!!, and yet, this was supposed to be about “security”? Security is when you track who does what, and NOBODY shares badges, let alone random sharing among the admins and whatever higher-up person happens to be close to the copy room, and looks likely to let you borrow their badge for five minutes. Half the time, these people didn’t even know my name! They just saw a woman holding some papers, and asking to use the copy machine, and handed over their badges, all in the name of “security.”

      So, I guess that company was not one for following proper business procedures, anyway. No surprise if they kept my cheap stuff.

  3. Having worked under a terrible manager and also been laid off by my boss’s boss without ever talking to my boss directly… To me, the fact that your grandboss was the one who let you know about the lay-off indicates (a) they’re aware your boss has some deficiencies, and (b) they’d rather ask you to leave than ask your boss to improve. For myself, I learned quickly that after being asked to leave it was next to impossible to criticize my terrible boss without sounding like I had an axe to grind or was trying to evade my own responsibility. I like the Captain’s script for addressing your shift in job responsibilities, but unfortunately I think you may be better off saving your boss gripes for your friends. Good luck out there finding your next job, hopefully it will be with a more compatible team.

  4. I don’t recommend my pinballing way to a decent career either, but I had another “it finally actually worked out” story. When my daughter was young and needed me to be present (for a period of about 7 years) and I was a single mom, sole support, no functional family nearby, and no (gasp) church), I revolving doored through every home care agency in town. Nurses, as you probably know, usually start out at x amount of hours per week, they offer you exactly what you ask for because they need your license or some oversight agency will impose consequences. Then, within a month of being there, mandatory hours and overtime goes up, the entire administrative team quits, you are told you have to take call (not without taking my baby with me, folks), there are mandatory staff meetings to address all of the above at times you can’t be there. So I would say, well, this isn’t what I signed up to do, and they would say, g’bye. At EVERY ONE of those places, there were people who loved me, understood what had happened, and thought I had gotten screwed (which I had). Many of those are still in the field, and have moved way up into management positions now.

    A friend of mine contacted me about a pilot program teaching home care aides for the community college. Where there YES was childcare that was pretty good. The department head was ready to go, but needed an RN to teach the hands-on part and because licensure required an RN as trainer. I went in for the interview, found a niche, and the (clueless, but well meaning) department head thought it was so GREAT that I knew people at every home care agency in town! This started my career of teaching and training which is now a small business I’ve been running for 15 years. I’ve gradually been able to weed out all but the agencies I really like and with whom I see eye to eye and I think we are doing really good meaningful work supporting vulnerable patients and the people who work with them. I just finished a Master’s in Nursing Education (took 8 years, very part time) and am now on a state committee to rewrite a training curriculum. And my daughter grew up, too.

    If I’d been ABLE to do what I had been required to do, I wouldn’t have gone down this path and it’s a better path for me anyway. And if I hadn’t HAD to bring in an income (single mom, sole support) I’d likely have given up before it got better.

    1. You are amazing and inspiring. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on a life of accomplishment.

  5. I have twice now, voluntarily, left positions where the working conditions were abysmal. The problems in both positions came down to two people: the boss about whom my sister once said “I hate the way she treats you”, and the boss who, when told the date I was scheduled for surgery said it was a “terrible time” for surgery, and then attempted to get me to swap my “two weeks at half time” (grudgingly given by my doctor, who really wanted me to stay home for another week or so) for two weeks at full time with no OT (same note) after I returned from said surgery.

    In neither case did I say anything specifically negative about these issues — because time and again I’ve been told not to be negative in exit interviews, lest your former employer give you a negative reference. And also because I loved both the jobs (and the grand-boss of the first boss, who was also HR at the very small company, did her level best to get me to say, outright, that I was quitting because I could no longer bear to work for boss; I found out later because at the time she had wanted to offer me an alternative position because they didn’t want to lose me. But I digress.)

    I wish I’d had the Captain’s scripts then.

    1. If your grand-boss had anticipated/suspected that your boss was the problem, she could have been honest with you or addressed the issue before you quit. After all, your boss is her report. It’s her responsibility to make sure her subordinates are managing their teams well, not your responsibility to risk your neck to report your boss.

  6. I’m greatly anticipating my job departure in three months time for better and greener pastures in my actual field that actually pay a living wage. This letter was so well timed for me, since management sent yet another morale killing email out to everyone yesterday and we’re all in the ‘rage of a thousand suns’ stage. I have a literal countdown to my leave date on my desk. That captain’s advice is great and these scripts are amazing. (I’m planning to use some) Also seconding checking out askamanager for many reasons.

  7. I had a GORGEOUSLY satisfying exit interview a few years ago, where I resolved to be extremely professional, factual and neutral, but my management structure had been so terrible and the HR assistant had such a good list of questions to ask that I “professional, factual and neutral” still caused him to mutter “good God!” under his breath and scribble 500 words in a box designed to hold 150. It was very, very pleasing. I came out feeling very dignified and without even a smidgen of “oh god should I have said that” but also 100% sure that the report the HR assistant was going to write ought to light a fire under SOMEONE’S (several someone’s) arses.

    “And did you have regular meetings with your manager?”
    “Oh – um, how often did you have a 1-1 meeting with your manager?”
    “Oh, um, once, on the day I came back from maternity leave.”
    “Right! So, at that meeting, did you set goals and objectives for the year.”
    “No? Oh – um, what did you discuss?”
    “I travelled down to head office as requested, but my manager hadn’t made any time in his diary for me. So we had a 30 minute meeting during which he told me how busy he was for 25 minutes, and then for the last five minutes I confirmed that I would be able to take a week’s annual leave and then he had to go and meet someone else.”
    “And – that was your only meeting?”
    “O…. K….” *writes furiously*

    1. Ohh yeah that was a big part of my last exit interview.

      My annual review was due in December.

      My boss was so apologetic, it was May, and it wasn’t done yet. He had the door to his office shut all week working on it. I had gotten an offer letter on Monday and accepted it immediately. It was so satisfying to let him go over my annual review with me on Friday, write in my comments and sign and date it, and then hand in my resignation.

    2. This is somewhat the same as my last exit interview. The HR person said, Please fill out this form. Then when they read the form, they said, Please step into my office. LOL

      They made a lot of notes, and affirming noises, but since the boss I was unhappy with was the CEO, I’m pretty sure it went exactly nowhere.

      It was fairly satisfying, though.

  8. I would tread carefully, LW, for all the reasons the Captain gave here.

    I generally refuse to do exit interviews. At my last organization, they were well aware of the issues, had a stack of exit interviews with the exact same issues being raised, and it would have been a waste of my time. Organizations that only bestir themselves to address anything when you’re already out the door aren’t good organizations.

    That being said, I think it’s fair to raise that you were hired to do a certain job that you ultimately didn’t do, and framing it as the job description needing to be updated is a fair point. I would not bring up the things like not being congratulated on your engagement.

    Good luck on your search!

  9. The Captain is SPOT ON on this one. That lingo is perfect, and yeah.

    A little pver a year ago, I had a Job I Hated With Solar Flare Levels of Burning Rage.

    I’m a woman in engineering. My boss literally told me I couldn’t install a (company’s product) because girls can’t do that. Immediately after asking for my advice on installation of (product), then watching me install a (product), and immediately before taking credit for my solution. Did he mean it as a joke? Probably. Was it the final straw? Definitely. Did I give any pushback or go to HR? Not right away. Did I cry on the way home? Yep. Did I bring it up in my exit interview after I was poached from the company by a coworker at that job? OH HELL YES I DID.

    This sucks, but the truth is that companies care about one thing: Making money. Put the issues in context of making money. My exit interview was tough. It was really hard not to cry. I practiced in front of a mirror a LOT. Work out that rage with your fiance (CONGRATS) before you talk to the HR person. The HR person’s job is to cover the company’s ass and keep the company safe. The HR person you talk to is going to be mentally running the risk of you suing or shooting up the building or something. “Disgruntled former employee” is the least fun situation for HR. My friend in HR just had her car keyed after a termination, and now she makes sure she leaves the building with a buddy. So: No Rage in the exit interview. Yes Rage in places where you can safely vent.

    They took my criticism seriously, but that was for a couple reasons:

    1. I tried to keep a sympathetic tone. “I know he was probably joking, but it still made me uncomfortable.” “I talked to HR about my relationship with my boss before and they just said he was joking.” “I think he probably just doesn’t understand how this makes me feel.” “If you want to retain women you should probably teach your managers what kinds of jokes are appropriate.”

    2. I asked permission of people who had experienced these issues, to give their names to HR. HR did talk to two of my female coworkers who worked closely with my boss about their interactions with him, and also had worked closely to me and were really upset I was leaving the company.

    3. We had a lot of turnover and the company was losing money trying to keep people and hire new ones and get everybody up to speed. Engineers are in high demand and we had a new VP of Engineering who realized we were having problems.

    4. I left for a job where I was making 10K more, getting better benefits, had a “higher” title, and that company has a very good reputation. My former company actually tried to buy my current company recently and my current company laughed in their face pretty much. I am VERY happy with my current company and I definitely commented on the company yammer post about that to say “hey, I used to work for that company, and I’m super glad they’re not buying us because I really value our culture and I feel like we’d lose some of that if they bought us.” Anyway, the power dynamic was definitely in my favor here. I was the commodity and they were bummed to lose me.

    End result: They put my boss through some intensive culture of inclusion / unconscious bias training. Then they put everyone in the company through that training and my boss got to use himself as an example.

    Since you don’t have close relationships with other coworkers and this is a nonvoluntary termination, 2-4 really don’t apply to you. Your only option here, really, is a sympathetic tone. You want to radiate “I’m trying to help you.” The Captain’s script nailed that.

  10. About ten years ago now I was working at a poorly run after school conglomerate that also ran a few preschools. I didn’t get an exit interview, but that didn’t stop me. I wrote a letter instead!

    It was anonymous, though clearly from a departing staff member. I outlined ways in which the after school programs were under-supported, the teachers were under-trained, and highlighted communication failures between the main office and the sites. I wasn’t mature enough to take Captain Awkward’s tactic and give more than a few solutions, and my frustration was clear.

