Exit interviews, last-minute questions, and the retirement ceremony

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You’ve been waiting years for this exit interview!  It’s finally time to tell your chain of command exactly what you think of them!!  All of your weapons are ready to fire, the missiles are ready for launch, and you have tons of bombs to drop. You’ve been holding back far too long and the military can’t possibly survive without your opinion of what’s broken, who should be fired, and how to fix everything.

Um, not so fast.  Take a deep breath, relax, and cool down a little.  Get that attitude well out of your system before you sit down with your chain of command.

Be classy– don’t be rude or crass or disrespectful. Although exit interviews are a great opportunity to tell your bosses and co-workers what you really think of them as you exit the smoking rubble, you don’t want to be remembered for this poor behavior. It’s doubtful that you’ll make anything better by hurling these hand grenades as you leave, and you certainly don’t want to make things worse than they already are for your friends & coworkers. Besides, why were you saving it for the exit interview? Talking trash is also a confession that you were unwilling to deal with your issues when you were working with these people.  If you haven’t tried to fix it by now then the exit interview is the wrong place to start.  Focus on your new life, not your old scores.

Keep your comments on the command’s accomplishments and on what helped you succeed. If your bosses are doing a good job then they need to know that it’s working. Emphasize that anyone can do your job– especially your relief– if they have the right tools and if they’re set up to succeed. You might even want to talk about where the current projects could go or what other challenges should be tackled.

Be happy about your new life, but don’t go over the top. As you approach retirement you may be surprised to be lectured about it by jealous bosses and co-workers. Self-centered people won’t celebrate your retirement — they’ll feel sorry or envious that it’s not theirs. They won’t compliment you or ask what you’re going to do the first day– they’ll say that they wish they knew how to invest like you did. Even worse, your boss may decide that you’re making a serious mistake and might spend the entire exit interview trying one more time to fix you before it’s too late. Share your plans but don’t feel that you have to justify them or account for your time. Agree to consider everyone’s helpful suggestions after you’ve taken a little time off.

Before you start your exit interviews, decide how you’re going to respond to the following questions:

“Can you stay a couple days/weeks/months longer?”

“Um, thanks for your offer, but we’ve already made plans and reservations that would be difficult and expensive to change.”

“If we have a question after you leave, where can we reach you?”

“Here’s my phone number and my e-mail address, but we’ll be traveling and it may take a day or two to respond.”

“Can you come in for lunch next week?”

You’re on your own here.  If you don’t want to socialize with these people at that time then it might be possible to reschedule for a date after your retirement, or else you “have to sort out some schedule conflicts”.  Or maybe your boss was just trying to be polite and not really expecting you to accept the offer.

“Can you help us find a volunteer to…?”

Again this one is up to you, but eventually these people are going to have to figure out how to survive without your advice and presence.

“We know you’re retiring, but can you to come in to take care of…?”

Bad idea.  You’re either on duty at the command (and getting paid for it) or you’re retired.

“Hey, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands! Can you help us with…?”

If you can’t handle this one now, then you’re going to have a really hard time with your family, relatives, and neighbors!

The exit interview is not the place to fix things that you could have helped fix while you were on active duty.  However there may have been issues that couldn’t be resolved without hurting others or causing even worse problems.  Once you’re out of the command, there’s nothing holding you back from blowing the whistle to higher authority. Hold off a few weeks before taking this step, however, because the whole issue may seem trivial with some rest and a new retirement perspective. If it wasn’t a problem worth addressing when you were attached to that command, or if you couldn’t resolve it with your active-duty resources, then it’s probably not appropriate to try to correct it after you’ve left it.

The retirement ceremony

Some of you have been waiting for decades and you’ve exhaustively planned every minute of the event. Enjoy yourselves! You know what you want to do.

Some of you are retiring unexpectedly, or at least you haven’t thought much about your ceremony. Maybe you feel that the command owes you their appropriate recognition and validation for all your years of sacrifice, and you’d like as much ceremony as you’re entitled to. If that’s the case then please talk about your ceremony with your command as soon as your request has been approved. A command can’t be expected to figure out what every member wants included in their ceremony, and a number of honors may take weeks or even months to arrange– especially if they’re signed by an elected official or a celebrity.

A very small minority of you may not want any ceremony at all. That’s your privilege, but you may encounter significant resistance. Your command wants you to have a fair opportunity to enjoy a ceremony without intimidation or coercion. Your bosses, who have probably thought about their own retirement ceremonies occasionally, may have a hard time believing that you don’t share their enthusiasm for pomp & protocol. They may feel that you’re mistakenly passing up the opportunity to celebrate your achievements and to bring closure to a long, distinguished career. Some commands (you know the type) may be concerned that you’ll change your mind about the ceremony and blame them for not accommodating your desires. They don’t want bitter retirees starting Congressional inquiries.

If you’d prefer to avoid a retirement ceremony then it’s best to express that sentiment early and often. Some retirees cite personal reasons while others prefer to avoid the extensive time, effort, and expense. Your command may feel obligated to give you a number of opportunities to change your mind, so be firm and consistent. Your preferences may never be understood, but eventually they’ll be accepted.

The timing of your ceremony may be difficult to arrange, especially if you’re bringing guests from long distances, but it’s best to arrange your turnover and leave so that your retirement ceremony is the last time you’re at the command. The people who say “Goodbye!” to you on Friday may be a bit nonplussed to see you again on Monday morning, and you may be perceived to have trouble letting go of the uniform.  Instead of a long, awkward, drawn-out departure, make the retirement ceremony your final appearance.  Your true friends will know where to find you.

Besides, if you show up at that place again after your ceremony, they may just try to put you back to work for a few hours…



WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

2 Comments
  1. Reply
    Doug Nordman June 7, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Sorry to hear that, G. An unsupportive command can turn the best of retirements into the worst of nightmares.

  2. Reply
    G Stan June 6, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    I just medically retired after 26 years active/guard. I received nothing, was told maybe in 4 months we can do something. Why would I want a ceremony in 4 months.?

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