Exit Interview

The Life and Death of My Ambitious Career

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Pub Date 12 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023

Description

A candid, intensely funny memoir of ambition, gender, and a grueling decade inside Amazon.com, from the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This.

“A unique and brilliant book.” —Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks

What would you sacrifice for your career? All your free time? Your sense of self-worth? Your sanity?

In 2006, Kristi Coulter left her cozy but dull job for a promising new position at the fast-growing Amazon.com, but she never expected the soul-crushing pressure that would come with it.

In no time she found the challenge and excitement she’d been craving—along with seven-day workweeks, lifeboat exercises, widespread burnout, and a culture driven largely by fear. But the chase, the visibility, and, let’s face it, the stock options proved intoxicating, and so, for twelve years, she stayed—until she no longer recognized the face in the mirror or the mission she’d signed up for.

Unsparing, absurd, and wickedly funny, Exit Interview is a rare journey inside the crucible that is Amazon. It is an intimate, surprisingly relatable look at the work life of a driven woman in a world that loves the idea of female ambition but balks at the reality.

A candid, intensely funny memoir of ambition, gender, and a grueling decade inside Amazon.com, from the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This.

“A unique and brilliant book.” —Oliver Burkeman...


A Note From the Publisher

Kristi Coulter is the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This, which was a finalist for the 2019 Washington State Book Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. She is a former Ragdale Foundation resident and the recipient of a grant from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Her work has appeared in The Awl, Marie Claire, Vox, Quartz, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Kristi Coulter is the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This, which was a finalist for the 2019 Washington State Book Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan...


Advance Praise

"A unique and brilliant book—both a hilarious memoir of one woman's journey through the extremes of corporate America, and a poignant and arresting account of what modern work culture can do to the soul. I found myself reading passages aloud to anyone who'd listen." —Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

“Kristi Coulter has given us the most vivid account yet of Amazon’s chaotic, mercurial, dignity-crushing office culture. Exit Interview is also a very funny and intensely personal depiction of what it’s like to be female in the oppressively male world of technology.” —Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store and Amazon Unbound 

Exit Interview is pure joy from beginning to end. Kristi Coulter’s voice is truly inimitable: vibrantly intelligent, tender, occasionally furious, and always funny. A brilliant and surprisingly moving tour of the outer reaches of corporate madness.” —Claire Dederer, author of Monsters

“Whether you’re here for some juicy inside dirt on Amazon or an astute analysis of gender politics, Kristi Coulter’s Exit Interview delivers the goods with wit, insight, and—in lieu of free shipping—a deep dive into the heavy taxation on being an ambitious woman.” —Gina Frangello, author of Blow Your House Down

"A unique and brilliant book—both a hilarious memoir of one woman's journey through the extremes of corporate America, and a poignant and arresting account of what modern work culture can do to the...


Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780374600907
PRICE $29.00 (USD)
PAGES 384

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Average rating from 49 members


Featured Reviews

It's not always easy to root for someone who's biggest problem in life seems to be their job, when they have the financial means to just walk away from it. But Exit Interview is really about two things: Amazon, and why on Earth the author Kristi Coulter kept working there for over a decade. It seems like she's trying to figure that out herself through writing this. It's more than one answer - sometimes she wanted career progression, sometimes she enjoyed being able to buy expensive shoes, sometimes her lifelong need for achievement made her push herself beyond all reasonable limits to avoid feeling like a failure, sometimes she became too brainwashed to believe anywhere else would hire her, sometimes she thought she was on the brink of a promotion, and sometimes she loved what she was doing.

As she writes in the intro "Most improbable of all is when I say parts of it were astounding and fun, that for twelve years Amazon supplied me with high-grade lunacy I didn't know I needed until I touched it and my ambition bloomed like neon ink in water. 'That doesn't sound fun', the faces say, or 'that shouldn't have been fun'. To which my only possible response is, I'm not telling you what was right or good, I'm telling you what went down and how it felt."

Still, throughout most of the book, you're likely rooting for her to quit, or wondering why she won't. There's plenty of caveats you can throw out there in defense of Amazon. Yes, I read this book on a Kindle and am writing a review on Goodreads, so we can acknowledge the enormous impact this company has on so many people's day to day lives. Yes, Amazon has over a million employees and it's not one monolithic entity where only one experience is possible. Yes, things like constant re-orgs, teams asking for way too much from other teams with no notice, rampant sexism, and work stress driving people to drinking problems are not unique to Amazon. But the book certainly paints a picture of this corporate culture, where it's not hard to see how an executive would feel totally comfortable telling someone they're stupid in a meeting, or think they're being a hero for telling employees they should feel free to leave at 5:30 PM on a Friday a few times a year to hang out with their families, or where there would be an enormous gender imbalance in leadership, or where drivers pee in bottles, or all the other damning things that have been covered in the media for years.