    I found out later that the director launched a full on search for the writer, interviewing everyone still working there who might know who the letter writer was. Not whether my accusations were accurate, just who I was. And it’s clear that nothing changed, at least according to friends who worked there for a few years afterwards, and parents whose kids were still in the programs. In fact, this year, the local school district abruptly ended their contract and ceased every single program across the entire city.

    Captain Awkward’s right: how much energy do you want to put into providing free consulting? Feeling great to say probably means that they won’t listen to it.

  11. I voluntarily left a job at a very well-known, very large corporation, and I was asked to give an exit interview, despite the fact that I’d been hired right out of school and only had two years there. I was young and naive, but I also had a lot of very specific things to say. Not only did my boss listen, but his boss listened, and *his* boss listened. That last one had a title that started with “Director of North American …” I had a long list of stuff, and I said it all, firmly but politely. I listed how the company was failing its employees, how it was mismanaging projects, how it was setting itself up to be badly beaten by its competitors, how both strategy and tactics were poorly thought out. I gave multiple examples on all fronts. I guessed at causes. I named names.

    Mr. Director took it all in, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Yeah. We know.” Then he shrugged.

    Not sure if I have a point here, except that even paid consultants, even the executives who supposedly have the power to change things, sometimes can’t or won’t do so. If sharing or venting will make you feel better, if your leaving will be somehow improved for you, then by all means compile your lists and prepare your scripts. But if it’s easier for you to just shrug and say, “I’ve got nothing,” well, you’re in the company of someone who runs hundreds of millions of dollars worth of a multinational corporation. That’s evidently good enough. Take care of yourself first. You owe this organization nothing.

    1. This has pretty much been my experience.

      It generally takes someone very competent at a VP level or higher to really drive change in some companies. And even then, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. In some situations it is because they don’t have the specific examples and are actively looking for them. In some situations it’s because they’ve already tried to change it and failed. And in some situations they’re just not competent.

      It’s kinda disillusioning but also kinda inspiring because if those losers can make it to the top, then so can I. 😉

  12. I want to second the advice about not mentioning the stuff about the engagement or the lack of friendship in the department.

    For some people, like LW, this sort of team is too cold and hands-off and doesn’t lead to good work vibes. For others though, that sort of environment is actively preferred. Read some comment threads on Ask a Manager about office celebrations (of any kind! engagements, retirements, birthdays, you name it) and you will find a number commentors expressing the opinion that this sort of thing doesn’t really belong in an office, that they’re sick of shelling out for gifts cards and cake every time someone does a thing, that’s unfair to those who got engaged etc before joining this office and so forth.

    Point being, although this job was clearly a terrible fit *for LW*, it’s not an objectively terrible workplace red flag. Odds are, the company won’t care.

    The work content bait and switch, and the impossibility to communicate about work things with the actual manager, those sound more worth bringing up. If LW decides to bring anything up at all.
    A professional version of “KK thx byeeeee” would be valid too.

    *Disclaimer: I’ve never worked anywhere that had exit interviews as a thing.

    1. Strong agree! Lots of people and teams would prefer a hands off approach and an exemption from personal milestone celebrations. The LW has information now about what would fit her better in a workplace, and that can be a good framing device – “I really thrive in a team atmosphere, I like a company where people are friendly and social” – when thinking about where she wants to go. But her former department might be exactly the right fit for “I will get my work done on time, but this is work and I only want to talk about work things at work. I never wanna talk about my weekend or sign another birthday card in my life, is that cool?” person, of which there are many.

        1. Oh God yes! I feel so weird watching those particular scenes because I am pretty nearly an Eleanor in my work/personal life split, but I’m not mean, really!

    2. Totally agree, and if the HR person asks specific questions, the response of “the culture / manager’s style / team organization structure / etc wasn’t a good fit for me” is absolutely valid.

    3. Yeah, basically this. The team environment was clearly a horrible fit for you, but for me I’d much prefer to work somewhere where nobody talks about personal lives. (Now, if your team talked about their personal lives/congratulated each other on stuff/etc for everyone except you, that’s more of a problem, but the company probably still won’t care.)

      On the other hand, I doubt there’s anybody who would want to work somewhere where the job was completely different from what they were hired for, or where they couldn’t communicate with their manager at all. If – IF – you decide it’s worth it to you to bring up your issues with the job, those are the ones I’d focus on.

      1. “I’d much prefer to work somewhere where nobody talks about personal lives.”

        Omigosh, yes! We have a new person on our team (now there are five of us) and every time I talk to her (she is in another state), I feel like I am being interrogated. I don’t want to talk about my weekend plans. I don’t want to hear about her weekend plans. I don’t want to hear about what shows she’s watching, what concerts she’s attending, what books she’s reading.

        I don’t want to gossip about co-workers. (I mean, I don’t want to gossip about co-workers with other co-workers. Anonymous griping is fine.) I don’t want to hear about her drama with the people who don’t understand what she does and how much value she brings and who are being mean to her.

        I especially don’t want my boss to tell me (he never should have told me this – he should have pushed back on her) that I am not nice because when we did have a week-long team meeting at our office, I did not invite New Person to do something socially.

        We are not friends.

        We are co-workers.

        I just – want to do my job. And I want her to do hers. That’s. All.

        1. Yes! I mean, I actually do have a handful of friends I’ve made at my current job, but it has to happen organically, and I won’t be friends with everyone. And I hate office pseudo-socializing, where I have to be on outside of work hours. Luckily it’s pretty avoidable in my job; I go to the things that are during the work day and skip anything after hours.

          1. Yeah, I get along pretty well with my coworkers, and I actually do enjoy chatting with them and even the occasional after work activity. I really hate the semi-mandatory twice a year company dinners, though.

            And I doubt I’d tell them immediately if I got engaged. It would probably come out in conversation at some point, eventually, I guess. But even though I would consider them teammates and enjoy their company, I would much rather chat about impersonal things, not my family or relationships.

            I never said at work when I went through the death of a pet, although I guess something happy would probably be much easier to talk about. But still.

    4. Couldn’t agree more. I think the Captain’s advice to frame it as “this style of office didn’t fit me personally” is great because it’s actually accurate. Aloofness may not be to your personal taste but I’m not sure why it would be rage-inducing. I LOVE my current office because people leave me alone and don’t bug each other about personal stuff.

      1. Exactly. LW should really mentally separate “red flags/actual work issues” (manager is incommunicado/her job doesn’t fit the description she was given) and “stuff that’s not a good fit for me personally but is not an actual problem” (coworkers don’t want to get chummy/don’t care about her engagement). If she mentions anything in her exit interview, it should be the former and not the latter. And I too am not sure why her coworkers’ aloofness would cause so much anger. Disappointment and sadness, sure, but rage?

  13. I think it would be too exhausting to list out all of the ways this particular job was deeply toxic/dysfunctional so you’ll have to trust me, but in my exit interview (I left that office job with benefits and a small but consistent salary to go wait tables, if that tells you how bad it was), I laid it all out verbally and submitted a written narrative of how deeply, deeply fucked up the entire workplace was. My direct boss, who was a kind lady but a complete enabler who did nothing to stand up for her employees or herself, threw it away after I left and told the big bosses that I didn’t have any feedback to share. SHRUG EMOJI

  14. The Captain’s suggestion is great. Praise specific people who you genuinely respect and admire. Be honest about the bait and switch and be honest about how your manager interacted (or didn’t) with you. I also want to address how lonely and isolated you sounded in your letter. I’d avoid that in your exit interview. Different offices have different cultures and companies will foster the environment they foster – it won’t necessarily be one where lots of friendly interactions are encouraged. Personally, I would love an office like yours – I like coming in, putting my nose to the grindstone, a boss that gives me autonomy, and the abilty to keep my personal life private. It sounds like you’re the opposite. So, as you look fo new work when they ask if you have questions don’t be afraid to ask questions like “How often do managers meet with indivdiual employees?” “How are personal achievements and events celebrated here?” “Are many peopel here friends outside of work?” “What kinds of casual after-work gatherings do you have?” Even questionsa bout how the office is laid out (cubilcles vs. open concept) or how the work gets done (as indivduals, small groups, cross-functional teams) will give you a good sense of the partcular culture of a place. The work you’d be doing is important, yes, but so is the environment you’ll be doing it in. HOpefully that’ll help you avoid the fury of 1000 suns at your next job. And good luck to you!

  15. I agree with the Cap here, you want to vent your rage buuuuut doing so to them is doing them a service and fuck them. Save your insights for your GlassDoor review and be a silent neutral wall and GTFO as fast as possible. It’s like, if you had an abusive relationship and you finally managed to break up, are you gonna sit there with ab abusive fuckhead who has demonstrated that you don’t matter at all to them and be like, “I have seven points for where you can improve!” Yeah, maybe not.

    I got fired for not smiling. Twice. The exit interviews after those were like getting slapped in the face. I’ve lost my tedious and inane job that you actively made worse by not listening to my feedback and now are punishing me for not smiling, despite knowing that you’re the reason why I’m miserable, and now you want my freaking ADVICE? And that’s when I started adopting the laconic “No comment, I’ve left everything you need on my desk, if you’ll excuse me, bye!” tactic

    I had a bunch of temping gigs in various industries that I never intended to work in during the great recession and that was the one and only time I’ve ever been entirely honest in an exit interview. I was doing a 2 month gig at a marketing agency where I literally moved dots on the automatically generated powerpower points to more literally inaccurate but more aesthetically pleasing places. HR scheduled a full hour exit interview at the end of the gig, which ended through no one’s fault, and I had notes. I took a picture of them and the only legible words in it are “insulting cavalier about time.” I read them the riot act. It made me feel better, didn’t ruin my career, but also did literally nothing for me and that company is still terrible. So… maybe just write down all your angry notes, to get them out of your system, and then drink some wine with people who listen to you.

