Exit Interview Tips: How to Leave a Job on Good Terms

Illustration of a woman leaving a business meeting

Whether you quit your job or were fired, you’ll probably be asked to partake in an exit interview before you walk out the door. While some organisations simply ask you to fill out a questionnaire, many conduct a face-to-face interview to discuss your reasons for leaving the company. By doing so, it helps the organisation identify any areas of concern, gather feedback and improve their company culture for future employees.

For the person on the receiving end, however, it can often be more nerve-racking than the interview they had to secure the job. With heightened or mixed emotions, it can be extremely difficult to hold back your true feelings.

That said, there are ways to express them constructively, so continue reading to find out how to tackle an exit interview with dignity and poise.

1. Be prepared

Preparation is key! Like a regular job interview, it’s advisable to form your answers to commonly asked exit interview questions so that you offer advice that could be useful to the department and your replacement.

To help you separate your personal feelings or opinion from information that genuinely matters, make a list of topics that you’d like to discuss and form answers or statements around that information. For example, if you feel that you were micromanaged during your employment, you could explain that you would have liked to have been given more freedom and trust to perform your duties at the best of your abilities.

2. Don’t unload on your interviewer

Don’t mistake your interview with a therapy session – the HR representative really doesn’t want an emotional breakdown full of personal attacks, which will just create additional paperwork and investigations following your departure.

Not only will irrational behaviour make you appear unprofessional, but unnecessary unloading can make you seem like the problem and it can negatively affect your chances of ever returning to the company.

To avoid unburdening any mixed emotions about the company or your manager, air your frustrations to a friend before your exit interview, which will effectively help you remain calm during the interview.

3. Be positive

With one foot already out of the door, there’s no need to bring up past disagreements and come across as bitter! If you had an issue to resolve, you should have discussed it with a member of the HR team at the time and not now!

So, be positive when discussing your time at the company and talk about things that you’ve learnt and appreciate during your employment. Surely, it wasn’t all bad; otherwise, you wouldn’t have chosen to work there in the first place, so don’t forget to offer positive feedback among your constructive advice, too.

4. Offer factual information

If you’re going to bring up negative aspects of the job or your time working at the company, be sure to tread with caution! Writing for Business Insider, Jacquelyn Smith offers this advice: ‘Don’t use strong, hurtful words like “hate” when talking about people or systems or departments at the company. Keep your cool, and if you do choose to give some constructive criticism, be polite and diplomatic about it.’

If you’re leaving due to lack of progression, a bad company culture, no benefits or low salary, bring it to your interviewer’s attention by incorporating facts. For example, you should explain that you were offered a role at another company with a better title and salary, which is something that the company couldn’t compete with and, understandably, something that you couldn’t refuse.

5. Bring a witness (if needed)

If you’ve been let go or feel that you’ve been pushed to resign, you’re within your rights to bring a witness along to your exit interview. Within one of my previous roles, I conducted an exit interview where an employee was placed on an improvement plan but failed to meet the business’s expectations and needed the support of a trusted colleague during her exit interview.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, approach one of your coworkers and ask them if they would sit in your interview with you. They don’t necessarily have to say anything, but their presence could bring you some comfort during an emotional exit.

6. Don’t burn any bridges

Even though you’re moving on to another company, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with your previous employers, even after your departure. With such a small circuit in certain industries, it’s likely that you’ll cross paths in the near future, and you don’t want an awkward encounter when you do.

In addition, although your exit interview should be confidential, certain HR professionals like to gossip, and any negative comments can easily travel. So, follow the correct procedures when handing in your resignation (such as working your full notice), and put in full effort until your last working day!

7. Express gratitude

You would have had some good times and learnt certain skills during your employment, so be sure to express gratitude for the company during your exit interview. Even though you’re probably feeling appreciative towards your new employer, remind yourself of your achievements at the current organisation.

Without the opportunity of working for your former employer, you may have not been able to gather the experience that you needed to reach new heights in your career, so be thankful for the opportunity that you were given in the first place and avoid minimising your current employer by bragging about your new role!

8. Ask for a reference

When leaving their job, many employees forget to ask their former employer for a reference, and only tend to think about this a few years down the line when they’re seeking different opportunities, which is why it’s important to strike while the iron is hot!

Now that you’ve discussed your reasons for handing in your notice, have offered constructive feedback and expressed gratitude, it’s your chance to get a great recommendation on file! If you have a good relationship with your interviewer, you could also ask them to give you an endorsement or recommendation on LinkedIn, too.

It can be easy to get carried away during an exit interview; you don’t care about making a good impression anymore, you have built up frustration and just generally can’t bear to bite your tongue anymore but hold in a little longer!

Leaving a job is similar to a breakup – you would have endured situations that made you angry and resentful but remind yourself of the true professional that you are and refrain from acting out. Be sure to walk out with no regrets and with your head held high!

Have you got an exit interview coming up? Do you have any major concerns? Let us know what they are by dropping us a comment below.

Curious about why people quit their jobs? In 2019, we surveyed almost 1,000 respondents to identify common patterns and trends of employee turnover and discovered that a lack of progression was the highest contributing factor. Check out our ‘Employee Turnover’ study for more insights and key findings.