It has become common practice among many architecture and interior design firms to conduct an exit interview whenever a key employee decides to go somewhere else. Firms conduct exit interviews because they can be a valuable recruiting tool. It helps them figure out why employees leave and what their experience was like on the job. The firm can then choose to act on this information, cultivating the changes that will help them retain their top talent.

But for the employee, the experience can be both awkward and challenging. After all, even if you have been on the best of terms with your leaders and peers, if you are resigning in order to take a better position somewhere else, then it can feel as if you are betraying your present firm. In a situation where the conditions of the job were particularly difficult or unpleasant, then the thought of having to go through an exit interview can be all the more agonising.

So the question is, if you are asked to participate in an exit interview after you have handed in your notice of resignation, what should you do? Should you be honest and use your time to air out your grievances? Should you sugar coat what you say, or just lie outright?

The truth is, generally neither of these approaches are the best, so how do you get through a difficult exit interview without burning any bridges?

I know that this may seem counter intuitive, but you will have a lot to gain by approaching the exit interview with the same level of forethought and care that you approached those interviews during the hiring process. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the architecture and design community is smaller than you may realise, and there is a good chance that you will need to be in touch with at least some of your colleagues down the road for references, referrals, or professional advice.

So, think of the exit interview as an opportunity to alter the frame that will shape the perception of your employment at the firm and to offer as much valuable feedback that you can without burning any bridges.

You can start by considering how you will answer the following questions:

  1. Why are you leaving the firm?
  2. What is your overall impression of the firm?
  3. What was your experience like working with peers and senior leadership?
  4. How could the firm improve the working environment?

If you know that certain experiences or perceptions will just fan the flames of discord, then don’t share them. The quote, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” comes to mind. It is definitely in your best interest to take the emotions out of the equation and stick to the facts in the most objective way possible. After all, it’s your reputation that is on the line.

Even if you do choose to offer some sort of critique, be tactful and only mention the things that may potentially bring some real benefit to you or your former employer. Whether they will act on it or not is their decision; you are just doing your part.

In the end, you may be able to turn that potentially awkward situation into a bridge building career opportunity.