Some of my favorite excerpts -

"But what's too hard to explain to (friends or family) is that we don't feel overpaid. Amazon could be depositing a million dollars a month into my checking account and I would think, 'Yes this seems about right, given the fear, and the chaos, and the ugly surroundings and the endlessly escalating demands and the way no one ever says thanks".

"True, most of us grew up hyper-achievers, Amazon didn't create our yearning for recognition, but it exploits it for maximum return by holding the rat pellet just out of reach and then frowning on any rat who looks hungry."

"When I tell her I feel as if I were failing to get my arms around the job", she says, 'That's because the job is like sand falling through your fingers'".

"Also, the hard truth is that saying yes to every outlandish request is Amazonian. It may be ruinous and unsustainable, but Amazon as we know it wouldn't exist without a thousand tiny acts of self-destruction every day."

"It says right up front that the bar for being a Level 8 is 'nearly superhuman talent and stamina'".

"It's all (NY) Times (article) talk, a largely dude-to-dude conversation that breaks down as 50 percent: "I have never personally witnessed these things, and therefore they cannot have happened, because I somehow made it to adulthood without understanding that my reality is not the only reality.""

"this entire company is built on the fear of being exposed as merely human."

"There are so many men here, men from Sloan and the University of Michigan and McKinsey and Deloitte. They're transitioning to barefoot running. They bought the Vibrams last month, and a sous vide machine. They like Big Hairy Audacious Goals, and in college they once saw Modest Mouse five times in a year. They have three kids and a wife with an expired law license because it just made more sense for her to be the stay-at-home parent. They work standing up. They've slowly come around on Belgian ales, and Tim Ferriss really makes them think. They wish they had more time to read."

The depictions of sexism in this book deserve special mention as well, not as being an Amazon-specific problem, but just as a pervasive theme of the book that was really well-done. It would be easy to say "this should be required reading about workplace sexism", but the people who would learn the most from it are the ones who will instinctively never read a word and instead feverishly write up their refutations of sexism existing at all,


Note - I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Netgalley

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"For twelve years, Amazon supplied me with a high-grade lunacy I didn't know I needed until I touched it and my ambition bloomed like neon ink in water."

Kristi Coulter has composed a reflective, informative, fast-paced, and surprisingly comical memoir about her time as a high-powered Amazon director. Her story will inspire you to be more ambitious, while at the same time highlighting the multifaceted price there is to pay for being blindly driven.

I enjoyed not only learning more about the inner workings of the colossal Amazon corporation, but also Kristi's evolving perspective and advice for females in competitive work places. She perfectly nails what it feels like to be a people-pleaser, a perfectionist, a hurtful self-critic, and a child of great expectations.

The prose of the book is lyrical and heart-wrenching, and I was rooting for Kristi all the way through. The style of the book alternates throughout; from first-person retellings, historical timelines of women in the workforce, personal hour-by-hour day in the life scenarios, to open-mic-night style prose. I read the entire book on a plane ride but even weeks after, the emotions and scenes still stick with me.

"What is a job anyway, if not a chance to ruin your life?"

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Thank you, NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for the opportunity to read the advanced reader's copy prior to release!

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A pitch-perfect, wonderfully written and oh so honest memoir of the author's career at Amazon - truly left my blood boiling about what she went through. So grateful that she left nothing out (biggest question is how she can publish this, sell on Amazon, not get in trouble) but again grateful for her honesty. I was infuriated on her behalf up until the bitter end - but so happy she has found her true path now as a writer, a very talented one that I will watch for future releases (and will read her first book soon too!). Thanks NetGalley for an advance copy - this book releases this week so others can enjoy it very soon!

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I absolutely loved this book! Even though it is about the author's experience working for Amazon corporate, anyone can relate who has worked in Corporate America (well - any large dysfunctional organization for that matter) and is trying to assess how bad is is really and whether to stay or go. Organizations have a sneaky way to incentivize you to hang on longer for what may happen in the future (promotions, etc.) that don't always transpire and additional hurdles are added (like her boss telling her that in order to get promoted she would need to "just change the world." -- I did not know whether to laugh or cry -- because these are the kind of vague answers I have also heard from some bosses over the years and it is ridiculous- not measurable, not specific, not actionable. This book was cathartic for me in some ways because it enabled me to look back at my career (the highs and lows in many industries) as will as relate to what the newer generations of the workforce are experiencing. Coulter's candor and inner thoughts appear throughout the book and I really appreciated her openness and honesty and doubts. She does not shy away about the personal cost of trying to achieve perfection and live with the uncertainty and doubt. Unfortunately what she describes as a toxic workplace is not just unique to Amazon and the sexism she experienced in her career (including at other companies) still exists. I highlighted a lot of passages in this book because they resonated with me so much. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, MCD for an ARC and I left this review voluntarily.

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