Exit stage left.
February 6, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Exit interview drama. Oh great hive mind, please help me prepare for my exit interview this afternoon. Details of my dilemma inside.

I've been with my current employer for about 2.5 years and under my most recent supervisor for about 7 months. I switched departments to work with the new supervisor and it was supposed to be an opportunity to the learn the ropes of what she does with the goal of getting an advanced degree and a career with the company in that field.

I've always had great end of the year performance reviews, have been well liked, and regarded as a hard worker. Over the past several months though, and since I gave my two weeks especially, my boss has been incredibly hostile and it's got me worried about my reference.

Things basically came to a head when I gave my two weeks. She took this as an opportunity to tell me that I wasn't working hard enough for her or staying late enough. My refute to this accusation consisted of a reminder to her that I always checked in with her before leaving asking if she needed me to stay later, and a gentle reminder of my daily habit of saying, "What can I do to help you?" She generally ignored this, and didn't seem interested in being reasoned with.

Since then she's either ignored me out right or criticized me for little things like being in the bathroom when the phone rang.

My problem is I know during my exit interview that HR will ask me questions about my boss and what I thought of her as a boss. I don't want to burn bridges or make accusations. This is also an industry notorious for difficult personalities, so I want to be sure not seem weak. I want a good reference, but I also want to be honest.

What should I do? How should I frame this for HR?
posted by tinatiga to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't say a word either way. You don't have to lie, but feel free to be as vague and private as you want.

HR may be disappointed, but they won't hold it against you.
posted by tkolar at 8:51 AM on February 6, 2009

The way you described it here sounds fine. Stick to behaviors, events, and facts; avoid character labels and generalizations.

>This is also an industry notorious for difficult personalities, so I want to be sure not seem weak.

"Seeming weak" is immaterial here. This is an HR person. Their job is to ask the questions on the exit interview form before showing you the door. If they ever do give you a reference, all they're going to do is confirm your title and dates of employment.

>I want a good reference, but I also want to be honest.

Do not plan on using your most recent boss as a reference. This person is obviously not going to say nice things about you. Ask a colleague or a previous supervisor to give you a reference instead.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Exit interviews are excellent opportunities to make yourself look like an ass when you otherwise wouldn't. Why would you care about "seeming weak" to the HR department of a company you're leaving? Just avoid drama, speak in generalities, and get out of there.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2009

I'm with ottereroticist.

Your employer should know that you're being treated like this, and by sharing your experience you may spare the people who report to this person in the future from a similar treatment. However, be prepared for questions regarding your performance and your response to your manager.

Do you really need this person to be a reference? Or are you concerned that future employers will call your past employers and get a dish that you're a problem? In my experience, HR departments mostly just call to verify employment, not get the lowdown (and maybe they can't share that info). If you're concerned about who you provide to people as a reference, is there someone else at the company who can speak to your performance? It doesn't have to be your manager - it can be a peer, or even someone above your manager with whom you interacted.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 8:54 AM on February 6, 2009

Can you use your old supervisor as a reference?

My mom had a similar situation, she was a nurse at a retirement home and the boss was awful! So bad. She was called to have an exit interview (my mom had voiced a formal complaint earlier b/c of the crap she was having to deal with, but the higher management didn't do anything). But anyway, my mom was formal and told the truth (she didn't bring up the little things) she brought up the large reasons why she quit. Talk to HR about the reasons you're quitting, not how the last two weeks have been horrible.

Also, do you really want her as a reference? I think she sounds kind of nuts and I would be worried what she'd say even if you gave her a glowing report on your exit interview. I'd put your other supervisor (the one 7 months ago) on your references and forget about this new one.

My mom didn't put her boss on her references, but instead put a fellow colleague, and that's worked fine for her.
posted by DorothySmith at 8:56 AM on February 6, 2009

I guess it's too late for "don't agree to do an exit interview"?

I would answer questions about you boss based on the whole time you've worked there, not the past few months. Describe the situation as it was before the problem arose and (if you want) add something vague like it seems like she's been having a rough time lately but you're sure she'll get back on track. Don't give details, just that it seems like she's been on edge but you don't want to focus on that. I don't think any more details are going to increase the likelihood of HR fixing the problem anyway.

This assumes that you think the boss's attitude is a problem in general and not just with regards to you. The exit interview is "how can we make our company better?" Your own personal problem with your boss is solved by your leaving -- there's nothing to talk about there. If there's nothing HR should address after you're gone then there's no point in mentioning anything.
posted by winston at 8:58 AM on February 6, 2009

I am always confused when people talk about "my reference," as if they have no control over who they use. In every job I;ve ever applied for, they've just asked for a list of three names.

1) don't use your boss under any circumstances. She seems vindictive and evil.
2) You could just use the company HR general contact, who will confirm your dates of employment and nothing else.
3) The best bet is if you have any kind of "sub-boss" you are more friendly with. Failing that, just don't list a reference from this job.