    1. Fired for not smiling!! It’s so infuriating!!! My first job out of grad school was at Well Known National Women’s Health Nonprofit and I got dinged on my first 90 day performance review for, literally, not making enough jokes at the first social lunch I went to with our team. Geeez what a toxic hellhole that job ended up being. I lasted 8 months but should have left sooner. Personally, in my exit interview I went the route of telling the most sanitized version of the truth without it being ugly, and kept the flat out absurd stuff to myself. It’s been three years and I sometimes find myself still writing the angry tell-alls in my head, but hey that’s what a diary is for. The unfortunate truth in this situation is that taking the path of least resistance doesn’t necessarily feel better for you but will be better for your career in the long run.

      1. When I was a medical assistant I got chewed on by the nursing supervisor because a patient complained about me. I told the supervisor I had not exchanged a single word with said patient. So??????? Supervisor said I should “control my facial expressions.”

        Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I was silently in a rage for a month.

        1. Got the best piece of feedback in my very overdue review at Super Toxic Last Job: I have a, and I quote, “b****y aura.” What exactly am I supposed to do with that feedback? How is it actionable in any way? Also, what color is such an aura?
          I did not provide any feedback or an exit interview, but hooooo boy was I tempted, especially when my boss actually stayed late on my last day, explicitly to sage the office after I was out the door.

          1. I think that aura is red and I love red and I want a bitchy aura.

            A boss once told me to stop using such big words because they made people “feel stupid.” I asked for an example of such a word and he couldn’t give me one. I asked who had told him that and he had no names. So. What was I supposed to do with that?

          2. I am dealing with a terrible work situation right now, and enjoying these comments very much. “Bitchy aura” in particular. Thanks for sharing!

            Less fun, but I was just told that a boss “didn’t like” my draft for something….no concrete details provided. Thanks, I’ll totally know what to change then!

  16. In my long and varied job history (Recession child), I was once let go at the end of my three-month probationary period. Which was New Year’s Eve. On my lunch break. That said, I hated that job, I hated where it was (90 minute one-way drive, I’d been desperate), I didn’t fit in with the people, I was a giant ball of stress for three months straight, and it turned out I was bad at it to boot (not just “bad at it bc stressed.” The manager noted that I just didn’t seem to *think* the right way for this job. Even if I hadn’t been a giant ball of stress, it probably wouldn’t have gone well). The only reason I hadn’t quit was the aforementioned desperation – I needed to be working. By letting me go, I was able to go on EI, so it was a blessing in disguise and I didn’t fight it. Less than a year later, my career launched for real. So to start, maybe bear in mind that if you hated it, and they let you go… you won’t be thankful for awhile, but later you might be?


    I’ll also tell a second story, about a different job I had been at for several years, but was a toxic environment. I can and have written pages about what was wrong with that place, and by the time I left after three years, I was literally THE most senior person (in terms of tenure, not authority), there was so much turnover.

    CA is right that you can go far with little, in terms of feedback. A pissed off, profanity-laden word vomit will feel good, but they won’t read it, and they certainly won’t take you seriously if they do read it. A few people before me had written word-vomits on their way out, and they were written off as crackpots. A well-worded, relatively short missive, like CA suggested, is best. Commenting *professionally* that you were taken aback by the lack of relationship with your manager, and dismayed by how little work in your actual field you got to do. Use specifics, but don’t rant. Indicate that these issues lead to a work environment where you felt isolated and superfluous, and that you likely would not be the only employee who would feel that way in the same situation. If I were you, I wouldn’t mention things like colleagues not asking about your weekend/sharing life events with you – some workplace cultures just don’t go in for that, and you’ll come across as if you’re expecting your colleagues to be your buddies.

    In my case, leaving that position, I glossed over the “workplace toxicity” stuff (because I was submitting notice to the ED, who was a huge part of that toxic culture, and there was basically no way anything I wrote was going to get through her head), but did reference how little mobility there was in the org. My ED didn’t even receive or respond to my notice for several days, until I spoke to one of the managers, who called her attention to it. At that point, I received a response from her indicating that I was a “pillar of strength” or somesuch for the organization. I remember telling someone else about that email, and he translated: “She didn’t think you’d ever actually leave.” In my case, my departure changed precisely nothing – speaking to another former employee years later, she said the place continued to be a drama-filled pit for the several more years she stayed on after me. And maybe still is today.

    Point being, if it’s a toxic workplace, you likely won’t be able to change much on your way out, especially if they’re laying you off. If it’s just a workplace culture issue, where you want a different environment, then you’ll look back later and be glad they’re letting you go, giving you an opportunity to job-hunt on EI and with less desperation. The best “revenge” you can get against these guys is to be awesome and successful elsewhere, and eventually barely consider them a footnote in your professional history.

  17. I had an exit interview at a dysfunctional organization. When I made comments on the unmanageable workload, the CFO who was filling in for the head of HR blamed it on my department and made it sound like as a member of that department, it was my own fault. Rather than making the connection that actually if a department is working people into the ground, that’s a thing the head of the organization can deal with.

    When a friend gave an exit interview at the same organization, she brought up how the tension between the ceo and the head of our department made our jobs more difficult and the head of HR said “It’s always hard when mom and dad fight.” Which was not at all appropriate or what the problem was.

    I’m grateful every day I no longer work there.

    1. So basically, if you know your company does not have competent HR, I would not expect much to change from what you say in the exit interview. Competent HR will want to know about things like bait and switch and would also want to know about a manager who doesn’t manage.

  18. The last place I worked at was a mixed bag. It was a new position, and I ended up leaving because I was moving. When I left, I made sure to tell my supervisor that I really enjoyed working there…. when I had work. The biggest challenge of my position was the frequent -lack- of work (I believe partially because it was new). Fortunately, my supervisor was relatively new to her position and looking to do many improvements with the processes there, so she was extremely receptive to my concerns about the position.

    LW, I think you’ve been given some very solid advice here, and I wish you the best! Sorry you didn’t have the chance to leave this job on your own steam, it sounds very frustrating.

  19. If possible, find out if the exit interview must be face-to-face. When I left Old Job, the HR department had basically set up a Survey Monkey questionnaire as an exit interview so you could think carefully and write down as much or as little as you wanted. You could also do it in person but I’m pretty sure 90% did it online.
    I was first year out of uni and only there for a year so I focused on the positives like my direct manager and my lovely coworkers. I didn’t write about how my unit manager waffled on about our “strategic direction” and how we need to “develop external relations to work productively in new spaces” while not having an actual clue what we did on a daily basis. That was a problem which was evident to literally everyone and I wasn’t going to put my reference at risk to point out what they obviously didn’t want to deal with.

  20. When I left my first “grown-up” job (to go do what I thought was my dream job, hah, I was young and naive), I had a great exit interview with my great-grandboss (boss’s boss’s boss, aka the person in charge of everyone in my building). Truthfully, it was a wonderful place to work, but as I was leaving, there had been some recent changes that were discombobulating and frustrating to many of us–though not the reason I left–and I was able to let her know how much that had shaken people that I knew were great employees, and that a lot of people’s problems were really down to a lack of communication and not getting a chance to weigh in on how the changes would change their day-to-day work. I got assurances from her that she realized she and the other grandbosses messed up and were going to take steps to give people more ownership of the changes that affected them, that keeping good employees was very important, and a promise that if my new career didn’t work out, I had a job there any time. I kept in touch with my coworkers, and great grandboss followed through on those promises. It was basically the best possible outcome of an exit interview ever, and I think it mostly went that way because grandboss was sincere, it was already a decent place to work, and I focused on specific work-related things that were actionable.

    I would just about literally kill to move back and work there now, but life had other things in mind by the time I got out of “dream” career and back into the field I’d started out in with that job; geographically it just doesn’t work for me anymore. But that sounds like basically the opposite of how you feel about your employer, so I think the captain’s advice is perfect for your situation. I would only add that you might want to write down the things you do want to bring up if you decide to give any feedback, because it will help you stay focused and not spiral into the fury of a 1000 suns that you have every right to feel.

  21. I’ve had two exit interviews, one for a mediocre internship and one that was a hasty clean-up from HR from the job from hell to, in retrospect, probably convince me not to try to sue them.

    I think the internship one went well, because I was able to highlight a specific thing that wasn’t getting done. Because in that interview, I found out I was supposed to have had an internship mentor. Which I had not had. I also explained how random people in the office would give me work and I’d ask them for it, because the actual boss was never there and I only spoke with him twice. So I have some vague hope that perhaps those issues could have been addressed in the future. I didn’t go in to the exit interviews trying to get them to fix it and I think the dude who was in there before me went in with, like, an actual stack of Issues To Discuss. But maybe I was helpful to them for feedback for the future.

    The HR interview after the nightmare job, though, there was nothing I could have done or said that would have made a difference. They knew the boss was bad. If they weren’t going to fire her or discipline her or anything, they weren’t gonna do anything. And she was still there, as of the last time I looked a few years back.

    If you think positive change could happen, wrap them up in recommendations, but honestly, as AAM puts it, sometimes your boss sucks and isn’t gonna change.

    1. Oh and I want to second the Captain’s point that they have had other opportunities to get this info from you. The current place I’m at has an annual anonymous survey and is committed to _looking_ like they’re taking the criticism seriously and working to fix it. They never actually take it seriously and try to fix it.

      They’re losing people left and right, and half the time I talk to my coworkers, we’re discussing our job searching. If TPTB want to know what’s up with turn-over, well, we’ve already told them.

  22. I left a highly dysfunctional work environment, along with tons of other people (major leadership/decision making issues). I happened to be following Old Boss to New Job; he had always been instrumental in my career and I trusted him, and he’d asked me to go with him. I told HR in my exit interview that I was leaving because Old Boss had been the only person to invest in my long-term career in my time there. She paused for a moment and said, “Well. Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. I’d go with him too.”

  23. On my last day of Horrible Job with Horrible Manager Who Didn’t Understand Boundaries, the team did a little happy hour/going away thing for me. (I’d been there nearly a decade and had done some good work and was generally well-regarded, despite my final year being a bit of a shit show due to the family drama that eventually led me to quit; that’s a whole ‘nother country album worth of heartbreak.)

