When you leave a job that makes you unhappy, it’s easy to want to tell your employer why you’re leaving. Whether you’re frustrated by mismanagement, not-so-challenging assignments or maddening co-workers, you want to get it off your chest. Because the Big Boss can use that information to improve the company, right?
Fast-forward six months. Think your company will really implement any of the changes you suggested? Probably not.
Think a few people at that company might be mad at you for airing your grievances? Probably. No matter how professionally you presented them.
We like to think our superiors are mature enough to take criticism in stride, but the truth is, some aren’t. And you need even those immature bosses on your side as a reference down the road, especially if you’re hoping to move up the ladder in that industry.
Which is why even if you’re leaving your job because it sucks, you should keep that truth to yourself — particularly if you’ve worked hard to build relationships at that workplace. Telling the truth seems like the right thing to do, but it’s not the best move for you or your career.
I like the analogy Andrew Rosen makes in his piece about how to break up with your job, that it’s similar to a romantic breakup. When we leave a person, we often have the urge to talk it out, explaining where the relationship went wrong. But the truth is, while that gut-spilling or over-explaining may make you feel better, your ex isn’t going to change because of it. In many cases, being truly honest will hurt and offend.
Now picture your employer as your soon-to-be ex. No matter how you hedge your complaints, no matter how constructive you frame your criticism, chances are someone at that organization will be mad at you for doing it. And that’s bad for your career.
(This is kind of like how Penelope Trunk says women shouldn’t report sexual harassment because it will likely hurt your career. Not exactly what we want to hear, but she has a point.)
Instead, hold your tongue, even if it’s against your nature. Put the focus on what’s ahead, and use that as your reason for leaving, telling your employer you’ve been offered an opportunity you simply can’t pass up. That saves you from having to say anything at all about the job you’re leaving, and it helps you stay honest, too.
And what if you’re asked specific questions about what it was like to work for that company?
Respond like you would if your mom asked you how you liked her meatloaf, and you didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Couch your answers. Offer positive feedback on what did work. Change the subject.
Because once you make a smooth exit, your frustration over your organization’s inefficiencies will fade into the distance, just like your ex when you’ve got a new crush. Then you can put all of that energy where it belongs — into your new job.
Do you agree or disagree? Why?