Cheerful woman with camera using laptop. Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Reasons for leaving a job can encompass multiple factors and reasons: the company culture, changes to management or structure, changes to your role’s responsibilities and workload, team morale, reward and recognition, a complete career change, relocation, new position, better work/life balance – and everything in between.

Whatever the case may be, most companies that constantly work to improve their employee retention numbers will often host structured exit interviews for all employees who depart.

So what should you expect if you’ve put in your resignation letter and asked to attend an exit interview? How should you prepare and is there anything you absolutely should avoid mentioning? What type of exit interview questions will they ask? Here are top tips for how to prepare and conduct yourself in an exit interview to ensure the process benefits both you and your – soon to be ex – employer.

Related: How to improve your work-life balance in 2023

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who has resigned from their job and a representative from the company – usually a member of the Human Resources team will conduct exit interviews.

Exit interviews usually take place towards the end of an employee’s notice period, such as on their last day of employment. Most companies conduct exit interviews as standard practice to gain valuable insight.

From the company’s perspective, an exit interview is a chance to collect feedback and gain insight into the departing employees experience – both positive and negative. It often provides real and tangible examples of where the business is performing well and where improvement is needed, particularly if it is directly impacting staff turnover.

For employees, most exit interviews are an opportunity to raise relevant issues and concerns from their time working with the business, and expand on their reasons for leaving if they feel comfortable doing so. It’s also an occasion to share any positive moments, as many employees leave on good terms and have personal reasons for leaving, like for a new job or a more suitable work environment.

Common exit interview questions include

When conducting the exit interview process, it is common to ask a series of specific open ended questions to gain valuable insights from the departing employee. Here are some common exit interview questions:

  • Why did you decide to leave this job?
  • How would you describe the relationships with your (1) direct team and colleagues, (2) management and (3) the company overall?
  • Do you feel you were adequately trained and supported to effectively the duties of your role?
  • Do you feel that your current position responsibilities matched those of your job description?
  • What have been your favourite aspects of the role/company?
  • What areas of this company do you think can be improved?
  • Is there anything you would change about this job?
  • How can the company improve development opportunities or benefits?
  • Are there any company policies or procedures that you feel can be improved?
  • How would you describe the working conditions?

You might find it helpful to be prepared with answers to these common interview questions, along with constructive feedback.

Related: How to write a farewell email to your colleagues

Remember the purpose is improvement

Even if you’re leaving your company on bad terms, it pays to leave on a positive note and remember the purpose of the exit interview Q&A, discussion and information gained is to help improve the business and its operations, improve retention rates, reduce turnover and refine onboarding processes for new employees.

For example, you might be asked to talk about your relationship with your manager. If it was a poor relationship, you can say so but come prepared with answers and ways this could have been improved, such as better communication, more transparency, or more training and development.

Rather than use this interview as a time to complain, criticise or go on the attack, use it as an opportunity to point out flaws that could be improved but always make practical suggestions so that the company can actually understand what would have produced a more successful outcome.

For example, if you provide feedback and mention that yourself and your team or department did not get along with a certain manager, the business may already have knowledge about this issue and have tried to make changes.

Specifying that you felt that better project management experience and clear planning was lacking from the manager and therefore caused poor communication for example, the business can pinpoint the exact trouble spots from your answer and address it from there.

Why companies conduct exit interviews

Exit interviews serve as a crucial tool for companies to gain valuable insights into the reasons behind an employee's departure and to gather feedback on their experiences within the company. By conducting exit interviews, companies aim to identify patterns, trends, and potential areas of improvement in their policies, procedures, work environment, or management practices.

These interviews also provide an opportunity to assess employee satisfaction, gather suggestions for enhancing retention, and identify any issues that may be affecting overall employee morale. The exit interview data will be kept private. Ultimately, conducting exit interviews enables companies to make informed decisions and implement necessary changes to foster a positive work culture, enhance employee engagement, and reduce turnover in the long run.

Come prepared with positive honest feedback

Every job has its pros and cons, and an exit interview is a good time to point out all the positives of your role and constructive feedback to demonstrate your appreciation and genuine enjoyment for your job.

Whether it’s the autonomy, challenging tasks, your team and manager, networking and travel opportunities, company lunches, the great location, or excellent benefits package, it’s good to make note of these areas to ensure they continue for current employees and future employees. Offer suggestions or practical ideas if it feels appropriate to do so. It shows your interviewer you’re capable of seeing the attractive parts of the job, especially if you need to raise complaints or other valuable feedback.

Furthermore, weaving your appreciation and positive feedback into the exit interview means you leave on good terms – you never know if you’ll come back to work for the same company in years to come, or if the HR manager ends up as the hiring manager (maybe even your boss) for a future role.

Share any concerns but maintain a professional demeanour

Although an exit interview is your chance to provide feedback, professionalism is key to maintaining a good relationship with your soon-to-be former employer. In order to mention your concerns are professionally and calmly as possible, write down a list, review it and take it with you to the exit interview in order to stay on track.

It’s best not to throw certain people under the bus, as it never reflects well on the person who is complaining, since it sounds more like a personal issue rather than a company-wide one. Of course, more honest feedback is not always the best approach. For example, if you had a specific problem with a colleague in another team, you can make a more general statement about how you found that team to be highly negative or gossipy or that you never felt supported (or whatever the issue was).

Stay calm and clearly state your honest reasons for leaving and provide examples from your own experience if relevant. Be mindful of your body language by sitting up straight with your arms relaxed by your sides. But do so by focusing on company-level issues rather than personal dramas or lack of job satisfaction.

Bring your exit interview checklist

It’s likely your employer will have an interview exit checklist they need to cover with employees but there’s no reason you can’t bring one, too.

This will be highly useful if you know you have a number of main points to cover but are worried that you might forget to mention one, or that it might come across poorly if worded the wrong way.

Formulating your own checklist can help you prepare, stay focused and ensure you speak with confidence and make your point without causing offense if you were to mention it off the cuff. Preparing your own exit interview template will be valuable for any future exit interview process you may be involved in.

Related: How to survive your job search

Don’t burn bridges in exit interviews

Even if you know you’ll never return to the same company, maintaining a good relationship with the company and former colleagues may open you up to future job opportunities or new positions elsewhere. It also ensures you’re likely to receive a great reference. Plus you could easily end up working with one or two of your old colleagues in a future job, who remember you in a positive light.

Throughout the entire exit interview procedure, it’s important to be honest about your departure from your workplace while staying professional, positive and purposeful. Exit interviews can provide valuable feedback and insights. Current and new employees may even benefit from your honest feedback, improving retention rates for the company.

Exit interviews involve conducting interviews with departing employees to gain insights into their reasons for leaving the company and gather feedback on their experiences within the company. It typically consists of a series of structured questions that aim to uncover patterns, identify areas for improvement, gain insight and assess overall employee satisfaction. By actively listening to employees' feedback and suggestions, companies can gain valuable insights to enhance retention strategies, improve policies and procedures, and foster a positive work culture.

The exit interview process serves as a valuable tool for companies to make informed decisions and implement necessary changes to optimise employee engagement. Being prepared with answers to the common interview questions, along with constructive feedback, will make the process more manageable for you and the company.

Read more:
13 questions to ask hiring managers during a job interview
How to survive your job search
Vetting your next company: How to ensure it's the right fit

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