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What Is an Exit Interview? +10 Questions With Top Answers

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You may think that the hardest part of resigning is behind you, now that you’ve given your boss the customary two weeks notice most companies require. But it’s not over yet. Someone from human resources may contact you to conduct an exit interview as part of the company’s process for departing employees.

Don’t be alarmed. An exit interview doesn’t need to end in a tragic re-telling of your history with the company. It can be a productive experience for you and the employer, like the professional equivalent of getting closure after a breakup.

Exit interview answers
An exit interview doesn't have to be a negative experience. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

In this article you'll learn what to expect in an exit interview. We'll also review common exit interview questions and you'll learn what to say in an exit interview.

What Is an Exit Interview & How Does an Employer Benefit From It?

Employers conduct exit interviews to understand why employees resign and what they could do to minimize that. It’s also done to find out what an employee liked about the job and company, and how they the hiring process can improve. After all, an employee’s resignation isn’t always the result of poor management. It could’ve been the result of bad culture fit or the resigning employee just didn’t have the skills needed for the job.

“Questions concerning potential safety issues and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints should also be included in every exit interview,” suggests Timothy Wiedman, Retired Associate Professor of Management & Human Resources at Doane College.

So, don’t worry if HR asks questions about the safety of your workplace or if you’ve ever felt discriminated against during your employment. They ask these questions not because they already suspect something is wrong, it’s just part of the routine procedure to gather information. Whether what you divulge is investigated or acted upon varies according to the company’s protocol for such incidents.

An exit interview could be done through an online survey or a face to face interview, usually with someone from HR or a third-party without prejudice towards you or your boss.

Exit Interview Tips

Employees often see exit interviews in two ways—a total waste of time or their chance to tell management what they really think, but couldn’t mention before due to office politics or fear of retaliation from their boss. Whichever side of the coin you fall on, the following exit interview tips will help you get through the interview without burning bridges:

1. Decide What You Want 

Do you want to tell the company about your manager’s less than stellar performance or were you satisfied with your working relationship and just want to let the company know they chose well? Maybe it’s not your boss that you've got a problem with, but the tasks you were forced to do despite them being well out of your scope. Whatever it is, decide on the topics you’ll cover before your exit interview so you don’t get sidetracked or emotional.

2. Approach With Caution

Whoever conducts your interview likely has experience talking to other departing employees, so they already know you’ll have some complaints and they’re prepared to hear it. What they don’t appreciate is you bad mouthing your manager for petty or personal reasons.

While it’s irresistible to use this time to air your grievances about declined leave requests or schedule changes, this isn’t the type of feedback they need. Information like this won’t help them hire better or improve the professional lives of your remaining teammates. Concerns like these are best resolved back when you were still working with your boss.

Remember to keep your complaints about big picture work-related matters because anything that can be construed as a personal grievance will just make you look like a whiner.

3. Consider the Impact

It’s naïve to think that negative feedback, especially one that concerns HR enough to open a discussion with your ex-manager, may not burn bridges. If your ex-manager gets a talking to because of what you said, there’s a good chance they'll resent you a bit. Even if they don’t, your chances of getting re-hired to work with them again won’t be good.

But negative feedback, however hurtful, won’t give you a blanket ban from the whole company as long as it's deemed constructive. They might even be able to hire you again, just under a different boss.

4. Secure Your Reference Well in Advance

Where possible, request a letter of recommendation from your boss before you give your two weeks' notice and before your exit interview is scheduled. Ask your colleagues and connections in other departments for LinkedIn recommendations as well. Think of this as an insurance against your manager’s potential attempt to withhold your reference letter. While this is unlikely, you’ll feel more confident in the exit interview if you already have the references you’ll need. Here are some tutorials that can help your references write a recommendation:

3. Leave on a Positive Note

Getting your reference in advance doesn’t mean you can say anything and everything you want during the exit interview. You should still leave on a positive note for the sake of maintaining a good reputation among colleagues.

5. Resist the Temptation to Vent

Stick to facts and keep your opinions to yourself. If you firmly believe your manager isn’t doing a good job, cite specific examples to prove your point. If you think current procedures could be improved, explain why you think that and back up your points with suggestions or verifiable data.

Ally Compeau, Founder of Woof Signs adds, “Pick your battles, focus on key areas of strength and weakness that could be actionable.” Don’t nitpick.

Common Exit Interview Questions & Answers  

It might feel weird to prepare for an exit interview since you’re already leaving the company and don’t necessarily need to put your best foot forward. Think of it this way: in a job interview saying one wrong thing could jeopardize your whole application, in an exit interview saying the wrong thing could lead to an awkward conversation that your boss and former colleagues may hear about.

Knowing the questions in advance and preparing a diplomatic response is a good way to ensure your reputation doesn’t get ruined after you've got no chance of fixing it because you’re no longer there. Here are the exit interview questions you're likely to be asked and some good exit interview answers:

1. Why Are You Leaving Your Current Position?

Alternative question: “What made you decide to look for another job?”

You can be honest here without sounding accusatory. If you left because of your boss, cite a specific explaining how your manager’s actions impacted you. For example, instead of just saying your boss had favorites, talk about how your skills weren’t fully utilized because you didn’t have the chance to work on more challenging tasks.

It’s also acceptable to use better benefits, a higher salary, or a company practice that you don’t agree with or that's affected your career path within the company.

