How to be honest in an exit interview without burning bridges

How to be honest in an exit interview without burning bridges
It's possible to be honest in an exit interview and still leave on good terms.SrdjanPav/Getty Images
  • Careers experts say it's possible to be critical in an exit interview without burning bridges.
  • They advise using neutral language, preparing in advance, and avoiding getting personal.

The exit interview is your last opportunity to express your true feelings about your job and provide your soon-to-be former employer with constructive feedback about why you're leaving.

But it can be tricky. Being too critical can risk tarnishing your reputation and harm your future career prospects.

For that reason, some careers experts suggest you should "lie like hell" during your exit interview and say only positive things – even if deep down, you hate your boss.

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But an exit interview offers a valuable opportunity for you to provide honest feedback that will benefit both you and your former employer. The question is, what should you say?

"The common mistake that professionals can make in an exit interview is to make the feedback too personal and perhaps specific to a moment in time, as opposed to a more established pattern or trend," Yvonne Smyth, a director of Hays Human Resources, said.


Smyth said you shouldn't vent at the organization you're leaving. Rather, you should maintain professionalism and be diplomatic.

That doesn't mean you can't be critical, or that you have to make your experience at the organization sound more positive than it was. It's about how you frame your feedback.

When offering critical feedback, focus on actions and consequences, said Fotini Iconomopoulos, a negotiation expert and author of "Say Less, Get More." Use facts and neutral language, Iconomopoulos said.

But don't get too personal. "It's super important not to throw people under the bus," Lindsay Mustain, a careers coach, said.

Mustain advises exit interviewees to talk objectively – for example, if you're leaving because your boss micromanaged you, try not to say directly that they were a micromanager, and try this instead:


"I work more successfully when I'm allowed to work independently and my ideas are embraced and encouraged. I did not find that to be true in many scenarios."

Preparation is key

Yvonne Smyth said you should expect to be asked if a particular event triggered your decision to quit, what your employer is doing well, what they can consider doing differently, and if you feel your salary and benefits were appropriate for the role.

Preparing a list of positive and critical feedback ahead of time can help you give clear and concise responses during the exit interview, Smyth said. If you're planning to mention pay or benefits, make sure to back it up with comparable offerings from competitors, Smyth advised.

Expressing your frustrations about the job before the exit interview – perhaps in a personal journal or to a friend – can be a good way of removing emotion, Fotini Iconomopoulos said.

Ultimately, what you choose to say will depend on whether you think the company will act on what you've said, or if you think the exit interview is simply a check-the-box activity, Lindsay Mustain said. If it's the latter, she says there's probably not much to be gained from being overly honest or preparing thoroughly in advance.


In truth, it's unlikely your experience has been completely negative. Emphasizing positives can help maintain relationships, Brie Reynolds, career development manager at the jobsite FlexJobs, said.

"There are probably people at the company with whom you had good relationships and it would be great to carry those forward," Reynolds said.