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The question

How honest should I be in an exit interview? I recently resigned from a company and I left on good terms. But I also have a lot of constructive feedback to offer regarding their company culture and my supervisor’s management style. I think it would benefit my former colleagues and future hires. However, I’m worried about how that feedback would be received. I would like to continue my relationship with the company and use them as a reference. But I’m worried that being too honest will result in burned bridges. What should I do?

The first answer

Neha Khurram, founder, Beam Career Coaching, Toronto

The exit interview is an opportunity to share constructive feedback with a company, good and bad. Being honest and balancing your delivery will be important to maintain your reputation and improve working conditions for others who remain at the company and for yourself if you are to work with them again. While the interviewer may have specific questions for you, they will likely ask some open-ended questions for you to offer constructive feedback.

A simple framework to share your honest thoughts without coming across as negative or turning the interview into a “vent session” is to state two positive statements and one “even better if” statement. That is ... “I like that I get the freedom to work on interesting projects,” and, “I like that the people are supportive,” and, “It would be even better if there was leadership training to support managers in building a winning culture and adapting their management style across the team.” That way, you can be honest and constructive about what you liked and disliked without overemphasizing the negative aspects of the job. It also helps to share how they can improve and not simply what to improve.

Try out “I like,” “I like,” and “even better if” in direct one-on-ones with your manager, too. Don’t wait for exit interviews to spill the beans or offer up feedback; instead, provide it consistently and courteously. This habit will alleviate the stress of an exit interview as you would have already been sharing feedback. Either way, balance your feedback with positive statements, and shape challenges as opportunities to improve, with examples of how they can do so by emphasizing future possibilities and solutions.

The second answer

Carolyn Meacher, chief people officer, Dentsu Canada, Toronto

This is a fantastic question, and I’m really happy you asked it. The short answer is yes, please be honest in your exit interview, especially if you believe it can make a positive difference in the workplace. One of the biggest challenges in creating better workplaces is that people can be afraid to give direct and honest feedback. We all want to work in environments that are energizing, supportive and doing great work. Unfortunately, when there is toxicity in the system you can create a significant drain on people, reducing creativity and productivity and increasing retention. So please, if you believe the feedback will create the opportunity to create a material difference, then I recommend you think of constructive ways to deliver the feedback.

How do you give constructive feedback in an exit interview? There are a few ways to approach an exit interview and I’ve summarized five key themes below. And remember, the trick in maintaining your relationships is always how you give feedback.

  • Be gracious: Always make sure your feedback is delivered with positive intent and is never hurtful or malicious. Focus the feedback on learning and observations versus criticism.
  • Be concise: Focus on the most important feedback, which might not include all of your feedback.
  • Stay focused: Remain objective and constructive in your feedback and focused on the opportunity that is created when the feedback is addressed.
  • Be specific: Provide specific tangible examples to quantify the extent of the problem or the potential for the opportunity.
  • Be encouraging: Maintain a growth mindset with your feedback – the belief that people in the system can change.

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