After handing in your letter of resignation, you’ll probably feel a weight lifted off your shoulders. The hardest part of quitting a job is now behind you and you assume that all that’s left is wrapping up your projects and bidding farewell to coworkers after working your weeks’ notice.
Not so fast. As exit interviews are becoming more and more common, the human resources department may request one. And you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared and don’t risk saying something that could damage your reputation or burn any bridges.
In this article, we’ve compiled all the information you need to survive your exit interview.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is considered the final step in the employee journey and it is an opportunity for your employer to gain feedback from you before you leave the company. They’ll usually inquire about what you liked and disliked about your time with the company, so that they can improve the employee experience — and overall employee retention.
Ultimately, companies conduct an exit interview for the benefit of the employer, not the employee. Unless stipulated otherwise in the contact, they are also typically voluntary, and employees have the option to decline. However, generally it is best to attend the interview and make an attempt to leave the employer in good graces.
How can you prepare for an exit interview?
Departing employees don’t have much to gain from exit interviews, and since they can’t be fired, they don’t stand much to lose either. However, depending on what you choose to say, there could be some reputational risks. So, it’s always a good idea to prepare for the exit interview in advance. We’ve compiled 5 tips below to help you get ready for your exit meeting.
1. Vent ahead of time
The interview is not a time for airing your grievances and letting out pent-up frustrations. And being overly opinionated or emotional in an exit interview could lead to burned bridges and a damaged reputation. However, as leaving a job is often accompanied by difficult emotions, you don’t want to bottle these in either.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to vent to a trusted friend or family member ahead of the interview. This way, you’re able to let out your emotions beforehand and not risk saying something that you may regret later.
2. Consider the purpose
As previously mentioned, it is not the time to be an open book and share exactly what you think about your boss, colleagues, and company. And what is said may not always stay in the exit interview. So, you’ll want to proceed with caution and consider the purpose.
For companies, the most common purpose of the meeting is to better understand why employees leave, so that they can improve the employer experience and the company’s retention rate. Therefore, if you had a positive experience with the company, you may want to share information that could be of benefit to them. However, employees are of no obligation to share anything that could put themselves in a poor light or hurt their reputation.
3. Focus on the objective facts
In professional meetings, such as exit interviews, it’s important to come prepared with facts and not only opinions. This way, you simply state objective facts and don’t run the risk of becoming overly emotional.
For example, if you are resigning because your boss was a micromanager, you could state that you prefer to work with more autonomy. As opposed to speaking negatively about your boss, you’re objectively stating a fact about your preferred way of working.
If you’re leaving due to a lack of advancement opportunities, make this clear in your interview. A CareerAddict study found that this is one of the most common reasons people leave a job, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to your employer if this is the reason you’ve decided to move on.
4. Reflect on the positives
Employees who are satisfied in their jobs don’t often quit, which means many people that find themselves in these interviews may have had some negative experiences with the company. There are many reasons you might have quit — you may have felt undervalued by your manager or that you were unfairly overlooked for a promotion. However, even for employees that quit due to deep-seated issues, they usually had at least some positive experiences with the company.
You don’t want to only voice negatives in an exit interview, as it could be an indicator that you’re disgruntled. Make sure to reflect on some positive aspects from your time with the company. For example, you may have had great team members or had the opportunity to grow and develop.
5. Prepare responses
Exit interviews can cover some delicate ground. You’ll most likely be asked questions relating to your relationship with your boss, what you disliked about the company and why you’re leaving. You wouldn’t want to be caught off guard and respond in a way that you may later regret. Therefore, make sure to prepare your responses in advance.
Although you don’t need to prepare word for word how you will respond, it’s a good idea to plan what you will say and not say. You also want to make sure that you are being tactful and leave with grace. So, be sure to not show any animosity towards anyone or accidentally throw any colleagues under the bus.
What questions will you be asked?
As employers conduct exit interviews to better understand why you’re leaving the company, they may ask questions about all aspects of your employee experience. They could inquire about your relationship with your manager and colleagues, satisfaction with job duties, quality of training and the company culture. Below are five common exit interview questions, along with sample answers to help you prepare.
