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By Caroline Ceniza-Levine – Forbes

A former client of mine – a very talented, caring experienced leader – is leaving a challenging job and asked me how to handle the exit interview:

This client loves her career, but her most recent job had been growing increasingly difficult.
Her employer made a string of cuts, meaning her team was dwindling while her workload was increasing.
After trying for several months to make the situation work, she quit to focus on her next moves.
Before she goes, HR would like an exit interview.

What should she say? Here are four guidelines for handling an exit interview for a job you didn’t love:

Resist the urge to vent

You may be leaving that particular job for now but you’re not abandoning your relationships for good. The world is small. The colleagues you are leaving behind may become your colleagues (or your managers or your clients) in the future. Regardless of whether you ever work day-to-day with these colleagues again, you want to have strong, enthusiastic references.

If you are asked for feedback – e.g., what could the company have done to keep you? What could the company do better? – do not hear this as an invitation to vent. Do not let your last impression be a negative impression. Even if you think your feedback is constructive and not negative, it’s hard to say critical things about a company without appearing as if you’re criticizing the company. You might think you sound perfectly neutral, but you may still be perceived as judgmental.

Focus on the positive memories

So if you can’t say anything critical, even if you think it’s constructive criticism, what can you say? Think about what the company did well, and highlight these things, including specific examples and people who were particularly helpful to you or effective at their jobs. This isn’t an avoidance technique. Focusing on the positive is an example of strengths-based coaching and can actually be more effective in encouraging change than harping on the negatives. When you highlight what works, the company knows exactly what good looks like and can do more of that.

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