The so-called Great Resignation is well underway this summer, with some workers feeling empowered by the recovering labor economy to quit unfulfilling jobs in droves. A record 4 million people quit in April and another 3.6 million did so in May, leading many employers to reevaluate what they can do to keep people on their payroll.
One mechanism for determining improvements is through the exit interview. If you're one of the millions of Americans quitting their jobs right now, you might have one scheduled with your manager or HR before your official last day.
CNBC Make It spoke with recruiters about how to best prepare for the conversation.
Feedback worth sharing
While the exit interview will focus on your time and experience with the company, HR is primarily looking for data around how to keep the rest of their employees, says Brianne Thomas, head of recruiting at the hiring software company Jobvite. Think of it as an opportunity to speak on behalf of your peers and what would improve their work experience, she says.
For example, "if you had struggles with communication, or not getting enough feedback, or not understanding where you are from performance perspective, that feedback is helpful," Thomas says. You can also think of it as explaining what would have made you stay longer as an employee.
Try to leave emotions out of the interview and stick to the facts, says career coach and resume writer Chelsea Jay. For example, you could focus on the reasons you're excited for your new job that your current one can't give you, which could keep things from getting too personal.
You may want to kick off the conversation by asking whether your discussion will be confidential, to what level of detail your feedback will be shared and who will have access to the information. "That could help you be more honest and truthful," Thomas says.
What exit interviews aren't for
Know that the exit interview won't solve all of the company's problems, however. If you experienced more systemic, recurring issues, you can bring up how they impacted your decision to leave, but it may no longer be the time to get into the details.
"I don't think exit interviews are the place to rehash something you know you had multiple meetings about and ultimately didn't get what you were looking for," Thomas says.
Leaving more general feedback in these cases could help you "protect your peace," as Jay puts it. She cautions against going into the conversation angry and ready to bash your employer or colleagues. You never know if you'll need them for a future reference she says. And even if you never intend to work with someone directly, it's possible you could still be connected through the same industry, or have common connections that could impact your work.
"You want to make sure the majority of your relationships while you're working are positive, and that people will say kind things about you when you're not in the room," Jay says.
Think about the end goal
With that said, it's understandable to want to be brutally honest in an exit interview if you had a difficult working experience with a company. Consider: "At end of day what will bring you peace?" Jay says. "What will make you feel happy and satisfied?"
Envision what you hope to achieve by sharing negative feedback: Are you hoping someone gets in trouble, or that your experience will change how management is run? Consider what the consequences will be for those who remain with the organization, as well as your personal connection with the workplace.
On the other end of the spectrum, if discussing a difficult work environment "brings up past trauma, hurt or PTSD, you don't need to rehash it," Jay says.
Leaving on a good note
Of course, if you're sad to to leave your current employer or will miss certain aspects of your job, you can share that in an exit interview, too. Frame it this way, Thomas suggests: "This is an awesome opportunity I couldn't pass up, but I also see myself coming back at some point, so don't lose touch."
As a recruitment leader at Jobvite, Thomas says she's encouraged when she sees employees return to the organization after some time away. No one signs up to stay with a company for the rest of their lives, she points out, so it's natural to hear of another opportunity somewhere else that energizes you.
"As an employer, if the other opportunity isn't something we can make available for whatever reason, whether it's not in the same business or the company isn't big enough to create it, I feel like employers are best served by being supportive and keeping that door open," Thomas says.
She's had a number of employees return to Jobvite after leaving the company, whether their new job turned out different from what they expected, or they just miss their old coworkers: "We're happy to entertain someone who was a strong performing member of the team to come back and contribute in the future."
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