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.
Kiss My Ass
Kiss His Ass
Kiss Your Ass
(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!
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?