In my experience reference-checking these days is just a vetting process after they've already basically decided to hire the person, just to make sure no one says anything absolutely awful about them. So I wouldn't sweat the whole process too much.

As for the exit interview itself, obviously be respectful, but I don't think it matters too much what you say. The HR drones across the table will barely be paying attention.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:59 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are going to say something, you should try to have concrete details to provide HR with. If this boss is a problem for them, they will love you for giving them the data they need to prove a pattern of poor mangement skills.

As Ottereroticist mentioned, you don't want this person as a reference any ways, so I wouldn't worry too much about burning a bridge with them.

If you don't want other people to face what you have, speak up. That's the whole point of the exit interview, so that HR can know why you left from you, to contrast with what your manager will claim. In general, hiring people, even in employer-friendly times like these, is expensive, so a manager that loses a valuable employee is NOT someone that HR is going to protect.
posted by nomisxid at 9:01 AM on February 6, 2009

Unless you have specific plans to be an underling your entire life you'll find that you cannot please everyone. You don't need this supervisor as a reference. Perhaps there is nothing you can do to change that.

Tell the HR person what you've just told HM. Tell this HR person you're concerned that after TWO AND ONE HALF YEARS of dutifully, loyally, working at this company; after consistently being praised for excellent performance in DOCUMENTED REVIEWS, you may not HAVE CONFIDENCE in referring to your most immediate supervisor as a reference.

Then lean back in your chair, slowly adjust your toothpick and sunglasses and ask "What's up with that?"

This is also an industry notorious for difficult personalities

Which one is that?
posted by ezekieldas at 9:14 AM on February 6, 2009

It is not burning any bridges if you say what you feel. You are leaving them. Tell them why without seeming petty. As for a reference, don't put your new boss down. Use a co-worker or your old boss or like suggested just put down the company, the HR dep number and leave it at that.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 9:22 AM on February 6, 2009

Flaming your boss in the exit interview is not worth your energy. It might make you feel good when you're doing it, but I doubt anything positive can come of it. Do the interview and get out.
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:52 AM on February 6, 2009

Two exit interview experiences. One, at a job I liked which I left because I was moving. My exit interview consisted of "Do you want Cobra insurance?" I said not a word. I was moving without having another job and I had arranged to do contract work for this employer, including some business trips for which I was going to get paid big bucks. As I was making arrangements for flights for these trips, I was called by my former supervisor. "What did you say in your exit interview?" he asked intensely. I told him I didn't say anything. But somebody leaving around the same time evidently did and my big boss assumed it was me. And then they cancelled the contract work I was relying on for income.

The next one was for a job that I loathed with all my being. My boss was a complete horror psycho. 4 out of 5 of the people in my position put in their notice within a week of each other. I was the first and I let it all out in my exit interview. I broke down and started crying because I couldn't help it. (That job was like an abusive relationship.) I was honest because I knew the HR director and she was in charge of a large organization of which the program I worked on was only a small part. I hoped that they were independant enough to look into it and hopefully fire my boss so no one had to go through that again. They didn't. I later learned that I and all the people who left in that two month period had been marked "Not eligible for rehire." I found this out because they tried to rehire one of them and couldn't because they had put her down not eligible out of spite.

But the short of it is, it really doesn't matter what you say. If someone is mad at you for leaving, they're going to be petty about it and try to screw you over anyway. The only thing your employer should be able to tell anyone calling about a reference is to confirm that you worked there, for how long, what you did, and whether you are eligible for rehire.
posted by threeturtles at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2009

A couple of Folks have said this, but again, it's important to realize that it is highly unlikely the supervisor in question would ever be contacted regarding your future employment unless you specify her as a reference. In many companies, Supervisors/Managers are not allowed to provide references for former employees by policy. If a prospective employer calls to ask about your employment, they will generally get routed to HR. The Rep will confirm your length of employment and that is about it.

It's done this way because anything a supervisor says as part of a reference that is not documented in your employee file might be legally actionable if it impacts your ability to gain employment in the future. Hold on to your copies of the reviews that you have been given (You did get copies didn't you?)

As for the exit interview, be honest and up front. Avoid offering opinions and suppositions. Odds are, that if you have this issue, others will too and it is important to get that information documented. Your feedback, by itself, will probably not cause any action to be initiated against her, so don't worry about it from that angle. However, if it is a pattern of behavior (creating a hostile environment), it is not one most companies can afford to ignore because it may come back and bite them in that ass..hard.
posted by Lord Widebottom at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2009

Exit interviews are the company's way of feeling out any legal issues that may arise in the future. HR monkeys may very well claim that the exit interview is a time for them to learn from you, an unbiased source, but this is basically fiction.