    As we were leaving my Horrible Boss, who was a bit tipsy at that point, said, “Can I give you a hug?”

    Despite the fact that I wouldn’t have peed on this woman if she’d been on fire at this point in my career, I said, “Sure,” and did the stiff one-armed thing you do in these situations.

    Then she said, “Can we be Facebook friends now?” (She’d sent me a couple of friend requests in the past and I’d had to explain to her that I didn’t do social media with colleagues, which wasn’t even strictly true; I mainly didn’t want to be Facebook friends with my manager, especially THIS manager.)

    “Uh, I don’t really think so,” I stammered, and on that note I left the building. That was as close to an exit interview as I got; I know I’d have said wildly inappropriate things because I was so bitter and so emotional at that point.

    Schedule some time with a therapist to unload, and take the Captain’s wise counsel.

  24. I finished up a contract role last year. They had tried to offer me a permanent role but I really disliked the company and the bullying of the senior management team and in the meantime had been offered a dream job elsewhere. I didn’t get to do an exit interview (they used a stupid tick and flick survey) but I did get to partake in something far better about a week before leaving; an organisational audit conducted by an external company on behalf of the parent company. So I was with the auditors and my director going through all the things I worked on and a particularly pointed question about my experience with the company came up. After an awkward pause on my part (cos my director was there) I tactfully answered the question to highlight how well the non managerial staff worked together while making no mention of the senior management team. There was a very noticeable tension coming from my director though, who was clearly worried about my response.

    After this meeting, the auditors came and got me to speak with them alone about some other things “relating to my work”. However, they went straight to the point and got me to dish on the management team and straight out asked me if they thought the company was in good hands under the current GM (I said no). To say I went to town would be an understatement. They’d already picked up on the increasing turnover that was occurring among anyone under the age of 50 and/or had in demand skills (i.e anyone who could easily find another role). My director noticed I was back in the room after a while and came nervously knocking to see what was up. The auditors played it so cool when explaining why I was in there. The main guy looked like Gus Fring from Breaking Bad. It was so badass.

    1. Forgot to add, the GM had “moved on” within two months of the auditors being there, so Yehhhh…

  25. Not an exit interview per se, but….

    So a million years ago when I was a wee Novel, I worked at a Busy Upscale Pet Services Boutique in a very chichi neighbourhood of Large Midwest City. I loved most of our clients, I loved most of their pets, but my coworkers were all nightmarish. I could literally write paragraphs about each of them and how terrible they were in very specific and measurable ways, but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say by the time I left that job to go back to school and finish my degree, I had developed 12 separate facial tics.

    When I called my boss to give her three months’ notice, she moved seamlessly from criticizing my work ethic and the job I’d been doing (for 3.5 years! no one had ever lasted that long!) to telling me to write an ad, put it in the paper (this was many years ago), take applications, select candidates, interview them, pick a finalist, hire that person, and train them. I did this, hired someone, then hired my second choice when the first hire flaked, trained her for three weeks during our busiest season, and left. I found out later that she had lasted less than six weeks before she put all the phones on hold and walked out in the middle of the afternoon, quitting via post-it note stuck to the desk.

    1. Wow, you sound that workplace lost a real asset when they lost someone willing to do all that.

  26. My one piece of advice learnt the hard way would be to stick to you guns on how you’ve decided to conduct your exit interview. Don’t be surprised to be pressured to provide free consulting.

    When I left a job of 7 years due to frustrations with my manager and my manager’s manger, I decided I it was neither my job nor my best interest to provide any details on why I was leaving (I had tried to address them before quitting, and had no interest in trying further).

    I had a generic exit interview with HR (who were aware of problems), but was surprised when separately my manager and my manager’s manger cornered me to ask if they could discuss their management styles because they had been informed they needed to improve. With both of them, I initially resisted, saying I wasn’t really interested in that type of exchange. But they both pushed and both times I relented and gave them what I thought was some useful feedback (listen to your reports, don’t enter meetings with a fixed mind on how to solve problems when you have smart people whose job is to figure out how to solve problems, etc.)

    In both instances, I was interrupted to be told that either I or my co-workers were the problem. Somehow my giving them solicited advice on how to improve became an opportunity for them to give unsolicited advice on how I or others should improve.

    No big harm, but I do wish I had kept to my guns and just plain refused to consult for free. Unlike Captain Awkward’s experience, my suggestions were thrown back in my face with a bit of personal criticism added in for good measure. Not surprising given the issues I had had with management but in retrospect I wish I had anticipated being pushed to engage. I would have been better able to keep my resolve if I had known that was going to happen.

  27. At my last job, I had a really great manager and liked my work but there was a stodgy and unreasonable HR department. As an example, my manager would have been happy to let us work from home whenever we wanted/needed, but HR did not allow it at all so *she* couldn’t allow us to.
    I have chronic pain issues which are exacerbated by standing/walking, so I ended up taking sick days and getting nothing done when I could have worked from home. There were many small things like that which, on their own, were not dealbreakers, but all together created a poor working environment.

    I ended up getting a job at a company that was reasonable in all the ways OldJob’s HR refused to be, so when I had my exit interview, I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t leaving because of my manager or the job itself, but because of HR policies. But I also didn’t want to make it look like my manager was constantly throwing HR under the bus by saying “if it were up to ME you could do xyz, but ugh HR just won’t allow it!”

    I ended up saying something that was close to the script provided here:

    I’ve enjoyed my time at [OldJob], and it’s been wonderful to work with [Coworkers A and B] especially. [Manager] is really fantastic and I feel she genuinely cares about her employees’ growth and development. Truthfully, the main reason I’m leaving this job is because I got a company that allows for A, B, and C and offers X, Y and Z benefits.”

    I was later asked if I would ever consider working for OldJob again in the future and I repeated: “If OldJob changed their stance on A, B, and C, then yes.”

  28. Hello, first time poster here. I just wanted to recommend the Captain’s beautiful script. I have had two horrifying exit interviews:
    1. Exit interview with my line manager (hostile) and the dept. head (v. hostile) where my hesitant suggestions (I was young!) were rather aggessively rebutted by both in a tiny tiny office with the door shut. It was traumatic.
    2. Written exit interview at an organisation where they had recently changed thier policy of throwing away exit interviews unread. High Boss accidentally sent me an email intended for the HR person in which they completely ignored my point that the workforce talked to each other, so treating one staff member badly was known by the whole organisation, and thus was, hey, pretty demoralising! On reflection, I should have not said anything, but I cared about that job.
    Good luck with your job hunt, OP.

  29. I generally agree with the advice given (granted I haven’t read all of the comments.) I’ve done exit interviews and kept it strictly, if coolly, professional. My most recent was pretty easy; while I wasn’t the most happy there and had wanted to leave for some years (prevented by my then-wife’s demands that I never leave that employer and then needing job stability while I divorced) I was leaving because I was moving and they wouldn’t approve my request to transfer to remote or the regional office in my new location. I kept it to a few things like career path issues where I had been moved to a team where I had no career path so that I could train the new employees brought in to that team, and that the quarterly review system had failed – in the 3-4 years that system was in place I had only had 1.

    At a previous employer I pointed out things I could easily demonstrate – that I was performing the same as coworkers classified and paid as much more senior but had been denied the pay and promotion when I negotiated (I left out that it was obviously gender bias.)

  30. When I left one field and (re) entered another, I did an extremely satisfying exit interview in which I bluntly told Merchandising Contractor that their biggest client in my driving area was overpricing their sprickle-sprocks while simultaneously complaining in the news that the young people of today just don’t do their part by consuming sprickle-sprocks. I couldn’t afford the sprickle-sprocks they sold! Meanwhile, I said, the young people of today were taking to social media to rant about how insulting it was to be scolded for not purchasing my client’s sprickle-sprocks or any of the sprickle-sprock tie-ins that my client also wanted them to buy–by millionaires who had spent years dismantling the social safeguards that would have allowed the young people of today to afford premium sprickle-sprocks in the first place. The young people of today were instead trading tips on which store-brand sprickle-sprocks were the best for the money, and how to make your own sprickle-sprock tie-ins at home, and which sprickle-sprock tie-ins were completely unnecessary anyway.

    I laid it all out–all the reasons why Premium Sprickle-Sprocks, Inc., had seen its sales slip year after year, incidentally causing them to cut their merchandising contract budget and therefore my hours.

    But I was leaving that field entirely in order to something else. Would I have been that thorough if I were leaving Merchandising Contractor for Contract Merchandising? Nope. “The boss was great [he really was] but my hours got cut” would have been my limit.

    1. It’s funny because there are so very many candidates for what sprickle-sprocks could be standing in for.
      The only thing I’m confident is that it’s not avocado toast.

  31. Many years ago, I had a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship to college. The deal was, they would pay for college, and then I would be in the military for four years to pay them back. I was lukewarm on the whole idea in the first place, but it would have been massive debt without this scholarship, so I gave it a shot and thought, “maybe it won’t be so bad, and perhaps I’ll get to do something interesting and cool during my time in the service.”

    Spoiler Alert: I haaaaated everything about it. The bullshit, nonsensical rules, the [light] hazing, “military etiquette” (coupled with the gross toxic culture, that was ironic), the way they talked about everyone who left the program, etc.

    Basically, I was working on a stress ulcer at the age of 18. As a result, I took the option to dis-enroll from the program after a year (you could do this without paying back the tuition money–any longer than that, and they could make you pay them back or force you into boot camp). I wrote a two-page single-spaced letter (very naively, I’m sure) outlining everything I thought was wrong with the program and the waste of pulling people in and paying for them only to have them leave early.

    I’m quite sure my little letter had zero effect (military culture is a huge, slow-changing beast). So, should I have sent it? Probably not. Did it make me feel better? After a year of swallowing/hiding everything about myself (politics, personality, interests, professional goals) every single time I was in class, drill, physical training, military events, YOU BET IT DID. I didn’t care if the bridge was burned, since I had found out beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did not want a military career. EVER.

