Exit Statements: Choosing a Positive Attitude in the Midst of Career Transition by naomi dishington


I had the opportunity to participate in a two-day career transition workshop for out-placed professionals.  One of the first steps in the course was to help participants become more aware of their emotions around their recent job loss, and to begin to manage those emotions.  Some people were experiencing anger; some feared being unable to provide for their families; others were actually relieved to be out of dead-end jobs and eager to reach for more challenging roles.  Despite a wide variety of life and financial circumstances, every person in the room faced challenges to his/her identity because of an unexpected job loss.

After group members shared their feelings and attitudes, our next step was to guide them through the very important work of crafting a positive “exit statement.”  An exit statement is designed to answer the inevitable (and dreaded) question: “So, why are you looking for a job?”  The way in which one answers that question will convey a powerful message, both to oneself and to the listener.  Writing an exit statement provides a rich opportunity to carefully choose the words, story, and focus you will embrace during your job transition. Be intentional about choosing a resilient, positive attitude; it will manifest as the persona you share with the world. 

Probably the most challenging and also the most vital part of the exit statement exercise was learning to say what happened without anger, blame, or negativity.  Since the statements needed to be short, simple, and non-defensive, it required the speakers to shift from defeatist or negative attitudes, such as, “I was unfairly let go,” or “My boss hated me,” to optimistic mentalities, like: “My job was eliminated due to restructuring, but I’ve learned a lot and am eager to leverage my experience toward a challenging new role.”  Clearly, the second sentence reflects a much more marketable and attractive attitude for a potential new hire.  It also works to lift the spirits of the speaker who will be continually articulating the positive new plan for the future. 

The job of creating concise exit statements was difficult, but had profound results. Creating positive statements impacts our attitude about ourselves, our outlook for the future, and possibly even the rate at which we land a new job, because the way we name and share our experience will potentially open or close doors of opportunity.  The exit statement, then, really becomes a personal mantra that we play like a loop tape in our minds.  We must be deliberate in creating strong, positive, forward-looking statements in order to effectively market and motivate ourselves.  

As I coached several group members through the creation of their exit statements, I was struck by how powerfully this exercise impacted their feelings.  Some who had started out bitter and resentful had made a shift to feeling more hopeful. Others, who had felt powerless, gained a sense of control over their lives. This exercise was a profound reminder that our words truly impact our beliefs, which then influence our attitudes, and ultimately produce our outcomes.  I wonder which other aspects of our lives deserve a similar degree of intentionality? 

It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best part of ourselves behind,
back in the dugout or the office. We own what we learned back there,
the experience and the growth are grafted into our lives.
And when we exit, we can take ourselves along. Quite gracefully.
Ellen Goodman (Pulitzer Prize Recipient)