They do not care what you have to say, and will record it unfiltered (and possibly distorted) in your employee record. They will not take action on anything you say unless it indicates a lawsuit is pending. They will not communicate positive or negative things you say, and will ignore all criticism, positive feedback or suggestions. You are leaving the company and by definition a bad seed and nothing you can say is useful. Don't waste your time trying to make a low-level HR minion believe there's something to do or some situation to correct -- they are going to be assuming you're negative going into the process, and in my experience, HR employees recoil at work anyway.

The _only_ relevance it has at all is a _slight_ relevance in your future with _that specific company_. Meaning, if this is a very large company and you may loop back to it in your career, you should be aware that they will access your employee record at that time (in one case, this appears to have caused a friend to be terminated as part of an acquisition by a former employer).

You should simply say "my reasons for leavign are that I feel a better opportnity for me at this time is elsewhere, I have no negative feelings at all about the company and I have already communicated my feedback to the people who have context." Then you can wrap it up quickly.
posted by rr at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah I agree with those telling you not to let anything out at all to the HR person.

Do a cost-benefit analysis yo. How often does this action actually change things for the better weighed against what it might cost you in the future + how little do you have to care about this place anymore.

Smile, give vague generalities and move on.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:07 AM on February 6, 2009

I've conducted dozens of exit interviews and will tell you that at my employer, concerns are taken seriously. Stick to the facts about what happened (what she specifically said, what she specifically did) while minimizing emotions.

If I was your HR rep, I would take this information to your boss's boss, as he/she can actually do something with the feedback. I also make it clear in the exit interview that concerns raised will be shared with management.

rr - you've clearly had a bad (or many bad) experiences with HR, but that hardly describes the profession as a whole.
posted by Twicketface at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: I'm confused by all the above advice. Some seem right on, the others a bit off.

In the corporate world you must always leave like a lady and rise above personal issues that may have sprang from your giving notice. Never burn any bridges, even if you aren't coming back - unless of course you have a lawsuit pending. HR is not interested in your personal baggage and whatever report that person issues is entirely up to them, not you - therefore you can't know how they will interpret your honest / rant. HR is there to protect the company more than to protect individual interest. You should always highlight anything positive you experienced during your stay and cite the reason for leaving in the most positive light ever: either for expanding your experience, furthering your career, opportunity to hone your craft / change your direction. Keep it short, keep it friendly, keep it polite, keep it professional.

I am always amazed when people advise to 'air the laundry,' we're all past high school and it doesn't make you look any better to anyone.
posted by eatdonuts at 11:05 AM on February 6, 2009

hr people are a different department. don't expect them to understand this issue. they just file paperwork in case someone in the company comes across you at some point in the future. because all that this person is going to see is the file you will get as a result of your exit meeting I'd suggest not bringing this topic up at all. just say something like 'it's time for a change' or 'I want to move on/grow' and all that.
posted by krautland at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: I'll take another stab at unifying the disparate advice in this thread. Some HR departments may take your concerns seriously, some may not. It may depend on how well-liked your supervisor is, and how serious your problems with her were. "She was mean," isn't going to concern the higher-ups as much as "She disrupted my projects" or "She touched me on my bathing suit" or something.

So the response to your being brutally honest in the interview will fall on a spectrum: On one end, they will take your criticisms very seriously and take note of them, and on the other they will turn against you and actively disrupt your career. In the middle they mostly ignore you. Figure out the range of probabilities where the specific HR department might fall. 60% likely that they will be somewhere in the middle? 90% that they will use the information to fire your evil supervisor? Only you can make this estimation. Be realistic.

Now ask yourself what amount of risk you're willing to put up with. If you've decided that it's 60/40 between being ignored and being listened to, but only 10% of the time do your actions actually have an effect when they are not ignored, and there is some chance (say .05%) that you will be hurt in the future--is the chance to do some good for a company that you are no longer beholden to worth even the small chance of causing yourself harm? I'd say no, but it's your call.

Finally, make sure you're not just being vindictive. If you just want to punish her for being a dick to you, forget it. You're better off egging her car, at least that's anonymous.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:32 AM on February 6, 2009

Just remember: in a year, all this drama will be unimportant. Make it easy on yourself-- let it go and don't look back.
posted by aquafortis at 4:40 PM on February 6, 2009

THe whole point of the exit interview is to make sure you're not going to come back with a shotgun. That's all. Just get your benefit info and say thank you and leave.
posted by micawber at 7:21 PM on February 6, 2009

Twicketface -- all HR folks think that they take this stuff seriously. Then they hit the second or third year of the profession where they realize that contrary to the image the department portrays, the reality is the opposite.

If your company is different, that is _fantastic_ for you. But it is not the reality for 99% of employers.
posted by rr at 10:14 PM on February 6, 2009

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