Many companies conduct exit interviews with departing employees to gather information that can be used to cover any gaps being created by the departure or to identify potential problems with other employees. It’s a valuable tool, when used properly, but typically, aside from allowing a disgruntled employee to vent, it’s a one-way process.
Employees leaving a company can derive great value from creating their own exit interviews. Conducting personal exit interviews with colleagues can assist with building/reinforcing a resume and self-improvement.
WHERE TO START
If possible, try to set up meetings or calls with direct reports, peers, and your supervisors/boss before you leave. This will increase your response rate. Once you are separated from the company, some other employees may perceive you as an outsider or may not be willing to share information with you. Performing the interviews while still employed may afford you access to other employees with whom you may not be as friendly, which will provide you with very different perspectives.
If you cannot conduct the interviews prior to your departure, you can still extract valuable information from those who are willing to assist you. If you work in an ideal environment, you will have been receiving this type of honest feedback throughout your tenure, however, it’s unlikely that you work in an ideal environment if you are leaving.
MAKE IT EASY
You are asking people for their most valuable asset; time. Be respectful and thankful. Your request should be clear about what you hope to accomplish and what their participation will require of them. Set a time limit on the meeting or call. The amount of time required may depend upon your length of time with the company, but most people can and will give 30 minutes of their time to a colleague. If you have to encourage participation, do it over coffee or lunch. Food and drink can be persuasive tools.
Form a standard questionnaire and limit it to 3 to 5 questions. Short surveys are preferred by those who participate in them. You’ll be asking for free-text answers, so remember that you may only be asking 5 questions, but the interviewee will need to do some thinking and will have to provide some long answers. For the best results, you should ask the exact same questions to everyone, however you may find it beneficial to make adjustments to the questions if you find your audience cannot or will not answer them as asked.
WHAT TO ASK
Ask them questions that will help you identify the qualities and accomplishments that they feel represent your best. This can uncover great additions to your accomplishments list for your resume and will give you an indication of how they may answer questions about your skills and achievements during a reference check. Make special note of skills or praise for specific projects and echo these to prospective employers.
Temper each question with one that allows your subject to point out any failures and the areas where you need to improve. It may be wonderful to receive nothing but “back-pats,” but if you do, it’s likely that not everyone is being honest, which will do little to help you improve any weaknesses you may have. Constructive criticism is a very useful learning tool.
USE THIS SAMPLE WORKSHEET FOR COLLECTING RESPONSES
You may be surprised by what you hear. Sometimes, our perception of ourselves or a particular situation is not shared with others. Perspective is one of the goals here, so don’t be hurt or defensive. Do not respond to any of the answers, even if you feel there is a misperception. You’re not on trial and you’re leaving the company anyhow, so simply take notes and move along. You asked for this. Take it with grace, humility, and dignity.
Your interviewees may feel uncomfortable providing feedback that they consider negative, so assure them that it is part of your goal to identify areas where you need to improve and tasks and projects that you could have handled better. Knowing these things affords you a starting point for self-improvement, but more importantly, it can present you with a list of projects that you may want to exclude from your list of accomplishments. This could prove very useful in avoiding uncomfortable or negative situations during reference checks by prospective employers.
You have just received the valuable gifts of someone’s time and insights. A “Thank You” is in order. Send a follow-up email, or better, a handwritten note or card, acknowledging any weaknesses or failures pointed out during the interview and thanking the colleague for their candor and assistance. This is not only an opportunity to express your gratitude. It’s a chance to right a wrong, change a mis-perception, and better still, to forge a stronger relationship that can help build and reinforce your network as you move on.
If an interviewee points out a failure on your part, perhaps related to a particular project, connect with others involved in that project and ask them specifically if they feel you failed anywhere and/or how you could have done better. If you have the chance to do so, correct any mistakes you may have made that led to the negative feedback/perception. This shows that you’ve acknowledged and validated the interviewee’s opinions and that you’re an upstanding and reasonable person. It allows you to leave the best possible impression behind and create a positive legacy.
APPLY YOUR INSIGHTS
If all has gone well, you will have conducted at least 3 interviews; one with a direct report (or intern) if you have any, one with a peer, and one with a supervisor/manager. This will at least give you some perspective in 360 degrees. If you can conduct more interviews, you will have a far better sample of information to use and a more accurate picture of how you are/have been perceived.
Apply this information by updating your resume, accomplishments, profiles, and any other personal sales tools you are using to promote yourself. Reflect upon any areas where you can improve yourself and try to make positive changes accordingly. As you progress in your career, and your life, you can become more successful by eliminating, minimizing, or simply acknowledging any weaknesses you have and accentuating your strengths.