    Finding out that I wasn’t suited for that culture (much like the LW has found she is not suited for the culture of her recent workplace) turned out to be a guiding force in figuring out what kind of environment I do well in (collaborative, democratic) and what I don’t tolerate well (authoritarian).

  32. I had a similar experience with a job I hated, though I was leaving by my own choice and with another job already confirmed. And the new job was technically a different industry (although similar work), so I wasn’t that worried about burning bridges at the old job.

    I didn’t go full Hulk at the exit interview, but I did let them know plainly why I was leaving: very low pay, a cliquey office culture, and the way they handled promotions within our team. I had been there 2.5 years and had been strung along for six months waiting on a promised title bump from Assistant ______ to full fledged _____. Our Team Leader had left a couple of months before, and our Manager had been very vague about whether or when he would be replaced. I thought that maybe I would be considered, as I was the longest tenured full time employee on the team by that point. Then on the day that a more junior team member (who I had helped train) had been there for exactly one year, he was announced as the new Team Leader. I felt humiliated that they clearly hadn’t considered me, that they chose someone much more junior, and that it was all done in such secrecy. I had been kind of job searching already because I was unhappy there, but I started in earnest after that day. In fact it took my parents talking me down from quitting right on the spot, when I called them on my break.

    I told the exit interviewer that it would have been much better to make the promotion process more transparent, to actually let people apply. I would still have been disappointed to not be chosen of course, but I would have felt like they seriously considered me and that it wasn’t all secret and behind people’s backs.

    The exit interviewer was a manager from a different department who I didn’t know that we’ll, and he listened politely, but I had no illusions that anything would actually change. It was mostly just catharsis for me. I also left a scathing anonymous review of the company on Glassdoor.

    I’m much happier in my new job. When I am annoyed by things in new job, I sometimes look up to see if those people are still at that company and it makes me feel better to know they’re still stuck in that toxic shithole and I’m not. 😊

  33. At the exit interview for my previous job my boss’s boss crossly said “Well, I didn’t think YOU were a flight risk.”

    I was infuriated for a minute – you think I’m too old to get hired by (prestigious company I was going to)? Wouldn’t have the gumption to look for another job? Just not good enough to get hired anywhere else?

    Then I could barely keep from laughing because, well, turns out you were wrong, and I was! Buh-bye!

      1. Oh, she knew! And then she said “May I ask how much they’re going to pay you?” I told her and she said “Well, I can’t match that.” And you thought I wouldn’t be a flight risk?

  34. I think if OP is moved my Jennifer’s story and wants to emulate it, she would want to sum up her position in no more than two short sentences. I really don’t think the positive outcome that Jennifer experienced is very common! It’s like any of the “gumption” suggestions of job searching (“show up at the office with your printed resume and don’t leave until they agree to hire you!”) that must have worked for somebody somewhere but aren’t super likely to work for you.

  35. I wish I had been able to be honest in my last exit interview. The sexual harassment was omg so over the top. But honestly I think management would have been mortified. I just couldn’t risk not having a reference from someone in the department.

    It was full of a bunch of older dudes who loved to say how much they respect women but would talk about really sexual things at work/lunch etc. If I told them they were inappropriate I was told I could walk away if i didn’t like it.

    They no joke looked at naked photos of women at work and showed them to me too. Had my boobs grabbed by a coworker and when I told him off (didn’t report him) he told me I was “overreacting” and it was just a joke. Still don’t know what the joke was? that I have boobs? Also, when looking to replace me during my notice period openly discussed “hiring a HOT one”. Looking up the female applicants on social media and commenting on their looks. “No, not her, she’s FUGLY!” laughs loudly. Same people didn’t understand why no women would stay in that department. God I’m glad I left. Strangely enough, I think it was really just this department because other teams had none of these issues.

    1. Sheesh. That’s all horrendous behavior from a nobody you meet on the street, much more so AT WORK. I am very glad you’re out of there, but it sucks that you had to experience it in the first place.

  36. No advice, but your closing is one of my favorite movie sequences. It makes me giggle every time I see it.

  37. It wasn’t an exit interview but a letter I wrote to a department in my college shortly before graduation. I had a series of miserable experiences in courses I needed for my major and planned career and ended up retaking one of the courses at an affiliated college where I had a really positive experience. We were affiliated schools but also rivals. One of the statements I made in my letter was that Affiliated College offered free tutoring through the department and we did not. I used words to the effect of “How are we letting Affiliated College do this better than us?”

    I heard through the alum grapevine a year or so later that the department was offering free tutoring through the department. . .

  38. Oh gosh. I just remembered this call-center job I had when I was 21. When I quit, they asked me to fill out a form as an exit interview, and there was a long form question of something like “is there anything we should do differently?” and I’m not sure what came over me in that moment, but I was suddenly inspired to write _several pages_ arguing that they should stop answering phones, and dedicate their time and resources to helping the poor, that they should lie to their superiors in other offices to keep the rent paid for as long as possible … and I don’t remember what else. It was an _elaborate_ fantasy. I silently handed it to my former manager and went back to clean out my desk. As I was going out the door a bit later, one of the higher-up managers ran up to me to say “that was the most Interesting exit paperwork I’ve ever read.” I think that he might have been frightened of me.
    I never saw any of those people again. No consequences.

  39. I fantasize about writing a letter to the paper about exactly why I’ll be leaving my job (when eventually I do, working on it.)

  40. Many years ago a got hired for a freelance gig. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was reasonable for what they said they wanted. I had my own corporation and worked for everyone else on a 1099. But these people insisted I work as a W2. Which meant I sacrificed the benefits of being incorporated (like being able to contribute the income toward my corporation’s retirement plan), plus it complicated my tax situation. But, whatever. It seemed like an interesting project.

    It was a project of constantly moving goalposts, and although I was a freelancer on a flat fee they expected me to behave like an employee, despite what we’d negotiated. Be paid as a W2, be onsite, and accept the changing requirements indefinitely. Finally, when my hourly rate had dropped to about 60% of what my fee was based on, I put my foot down and asked for more money. Since we were halfway through the project, they relented. But then it got worse! Again, the hours ballooned, the weeks went by, and the fact that I was there all the time, working at a drastically reduced rate, meant that I couldn’t pursue or do other work. Work that actually produced income I could live on. They also took months to pay me, so I was actually living off of savings while working. So I gave notice.

    In return I got a guilt trip and attempts to cajole me into working beyond my end date (I’d been reasonable and given them a week). One of the people there actually said to me, “I’d be happy to be getting $15,000 for something!” This was for a LONG project, in the nation’s second most expensive city.

    So, I wrote a two page letter blasting their freelancer-hostile policy. I knew I never wanted to work for them again. But, yes, is was foolish because the industry is small. You know what? That company changed their freelancer policy right after I left, I was told as a result of my letter. A couple of years later the people I worked with went to other companies and hired me again, on my terms. Then, about 10 years after that, the company that I thought I’d burned every bridge with hired me again, this time under their new policy, on fair terms. They still weren’t a great client, so I didn’t end up working much with them, but to the point is that it’s all business. I think in a weird way I’d gained their respect. It’s kind of sick, like being respected for hitting an abuser back. But I don’t regret having hit back. I still have that letter. I wouldn’t have written it that way today, because it was inflammatory, but I would have found a way to make the same points with the same reason and force.

  41. I only had one exit interview and I think it’s a fairly good example of what NOT to do (…if you’re the manager).

    Basically, after a whole year of holding a horrible desk job in a literal dark basement, a position which was actually interesting (and actually relevant to my studies, unlike the job I had!) opened in the company. Since we had been told from day 1 that lateral moves in the organization were encouraged, I applied. I was rejected however (being a relatively fresh graduate, I lacked experience, you know the drill).

    Still fed up with my job, I started looking for a position elsewhere. I eventually found a part-time job which sounded great. However, when I asked if it was possible to have a flexible schedule to accomodate this new gig, I was told it would be impossible because the department was short-staffed due to several employees leaving (well, well).

    Predictably, I resigned in favor of my new job and left.

    The exit interview started off great when my boss didn’t show up at the coffee shop where he had told me to meet him. When I went back to my desk, I saw he was in his office, so I went in – he was eating yogurt so I think it’s fair to say he had forgotten the meeting.

    The interview thus started 25 minutes late. I didn’t even get the chance to say anything about my experience – instead, I got lectured for a half-hour about how I had shown a lack of motivation by trying to get transferred to another position (this truly pissed me off because I had been encouraged by my supervisor to apply), and how I was basically a bad employee for not having committed myself to the job (despite the fact it wasn’t what I studied in), and how it was shitty of me to leave the department when they were short on people.

    Afterwards I felt a fiery anger and there was no doubt in my mind leaving had been the right move. In hindsight, I’m thinking that if my boss was so hung up on department loyalty, he might have decided to fire me eventually…

  42. What cap said: free consulting. I’m looking for another job now and I know when I leave they’re going to ask me why bc they’ll be upset (not bc I’m great but bc my position is crucial and I’m the only one who does it. As in, I tell them to have at least one other bc I am swamped but nope, just keep me working too much for too little and zero room for advancement meanwhile my idiot office mate spends half the day on his phone.). But in the words of Will Smith ‘i Ain’t mad….’. There is so much wrong with this company. But am I giving them tgat? Nope. Bc they already know, and feel they are ok doing it. Anything I say will be salt in the wound of my leaving even if it’s I love you goodbye. So I’m going to just smile brightly and say tge opportunity I’m taking (this theoretical one I don’t have yet) was just too good to pass up. Why? They will ask (bc I know they will. Though partly it’s also my fantasy to keep sane), and I’ll say, Well it just is. Yeah but why is it better? Bc my mgr never takes no for an answer. Let’s not worry about that I’ll say, my time here is going to be pretty short so let’s mive on to what the focus should be in my last 2 weeks. Delivered without a trace of condescension in order to convey, I hope, condescension well played… and I’ll offer to be available for questions on a consulting basis. Bc business is business and those arses have underpaid me long enough… sorry, made that about me. LW be careful not to say anything to cause resentment or a desire in anyone to harm your career as it sounds like you’re new to your field. Sometimes saying only positive things is a great way to exact revenge. Bc everyone in the room wants to know what you are truly thinking and not giving someone something they really want can be powerful.