2. How Was Your Relationship With Your Boss?

This question isn’t about whether you liked your boss or not. HR doesn’t care whether you got close or if you hated working for them. Instead, they want to know about your boss’s management and communication style, specifically if their guidance encouraged you to work hard, or made you dread coming to the office.

Comment only on topics where you experienced the trait you’re criticizing first-hand. The interviewer isn’t interested in “I heard” or “This happened to my teammate” kind of stories.

Laura Handrick, HR Analyst at Fit Small Business adds, “You may not be the catalyst for that manager being disciplined or fired, but HR will notice. Just do it in a way that protects you.”

also Keep in mind that HR isn’t interested in every little thing your manager did to irritate you. Keep those to yourself, not just because it may be relayed back to your former boss,  but because doing may lessen HR’s confidence in your objectivity. 

3. What Skills or Experience Should We Look for in Your Replacement?

You’re the one who knows how to do your job best—not your manager or the recruiter. That’s why they want your personal insight into what it takes for someone to succeed in your role.

For example, your initial job description could’ve initially included network management as a required skill, but you never had any network management tasks during your employment. It could’ve been an outdated task no one bothered to remove from the job ad. The reverse of this may also be true, where you had to learn skills not mentioned in the job ad or in your job interview.

4. What Is the Biggest Contributing Factor That Led You to Accept a New Job?

This question is similar to question one, “Why are you leaving this job?” except in this case the interviewer wants to find out about your new employer, not your reasons for leaving. Whatever the status of the economy is, companies don’t like losing people they spent money training to their competitors. That’s why companies ask departing employees about their next job.

They want to know how they compare to similar organizations in their industry in terms of salary, benefits, company culture, training opportunities, and career advancement because this information will help them attract and retain people better.

Don’t worry, you’re not obliged to share specifics about your job contract. Only share what you’re comfortable disclosing.

5. What Did You Like and Dislike Most About Your Job?

This question deals with the specifics of your day to day job. The interviewer wants to know what you liked about your work so they can play up those attributes when they hire new people. Was it the weekly happy hours, the informal mentoring sessions with senior employees, or the gym perks? Whatever it is, the company wants to know what keeps employees engaged so they can allocate more resources into those activities.

On the flipside, the interviewer also wants to know about tasks that you didn’t like or think were unnecessary. Now is your chance to give constructive criticism about menial parts of your job, like unnecessarily long meetings or approval procedures that take too much paperwork. Be prepared to justify your complaints with suggestions for improvement so the interviewer doesn’t just categorize you as another lazy employee who didn’t actually care about their job.

6. Were You Given Clear Goals and Objectives for Your Job?

Your answer to this job exit interview question reflects your former manager’s leadership skills. Confirming that you had clear goals and objectives shows that your manager did a good job in showing how your output contributed to the company as a whole.

On the other hand, if you explain that all you did was complete the tasks handed to you—not knowing why they mattered or who depended on them—it'll reflect poorly on your manager’s skills. It may also show areas for improvement in other parts of the company, so you may hear follow-up questions about the training you received and the company’s culture as well.

7. Is There Something We Could've Done to Prevent You From Leaving?

It’s a candid question, so feel free to respond in kind. Don’t be overly critical or unnecessarily mean, though. For instance, if you’re leaving because you’re overworked, just say so. Don’t be sarcastic in pointing it out, even if it’s obvious you and your colleagues are burned out. Besides, the best revenge against a bad boss is getting a better job not some witty comeback during an exit interview. I Remember, your honesty during an exit interview could benefit colleagues and the future talent the company will hire. 

If you don’t haven't already, start revising your resume now. Here are some tutorials to help you improve your resume and also some help for finding a new job:

You can also find some great resume templates on Envato Elements or GraphicRiver.

8. Would You Consider Working With Us Again? What Would Influence You to Come Back?

Think of this as a formal way of asking if you resent the company or anyone in it. If you’re not interested in coming back, just be honest.

9. Were You Able to Achieve Any of Your Career Goals During Your Stay Here?

Companies that include this question in their exit interview care about the career advancement and training opportunities available to their employees.

Perhaps your job often felt like a sink or swim environment because you had to learn new skills or tools on the fly. If that made your job unnecessarily difficult, now is your chance to convince them to train future employees. Hopefully, the next person who gets your job won’t face the same difficulties you did.

As for career advancement opportunities, it’s a given that not everyone gets promoted during their time for any given company. But if you know you’ve performed above expectations and got nothing in return this is a valid concern HR will want to address, especially if they’re serious about developing their talent pipeline.

10. Do You Have Other Comments?

Open-ended job exit interview questions like this are designed to prompt you into commenting on topics that may have been missed in the course of the interview. So, if you've got other complaints or questions you’d like to discuss you can bring them up now.

Finally, if you haven't yet quit your job yet and you're just reading this tutorial to give you an idea of what to expect once you resign, this tutorial can help you quit the right way:

Remember That You’re Leaving for Greener Pastures

It’s tempting to use the exit interview as a last-ditch effort to make all your complaints known. Whether you give in to that temptation is up to you. Just remember that you’re already leaving and whatever you say during that interview may affect how your remaining friends in that company remember you.

It may feel awkward, just remember that this interview is just a negligible part of your overall career. Remember that a better job is waiting for you.

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