1. Why are you leaving your current position?
If you have been invited to an exit interview, you can be pretty certain that the employer will ask you why you are leaving the company. And it’s important to answer honestly. However, this doesn’t mean you must divulge details.
For example, one of the most common reasons people leave jobs is because of a toxic work culture. If this is your reason, it’s important to choose your words carefully. Instead of stating the company is toxic, perhaps say you are looking for more autonomy or a more supportive environment.
If you are leaving for another reason, such as salary or lack of advancement opportunities, you should be honest about these reasons as well. However, make sure to be objective and not display any bitterness.
“After working for over two years at [company name], I am ready to take on a new challenge and continue progressing in my career. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to develop my skills and learn so much here. But as there are no current opportunities for advancement, I have decided to take the next step in my career at a different company.”
2. Were you given the tools and training to do your job effectively?
How effective companies train and onboard employees plays a large role in employee satisfaction and retention. Therefore, the interviewer may ask for feedback on the tools and training you had to do your job.
Even if you felt that the training after your job interview was lacking, it is a good idea to incorporate some positives into your answer. After all, you don’t want to spend the whole interview only discussing the negatives.
For example, you could share that the onboarding could have been more organized, but that your boss was supportive of your training throughout your time with the company.
“One of my favorite aspects of working for [company name] was the focus on developing employees and providing them with the skills and knowledge to do their jobs. From day one, I felt well-supported by both my team and the wider organization. However, I did feel like some of the software that we used was a bit outdated and there could have been more focus on keeping up with industry standards in terms of tools.”
3. What did you like about your job?
Oftentimes, when people leave jobs, it is because they have been dissatisfied for some time. Perhaps management was inept, the culture was toxic, or morale was low. However, whatever the reason, there were certainly at least a few positive aspects of the job.
Therefore, when the interviewer asks you what you liked about your job, make sure to not appear as though you are struggling to find an answer. Some aspects you could mention include great colleagues, opportunities to learn, flexible working hours or challenging work.
“I liked that management encourages employees to take ownership over their work. Being able to experiment, innovate and continuously learn and try new things were some of the aspects I particularly liked about my job. In addition to this, I felt that there was great camaraderie and collaboration within my team.”
4. What did you dislike about your job?
Even if you have a laundry list of grievances from your time with the company, it’s not necessary to share all of them with the interviewer. Offering one or two pieces of constructive feedback usually suffices to answer this question.
For example, if your boss was a micromanager, you could say you would have liked to have more autonomy. If you didn’t have the resources to do your job properly, you could share what would have helped you be more effective.
“Many companies are moving towards offering more flexible working arrangements. This is something that I felt was lacking at [company name]. I think that if employees had more input over their working hours and were able to work some days remotely, this would have improved the morale and productivity.”
5. Was there anything that could have been done to keep you here?
Exit interviews give you the chance to provide honest face to face feedback that could help the company improve. And when your feedback is polite, professional, and objective, it ensures you stay in good graces with the company and your colleagues.
So, when you’re asked if there is anything that the company could have done to keep you from resigning, it’s important to be honest. If they’re a good company, they may even take the feedback on board.
If you would consider working for this company again in the future, this would be a good time to let them know. After all, you never know where your career will take you and you wouldn’t want to close any future doors.
“I’ve enjoyed my time working here, and my main reason for leaving is due to a lack of advancement opportunities. If [company name] had more career progression opportunities, this would have greatly influenced my decision to leave. If a suitable job description and role were to open up in the future that was suitable to my desired career level, I would consider returning.”
While at first it may seem daunting, an exit interview is simply a conversation, and if you prepare in advance, there is no reason to fret. Ahead of the interview, just remember to:
- Vent in advance with a friend so you come into the interview coolheaded.
- Prepare some objective facts to share with the interviewer as opposed to only opinions.
- Try to remain positive during the interview even if you’re displeased with the company.
By following the above tips, you’ll make sure to gracefully and professionally make it through the exit interview with your reputation unscathed and you’ll have an effective exit from the company.
Have you ever had an exit interview? What questions were you asked? Let us know in the comments below!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 19 July 2020.