  43. In my second job out of college, I used my exit interview to clue HR in to the rampant toxicity I’d been subjected to for the prior year by my supervisor, and (in hindsight) how discriminatory her treatment of me was. She, who frequently talked about how well-connected she was in the company but who was also clearly setting me up to be the obvious choice in the department over herself if a layoff were to come along, was fired within a week of my leaving. I have no regrets.

  44. “If the company really wanted to know what you thought and how they could improve their operations and retain people like you, they had a chance to get that info anytime while you worked there.”


  45. I’m someone who actively enjoys carefully crafting prose, so personally I would fall in the “yes” to free consulting category.

    The Captain’s advice is great. I would add: BE CONCISE. A few sentences can say so much more than multiple paragraphs. The Captain is absolutely right that if you want a hope of at least being taken seriously, you cannot come across as ranting or “disgruntled.” You have to maintain utmost professionalism, and that includes not bringing in a lot of emotions besides in a very controlled and intentional way. Blame the patriarchy for demonizing emotional responses as invalid. For this letter to be read and paid attention to in a positive way, you have to play by the company’s rules.

    If you’d like, make your goal to be to make them regret letting you go!

  46. It may be that you are not called on to give an exit interview at all. The layoffs I have been through have bothered. What would the company gain? They already know the reason you’re leaving.

  47. My hardest job as far as bad conditions was working for a nonprofit in another country. I didn’t mind things like making next to no money (it was reasonable for Country), and I thought that the rule that you had to live with other staff was great (one of the reasons I applied). But…. Most of the staff were young women just out of college, and I’m certain part of the reason was that anyone older and used to normal work conditions wouldn’t have put up with it.

    The people in charge worked us much harder than was appropriate; at the end I was working an average of 60 hours a week in an intensely emotionally draining job that took SO much out of you. I look at it and 60 doesn’t sound like *that* much but it was killing us. They also had really lousy communication styles; I can’t say how many times they asked me to give them information that I had already submitted in our monthly reports, showing that they never bothered to read them (which when they were back in the US was the only way they had to know what was going on). They liked to drop individual bombshells on people at meetings in front of everyone so the person couldn’t respond (singling them out to say things like “Hey, you know that favorite project of yours that you’ve poured your heart into? We’re taking oh off that completely and putting New Clueless Person in charge of it instead so we can make you do something else.” Or my personal favorite: they decided to take me off a project (before it started) for reasons that are still unknown to me. They had assured me a few times that I would be doing this thing for sure and so I’d planned my work life around it. And then they changed their mind; my best guess is that they’d heard a bad report about me from Person X the summer prior. So how did they let me know about this change in my work? They called a volunteer in the organization, Person Y, and then told her what they thought was wrong with me, and then had her call Person X and had HER tell me. So in case you missed that, instead of being a real boss and telling me, “We have concerns A and B about your work so giving this to someone else,” which would have given me a chance to work on improving A and B (or alternatively just not saying anything about motivation at all, just some version of “We thought so-and-so would be a better fit,”), they told the whole story about why they didn’t want me to do the job to someone who wasn’t even employed by our agency, and then had that person pass this gossip about me on to another employee that they KNEW I’d had a bad relationship with. Thankfully Person X and I had made up in the intervening time so it wasn’t as awful as it could have been, but SO inappropriate.

    The straw that finally broke the camel’s back, however, was their policy on visitors. We rented apartments, and at least on the apt where I stayed the lease was in our name, with the agency co-signing on our phone for Country reasons. It was our apt paid with our salary. They, however, expected that a) a few times a year we would host groups of random strangers at our place for a week or two at a time (as a 20-something this wasn’t so bad but now I look back and shudder that I had to share a room – and my bed – with strangers due to a company policy!!), and b) (this was the kicker) we couldn’t host our actual friends from our home without their permission. Which towards the end they refused to give. (When I complained about this the boss said, “Do you think that if you were working at a retail store, they’d let you just have guests at your place whenever you wanted???” I was…speechless. Have you ever worked in retail, dude? Bcs they don’t care at all about your home guests as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.) My breaking point came when I had some of my best friends who wanted to come to Country and stay with me, in my own apt. My housemates were fine with this. I checked. But the bosses said no they could not come stay with me. In my apartment. That I was renting. I was…so done after that. I left just a few months later.

    I didn’t say what I should have in my exit interview, though. We were so burned out at this point bcs our schedule was crazy intense. To give you perspective, the year I left we started with 25 employees and 6 of us left. The following year 4 more left. (Which meant for those of us from other countries, moving all the way across the world. And for nationals it meant losing work in a job slump in Country. So you can see how desperately burned out we were to leave like that.) And half of the 15 people remaining were admins. I wish I had told them they were burning everyone out and needed to lighten the schedule. They might not have listened, but at least I would have tried.

    (On the other hand, the last exit interview I had was when Best Boss Ever talked to me before I left for another job she’d helped me get in a similar position, same company, but at an office closer to my home with literally HALF the commute. And with more promotion opportunities. The only bad thing I could say about my job at that point was, “Why aren’t you coming with me???”

    1. “I look at it and 60 doesn’t sound like *that* much but it was killing us.”

      Oh…no, no, no – 60 hours a week is 12 hours a day. That’s *half the day* spent at work, with only 12 hours left for everything else: eating, sleeping, showering, running errands, doing laundry, household upkeep, getting to and from work. The burnout you experienced was part of why people fought for a 40 hour workweek – because before that, they were having to work 12, 14, or 16 hours a day and it was murderously exhausting. The slogan at the time was “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, and 8 hours for ourselves”.

      Thinking that 60 hours a week doesn’t sound like that much is capitalism talking, saying you don’t *really* need a full 8 hours of sleep (god forbid you need more than 8 hours) and that you can get by on takeout and it’s not like you spend enough time at your apartment to really need one, might as well just sleep at the office and if you just give a little bit more, it’ll all be worth it.

      No one deserves having to work more than 40 hours a week.

    2. 60 hours absolutely does sound like that much! It’s within the range of what people unfortunately wind up being pushed to do by various circumstances, but I don’t see how it can allow any time for both sleep and personal life.

      The apartment thing…strangers in your bed…but not friends over…just no.

    3. Thank you Kacienna and Dove for your support! I agree with you; I just know a lot of people who also work 60 hour work weeks and seem to be fine with it. But this was so emotionally draining! My schedule was every other week 40 hours, every other week 80, and the difference was adding one 42 hour shift (!!) in a residential facility. Plus working 12 days straight out of every 14; my weekend was NOT enough to recover. I had mixed feelings about leaving because I was truly passionate about the work we were doing (and I’ve gone back to visit and seen our Marginalized Youth [think a group like gang members, or The Despised Minority of Country] thriving; they have jobs [some of them have been at the same job for years now], some went to college, they’re getting married, having kids, having a good adult life… and many of their peers who didn’t have a program like this are doing drugs on the streets, so we made a noticeable difference in their lives), but I was just falling apart. It took me a year after coming back to understand that the utter exhaustion I felt all the time was burnout. And about 3 years after I came back I went in for a physical and the doctor asked if I had any concerns. I thought over the litany of “things I keep an eye on”, and gradually realized that a whole slew of health problems I’d developed while with Agency in Country had gone away. My health was SO much better!

      (And I totally rock the visiting friends thing now, and I haven’t had to have guests not invited by either me or my housemates in over a decade now, so… WIN!)

      1. Please tell me that 42 hour shift included time that you were asleep but were the person to wake up in case of emergency! It’s still too much, but if that doesn’t even include sleep, that’s also incredibly dangerous.

  48. I once had the pleasure of being a soon-to-be laid off contractor at a large company which had just replaced their old and creaky but vaguely functional help desk software with a giant, expensive pile of manure. The group in charge proceeded to gaslight Engineering to say that only a few people had a problem with the monstrosity. There was an all-hands scheduled with the CEO shortly before my end date. I workshopped what I wanted to say with some also peeved but career-minded colleagues.

    I have very little memory of what actually came out of my mouth when I got the microphone, because I was dissociating pretty hard. I do remember asking how long it would take to get the new system at least 50% as effective as the old one, because the CIO responsible for making it work had been standing pretty much right behind me. The CEO said he hoped it would be some sensible timeline, and proceeded to put the CIO on the spot after I ceded my mic to him.

    I then made a dignified exit from the room to get to an interview.

    It took much longer than the reasonable timeline for the pile of manure to become a working help desk software, but at least they couldn’t sweep it under the rug and gaslight every angry department anymore.

  49. Almost exactly a year ago I quit one job because I had gotten a job elsewhere. The job I was leaving was a nightmare – no organization, no vision from upper management, they were a Frankenstein of dozens of smaller companies all stitched together with no plans to merge the monster into a single entity. About a month prior to me leaving, they had opened an employee suggestions board in which I cited multiple technical things that they could fix (having no reflection on any individual, strictly talking about system limitations and how they contributed to customer churn). I was told I would get an exit interview, and I actually started preparing myself for saying something professional but also adding things in which I thought could be improved. Funnily enough, though, on my very last day, when I was to have my exit interview, my manager told me that I didn’t need to do it, and that I was on file as being able to be hired by the company again (that was one of the things important to me, though I hope I wan’t need to go back there ever, you never know what dire straights you might fall into. Don’t like to burn bridges). I suspect HR probably know, from the company’s history, that exit interviews wouldn’t be listened to anyway, and that’s why I didn’t have one.

  50. Long time lurker, first time commenter. I was miserable in a job at a charity and I quietly job hunted for a few months. Got an offer, accepted it, and then told my line manager who was surprised but knew I was unhappy because she was the primary cause of my unhappiness.

    I did an exit interview and told HR that the reason I was leaving was because my line manager made my life incredibly difficult. I listed all the ways she undermined me and made me feel worthless and also listed everyone else in the team who had already left because of her. No regrets about any of it.

