How to Prepare for an Exit Interview

People in office.

A Guide to Giving Feedback Without Burning Bridges

An exit interview probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when you decide to quit your job — nor should it be — but at some point, the issue is probably going to surface. After all, at many companies, an exit interview is a standard part of the offboarding process, right along with notifying your team of your departure or returning your computer to the IT department.

While exit interviews provide you with a great opportunity to make your voice heard, they can also provoke anxiety: what if your soon-to-be-former employer doesn’t like what you have to say? When handled correctly, though, exit interviews are no cause for worry. In fact, they can provide you with closure, put you at ease and help you move onto your next great opportunity.

In this guide, we’ll share how to prepare for an exit interview so that you provide your employer with the feedback they need while avoiding bad blood and burnt bridges.

What Is an Exit Interview?

If you’re not yet familiar with the term, an exit interview is a conversation led by HR (or sometimes your manager) that takes place shortly before you leave your job, and covers why you’re leaving and what feedback you have for the company. While exit interviews serve as a formal outlet for you to share what’s on your mind, it’s important to realize that they’re primarily for the benefit of the employer.

“Exit interviews typically take place for the employer’s sake, not the employee’s,” explains Dina Amouzigh, People’s Operations Manager at the online healthcare portal CareDash. “The purpose is to get information and feedback based on the employee’s experience or context for their ultimate decision to separate.”

This means that you should avoid treating it as a rant session — doing so could leave a bad taste in employers’ mouths, which could come back to haunt you if you ever need them to verify past employment or serve as a reference for a future position. Save the trash talk for close friends only, and take the following steps to ensure a more positive exit interview experience.

What Is an Exit Interview?

Reflect on Your Experience in Writing

It’s not always easy to wing a conversation, especially when you need to talk about something as difficult as why you chose to leave your company. Without proper structure, excessively harsh or critical statements might slip out, or you could forget something important you really wanted to bring up. To avoid something like this, it’s best to plan out in advance which items you want to cover.

“I highly recommend writing down notes to plan what you want to say,” advises Jude Miller-Burke, Ph.D., business psychologist and author. “If you expect it to be highly charged, practice out loud. Reinforce to yourself that you will maintain boundaries and not succumb to your strong emotions.”

Write a list of all the items you want to cover, including positive feedback, critical feedback and what you think the company can do to improve overall. You probably won’t want to read off of this list verbatim in the meeting — that could come off as a little stiff and impersonal — just use it to help jog your memory around which topics to bring up and how to answer certain questions.

Reflect on Your Experience in Writing

Common Exit Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

So, what exactly can you expect to be asked in an exit interview? Here are a few common questions you might encounter:

  • Why did you begin looking for a new job?
  • What ultimately led you to accept the new position?
  • Did you feel that you were equipped to do your job well?
  • How would you describe the culture of our company?
  • Can you provide more information, such as specific examples?
  • What could have been done for you to remain employed here?
  • Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company prior to leaving?
  • If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would you change?
  • Management is often a key factor in an employees decision to leave. Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?
  • Did you have clear goals and objectives?
  • Did you receive constructive feedback to help you improve your performance?
  • How can our company improve training and development programs?
  • Would you consider coming back to work here in the future? In what area or function? What would need to change?

The specific ways in which you respond to these questions will depend largely on your circumstances, but there are two primary strategies you should keep in mind.

Be specific with positives: When sharing what went well, feel free to get as detailed as possible. “You want to be sure to share specifics about what (or who) made the work experience positive,” says Laura MacLeod, LMSW, HR expert and founder of the From The Inside Out Project. Praising specific points will not only make your employer feel good — it will give them valuable information about what is working so that they can ensure that it continues even after you’re gone in order to create a better working environment for your current coworkers and any new folks they might hire. Even if you had a largely negative experience, make sure to share at least one positive — there’s got to be something.

Be general with negatives: It’s okay to point out particular processes or policies that can be improved — but it’s not a good idea to throw a specific person under the bus, bring up every little complaint you have or go on a twenty-minute rant about how angry one particular issue made you. “It is fine, for example, to express that the workload was more than any one person could handle, if done in the right tone… It’s also okay to say something like, ‘I think managers should get more training in active leadership,’ but it’s best to avoid statements like, ‘Tom was the worst boss I’ve ever had,’” Miller-Burke explains.

Common Exit Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

Express Gratitude

Once you’ve said everything that you have to say, make sure that you thank the person that you’re interviewing with for a) taking the time to hear your feedback and recommendations and b) allowing you to grow and develop in your time there. Mention a few things that you admire about the company, as well as what you value most about your experience. Should the time come when you ever need to ask for a referral, you’ll be glad you did!

Exit interviews can be intimidating, but they are an invaluable way for you to make your voice heard and effect change within your workplace. Want to continue paying it forward? Leave a Glassdoor review so that future job seekers can get an inside look at what it’s really like to work at your company!

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