“How should I respond to a request for an Exit Interview?”

Question: I was recently asked to attend an “Exit Interview.” What can you tell me about them, and how should I respond? Is there a requirement I attend?

Jessup, Maryland

Answer: Dear Susan, It is a funny thing you submitted this question, because among my planned Newsletters for coming months is one on Exit Interviews. Here are the “basics”: 

a. Generally, there is no requirement you attend an Exit Interview, but there may be “negative consequences” if you don’t. Once it’s been decided you are leaving, whether by resignation or termination, there is little your employer can do if you decline the “invitation.” However, if you are hoping for such things as (i) cooperation with rollovers, (ii) cooperation with COBRA, (iii) cooperation with future employers getting confirmation of your employment, etc., etc., etc., it may be wise to accept the “invitation.” You never know when you are going to depend on the good will of this employer. In addition, there might be some things that your employer can do to “hurt” you at this time if you don’t cooperate, such as altering the official date of your departure to prevent vesting of options or certain benefits. So, why burn bridges? 

b. Understand that, the overall purpose of the Exit Interview is for the employer to gather information. Understand that the purpose of the Exit Interview is for the employer to gather information from you. What information? All sorts. Perhaps simply “How can we treat employees better?” But also possibly, “Are you going to be working for a competitor?” “Do you have any copies of company files on your home computer?” “Is it true you told people that our company is headed toward big problems?” Be aware that the answers to some of these questions are somewhat risky to you. Don’t be afraid to say, “I really need to think about that; I’ll get back to you later.” One thing surely to avoid: don’t “bad-mouth” anyone for any reason; it just doesn’t pay.   

c. Understand that a secondary purpose of the Exit Interview is to get you to sign things. What things? Could be simple things, like an acknowledgment that you were given information about COBRA. It could also be to have you sign a release of claims. The first is no problem. The second is a big problem. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I hope you don’t mind. I am tired today, and my eyes are blurry. Let me take these with me, and read them carefully.” Understand that even “simple” documents can be “sinister” documents.

d. Don’t be afraid to “turn the table” on the Exit Interview to your advantage. By sending an email to the Exit Interview-er before your Exit Interview, asking that you be given certain information and documentation, you can use the Exit Interview to your advantage. These include information and forms on benefit continuation and conversion, confirmation that you have returned all company property, and certain items in your HR file, such as Performance Reviews.

e. Just DON’T do one thing: Presume your HR Representative is Your “Friend.” Letting your guard down in this process can be very damaging. Make sure you remember that “loose lips sink ships.” Be cautious and careful with what you share. If you err, err on the side of caution.

If interested in obtaining a Model “Memo to Send HR Before an Exit Interview,” for your use in taking advantage of your Exit Interview, [click here].

Hope this helps. “May the force be with you.” 

Good luck to you.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.