    I also sent an email around the team wishing everyone well and thanking them for my time there. I spent hours writing it because I coded a secret message into it that spelled “Fuck you [line manager’s initials]” with the first letter of each sentence. I had plausible deniability because it wasn’t obvious unless you knew to look for it, and managed to convey my gratitude to the rest of the team for making me feel welcome and supported while directing my anger at the one person who deserved it and was the cause for me leaving.

    Two years later I am still in love with my new job, it’s a much better fit, and I have no suffered any repercussions for how I left.

    1. I sent a much happier farewell acrostic, with my real email address in the first letters, and each line no longer than 80 characters (because a number of the engineers still used very old email clients). I don’t know if anyone ever decoded mine.

  51. Happily for me I work in a shortage industry and pretty much just have to go “please hire me” and they do, and we’re not corporate types so I was able to be frank (also it was in NZ and they are reasonably blunt people). I undertook an exit interview for my last job to formally underline just why I was leaving a well-paid and stressless position, and it turned out that HR had a pretty good handle on the situation already and I was just confirming with examples. So many examples. Unfortunately my previous line manager is still there – but everyone else has left within the last 8 months since I did.

    Some of the examples included:

    On my first day she turned up hungover and stinking, an hour late, and said blithely she had gone to bed drunk, in her coat, taken it off in the night to throw up down the sleeve, left it under the bed, and the only reason she came to work was because I was starting that day.

    On more than one occasion showing me a photo of the poo she had just done. (She would say “look at this, it’s so cute”, not “look at my poo”, if you’re wondering why I looked. She was genuinely baffled and upset when I told her it was out of line.)

    As well as this she was also bad at her job but would proclaim “I’m the best!”. She was meant to take antidepressants but would only take them while actually crying at work (I don’t think they are meant to work like that).

    Etc. There was more. HR were quite aware she was a liability by the time I finished. I kindly suggested maybe some management training might help.

    1. Oh. My. Word.

      I have worked many weird places but never have I ever had a boss that photographed her poo and tried to show it to people.

  52. I once gave two-weeks notice on a job 2 1/2 weeks before Christmas and my boss forbid me to tell anyone else in the office until the afternoon of my last day.

    It was a small branch office and I was the receptionist, but the previous receptionist still worked there in a different job, so they didn’t need me to train anybody, and I’d never been more than casually friendly with any of my co-workers. But still it grated and was just such a petty unkindness it sticks with me a decade later.

    (It didn’t ruin my holidays though, because as soon as I got off that last shift I got in my car and secretly drove eighteen hours to surprise my then-girlfriend for Christmas. It was the grandest, most spur-of-the-moment romantic declaration I’ve ever made, and it clearly worked, since she’s now my wife.)

  53. LW, think long and hard about what you want to say and why. I’ve done everything from write a heartfelt screed (oh poor little past Anisoptera) through to just nod and smile through an exit interview from a job with a boss who was actually a very toxic bully, and a bunch of stuff in between. Including passing on some info that a job was really a bait and switch or at least I misunderstood what the job was (I quit that one during probation). Anyway, it’s often been the case that when I left I was full of rage, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and wounded pride. And what has never ever been helpful was using my departure to try to get revenge for that hurt or score points on the way out or show them how they hurt me or whatever. There isn’t much you can do to get back at a bad job that won’t just harm your own career. I know it *burns* sometimes. Sometimes the injustice is infuriating. Sometimes you’ve spent so much of your energy trying to please terrible people that you’ve actually done yourself psychological injury. We spend so much time at work. It gets under our skins.


    On your way out you want to preserve your professional reputation and your references. That’s your goal. Fixing the problems was for when you still had the job. It’s really difficult when you leave a job to disentangle yourself from it emotionally, but this job is now *in the past* and it makes no difference to you now what they do outside of whatever reference they give you and your professional reputation.

    If you really, really want to I would pass on the info about the job being not as advertised. By all means also compliment people you liked – why not? But I’d leave the rest. If there’s a good exit interviewer they might ask a lot of direct questions and get more out of you than you intend, but your mantra during this meeting should be “calm, professional, diplomatic”.

    Here’s the advanced move: if you’re feeling up to it, also remember you can get professional feedback *from* them too. It’s always possible there was some reason it all didn’t work out that you couldn’t see and it can be really valuable for future jobs to know what that was (even if you just learn some red flags for jobs to avoid). Whatever they say, don’t argue with it, file it away and think about it *later* when you’re calm. Thank them for the feedback and move on. You’re angry and you’re going to feel super defensive about anything negative they say. But it’s sometimes worth hearing about the impression you gave. I wouldn’t recommend this with a bully, why give them more chances to hurt you? But it sounds like this job more just didn’t work out so finding out might be useful.

    Good luck with everything!

  54. I’ve not done an exit interview before, but I have some more general advice. When feeling full of rage and full of the need to tell the person/organization who I’m raging at exactly what I think about them in full exquisite detail, there’s a tool I always use. Write the letter. Write it all out in exactly the glorious adjective-ridden way you want. Make sure all your rage is fully on display on the page. Then NEVER EVER EVER send it. In fact, after the satisfaction of writing it, you should probably completely delete it so you can’t dwell. I usually find that writing it all down just how I want it is enough of a catharsis for me to help with the “being angry” side of things, and then when I’m less angry, I can make better decisions about the “will they actually listen to my suggestions/should I provide this free consulting” side of things. If I find that I still want to say something, having written all my angry words down already someplace else helps me make the feedback I’m actually going to send more even and factual.

    Good Luck, LW.

  55. I’m being laid off…. Someday. From a should have been awesome but turned out awful job I was already looking to leave. I stopped applying for new stuff because: severance check and two month period notice period (aka best vacation ever).

    I was told in July that it’d be August. Then in August, it’d be mid October. October 2nd they told me November, maaaaybe December. So every day I’ve been hauling my butt in (late), doing the bare minimum amount of work, and doing my best to not give a premature and rant-y “exit interview” so I can still collect my severance. I am so exhausted by the rage and inability to plan anything. But I think my entire exit interview is going to be “No comment. Bye.”

    They don’t need to know or care how pissed you are. Write it out, crumple it up, and go do something that makes you and your fiance happy and relaxed. Also, congrats on the engagement!

  56. Hooboy. We had a woman leave our overseas place of business, heading back to the US to finish processing out of the company. Five minutes before she left, she, someone I can charitably describe as a ‘drama connoisseur’, sent out a blast email to our entire department, detailing how certain leadership were horrible humans, that the department was full of sociopaths who would never find real human connections, and a few other ramblings.

    Whether or not she was right (at least 2 of the leadership claims were because she was caught being, ah, foolish) the email was incredibly tone-deaf and very ill-advised. Because we were in the military. And though she was going back home, the department she blasted still had authority over her, and she wasn’t out yet.

    Her flight to the states got canceled and she got flushed out of her hotel to report back to the ship. It says something about the military’s self-awareness that extending one’s contract is used as a punishment (AND you only get paid half salary for the extension time) so she was on the ship for another 2 months for disorderly conduct. Thankfully, she was not handed back to our department, and spent the time working elsewhere.

    Honestly, the moral of the story is to make sure you have an ironclad grasp on the nuances of your contract before you do something spectacular, because the consequences can be very unexpected.

  57. I’ve left two jobs I can think that that I considered “hell jobs.” The first was…eight years ago now? With that exit interview, I was pretty careful. It was a toxic office and the fact I lasted two years there was a minor miracle. I could have given a “free consult,” but it was neither worth my time nor energy, especially as I knew it wouldn’t be listened to. I said the bare minimum and what they expected, so it could be as painless (for me) as possible. I just wanted out; I didn’t care a lick about them. I don’t regret not saying anything, I mostly regret staying there for as long as I did.

    The second job was… three years ago? I managed a month at that location, before quitting on essentially three days’ notice (ie, I finished out the week). I was doing my best to just say “we aren’t a good fit, good luck” but the owner of the small company kept pushing me to state exactly why I wanted to leave. So…I did. Mainly to shut her up. It wasn’t an exceedingly long email and I managed to refrain from saying “you’re bat-sh!t crazy, lady,” but I gave her a numbered list of approximately six verifiable items that I deemed extremely unprofessional to the point where I could not be associated with them any longer. I’ve heard from a former colleague that the list freaked the owner out a bit and she made some changes as a result. A couple other colleagues also saw the email and privately thanked me for sending it. So far as I know, she’s still bat-sh!t crazy though.

  58. I would also add, (and I’ve done a professionally scathing exit interview before), how much work do you want to put into this? Do you want to do all the labor of composing the perfect professional interview answers (especially when you’re not sure what they’ll ask or what format the interview might take), practicing with someone, giving this whole thing more room in your head? Especially for a company who didn’t appear to value you and may not care what you have to say about that? If you think it’s going to be helpful TO YOU, by all means, go for it. But you also….don’t have to. You can decide to not give this whole terrible experience any more space in your head/life and wave as you walk out the door, and that’s perfectly reasonable. You could just free yourself from any sense of obligation to this place or people if that’s more valuable to you and focus on your next steps without this employer.

  59. Also, writer is very young and while she sees her engagement as BIG news and VERY important, her work colleagues do not. You may feel it deserves bells and whistles and parties but in many offices, it will be ignored or just a few personal congratulations. I often see this with young colleagues. Big life events for you are not that big after you have more life under your belt.

    1. I think this is kind of uncalled-for. The engagement thing is the crap cherry on top of the shit sundae of *no one in the office ever acknowledging her at all*, like even to say hi or discuss work stuff.

    2. Yeah, I’ve been at my work for a long time and have some pretty decent friends here, and while people were nice about it (like asked about my ring, etc) nobody celebrated with me at all, (except the select few I invited to our engagement party and wedding). And it was fine!

      But when you’re having a very bad time at work, small things can feel like big slights.

    3. Hi amorettea, Since the Letter Writer is looking for professional advice on being diplomatic, did you see where many of us including me managed to say “don’t focus on this in your discussions with HR, they won’t see this the same way you do, think of it more as a culture/fit issue” without being condescending about life experiences?

    4. I’m a middle aged person and many of the places I worked would have celebrated an engagement or similar life event. In a friendly office I’d expect a lot of “OMG congratulations! Show me the ring!” type stuff and often a cellebratory lunch with office friends. Not everywhere has this level of closeness and there are also good reasons to not want that from an office, but friendly offices exist and it sounds like the LW would be happier in one. I’m happier in one too – I spend all day around these people so it’s nice if we can be friendly.

      More than that, I think I know what they’re getting at with that anecdote. I’ve worked places where I was given a very cold shoulder by almost everyone and it can be really unpleasant. Especially when other people on the team are given different, warmer treatment, but even if not it can be very disconcerting. Spending all day in a place where you’re socially isolated can be very depressing and can mess with your sense of stability and security.

  60. I always say ‘Do I have to? Or is it just an offer in case I want to?’ to exit interviews, because it IS free consulting. Ask your current employees what they need! I’m busy planning my future life and hand over by this point. If they make me (the awful places always make you), I get my revenge by being awfully polite, not torpedoing my reference and amusedly wondering if they’ll ever figure it out by asking people who literally no longer have a stake in the conversation.

  61. Yes, I have verbally unloaded the full extent of my discontent on the way out the door. What happened? The company listened, and promised to address my concerns. So I stayed instead of leaving for another job. A year later, the company let me go after I performed poorly. The company never did address my concerns. But I had continued at the company because … I can’t really explain why. I felt trapped, as though I couldn’t leave after they’d convinced me to stay. If I were to go back in time and advise my younger self, I’d tell him to trust his judgment, keep quiet, and move on. My judgment was that the conditions were not right for me to succeed at the company. I think I was correct. I would also tell my younger self that it’s unlikely a company culture will change to suit one junior employee.

  62. Never actually had an exit interview, but I worked for a thing non-profit when I was in college and when I left, on good terms, I said the typical “it was a pleasure working with you” or something along those lines to my boss/the owner and we both kind of just looked at each other knowing it was a big pile of horse excrement.

    It was a miserable job and we got into screaming matches constantly (because I refuse to let someone yell at me without punching back a bit). I was so glad to be this of the place. It shut down shortly after. (I’m pretty sure he was illegally using the foundations funds to pay his own bills, and was being audited by the IRS).

    Sometimes it’s worth it just to say a polite nothing and get the heck out.

  63. I have only left one job so far (I’m not counting summer internships as those are very different than for-real jobs since there is a specific start/end) and I cared a lot about the people still there, so I gave the feedback I thought would be listened to and didn’t say the rest to avoid burning bridges and to not waste my time. My boss and I had a good relationship and I was quick to give feedback in the moment over the years I worked there, so there were only a few things I eventually figured out towards the end when I started job hunting that I ended up not sharing since I knew it would not be listened to (basically drama/office politics and bad work culture that was always there a bit, but got way worse the last couple years I was there and even worse after I left per former coworkers that still work there). I am happy to say I was 100% correct in my assessment of what would be listened to as I was told by 2 people still working there that after I left, my boss hired a consultant and the consultant gave the feedback I would have and my former boss listened to none of it. I am glad I didn’t waste my time or risk burning a bridge with my old boss.

    What I did tell him was that I wanted growth I couldn’t get at his company, wanted to do new things again that I couldn’t do there, wanted to make a salary that was more in line with industry standard for my experience (he had competitive starting salaries, but very little growth after that) and wanted limited travel (we traveled 2-3 times a week on bad weeks, once a week on good ones, usually flying, sometimes driving). I don’t know if he did anything to change based on what I told him, but he listened and agreed those were all things he understood and were true for me and admitted he did not know what competitive salaries were (ugh!).

    In your case, I would stick with something close to the Captain’s suggested script, taking out anything you don’t think they will listen to. If you know they do not care or won’t listen to you that your boss was worthless, I wouldn’t even mention it. If you think saying something pretty minimal about him as the Captain suggested would be listened to, go for it.

  64. I worked at a small site of a large megacorp for a while. I got a lot out of the job that was good, but it wasn’t a cultural fit for me and I ran into a LOT of sexism there. Things were more or less bearable when my site was more isolated from the main branch of the company, but over time, the megacorp invaded more and more. During my last year, my department was broken up – we all had more or less the same jobs, but instead of reporting up through one director based at our site, we ended up transitioning into different groups with a dozen different bosses, all of whom were remote and didn’t care much about us.

    I was actively job searching during the transition and and thankfully I managed to land a good gig in another industry, so I gave my notice. Megacorp headquarters scheduled a phone exit interview with me with an HR person at another site whom I’d never met. I didn’t know what to expect, but I decided to go ahead with it, and she really put me at ease. I ended up giving a pretty full accounting of all of the things that had prompted me to leave. I kept to a matter of fact tone, but the experiences themselves were pretty shocking to her apparently. When I got to the part where my bosses thoroughly bungled my maternity leave and then demoted me during it, I could almost hear her jaw hit the floor through the phone. She seemed like she actually cared about what I had been going through and I felt so vindicated by that. It was a thoroughly cathartic and satisfying conversation.

    It was hugely helpful to know that I already had another job, and also that I never planned to return to that industry, so I was free to speak my mind. I’m happy to this day that I was able to have that exit interview, and I think that it helped me leave all of those negative experiences in past when I moved on to bigger and better things.

  65. The most constructive exit interview feedback I’ve given was (for web developers in a couple dozen person eng org): “The org should *routinely* include the QA staff on peer reviews for engineers.” Because ~*~they know~*~ who is shipping good code and who is making a fucking mess for everyone else to clean up.

  66. I’m in the process of leaving a job right now and I had a kind of pre-exit interview with my boss where I broke the news to him that I’m looking for something else. He encouraged me to stay and asked me what I was looking for in a new position and why I was leaving. I diplomatically said 3 things to him, and he was prepared to meet my suggestions within a 6-month period. I ultimately decided to go because I’ve worked with him a lot and need to diversify my resume if I want to keep moving up in my field, but already I see some of the changes I suggested in action for another employee at my level that was also thinking of leaving. So if you feel like you can do it without burning a bridge, politely saying some of the stuff the captain suggested may actually bring changes for the next person in your role there, and might make you feel like you got something off your chest too.

  67. It was not until at least a year after I left my last-ever job (I am now disabled), that I even heard of the *concept* of exit interviews. I have had many jobs over the years (I move a lot), and almost all of them were office work, but I have never, not once, had an exit interview. Just when did they become a thing, anyway?

    So, sorry that I can’t give an example. I’m finding the examples and stories really fascinating, though, and I hope they are helpful to LW. Good luck on the job hunt!

  68. When I left my last job, I tailored the exit interview to the person who wanted to talk to me. To my coworker, who had also been job hunting and cheering me on in my hunt, I was happy and excited to be leaving, and sorry to leave him in the dreadful situation. He was also one of the references for my new job.
    For HR, and the senior executives who had been a large part of why I was leaving, I was honest about being sad and angry, and not wanting to rehash things right then. I did offer at the time to pick up the conversation some weeks later, and no one from those groups ever followed up.
    To my direct supervisor, who was new to the company, who I enjoyed working with, who had a LOT of internal clout, and who was reasonably good at listening, I was brutally honest. I named names, pointed out poisonous situations, warned about the number of people I knew who were also looking to leave the company (without naming those names), and straight up said that getting paid as much as my supervisor was getting paid (I processed payroll, so I knew EVERYTHING) would not be enough to keep me there.
    Did anything change? Nope. My poor coworker is still there (better paid, but still miserable). The senior executives and HR haven’t changed anything. My former boss tried hard, but he got a bunch more stuff dumped on her, and employee satisfaction just didn’t rise to the top of the pile.
    Am I sorry about any of it? Nope. Having one safe place to dump my frustrations was actually cathartic for me. Having people cheer me on was great. And for the rest? I don’t think about ti much.
    OP, it doesn’t seem like to have the safe spaces as you leave that I did. Write a letter, create Art, burn your offer letter which was full of lies, do something that feels to you like you are expressing all that rage. Let the exit interview not be that place.

  69. I once managed the nifty trick of giving an exit interview three full months before I left the job. I was hired to do a specific task by a deadline, and theoretically to take on the full time management of sales and updating thereafter. Unfortunately my boss was of the opinion that he neither needed nor wanted someone after the task was completed, so without doing something adult like giving actual information, he started active sabotage and laying a paper trail for my eventual firing as soon as I completed the task. What he didn’t know was that I had a) discovered I was pregnant 5 days after I started, b)my husband had gotten an excellent job offer on the other side of the country that same week, and had already moved.

    So after a particularly galling day, my boss calls me on the carpet for not managing to meet all of his contradictory goals, and I let him say what he was going to say, and then let him know that I was happy to leave on the spot, and that I actually wanted to leave, but hadn’t wanted to leave the company in the lurch, and followed up with what he was going to need to do to get me to stay even temporarily. It was deeply satisfying to watch him abruptly start backpedaling. He was still a horrible boss, but personally much better to me after that. He never did learn though. He was publicly fired, as in the company CEO flew in personally to watch him clean out his desk, about 4 months after I left.

  70. I once totally burned my bridges during an exit interview. I was only at the job for 4 months, and for the first month of that, I didn’t even have a computer. (Note: I’m a software developer, so a computer is not only essential to my job, it IS my job.) Even after I got one, I still didn’t actually get any work to do, so when another opportunity landed in my lap, I jumped at it. In my exit interview, I described all this, and I said (direct quote), “I’d rather swallow razor blades than ever work here again.” Sometime later, I heard from one of the others who worked there, who said the entire group had been laid off.

    So yep, bridge was torched there. Don’t care; that was 19 years ago and it hasn’t affected my career since. Sometimes it’s worth saying what you really feel.

  71. Letter writer, I just want to compliment your seamless and excellent National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation reference. Best of luck.

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