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The do’s and don’ts of exit interviews

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

So you’ve handed over your job resignation, said your goodbyes, and are ready to head towards (hopefully) greener pastures. Though just before you walk out those company doors for good, there’s one last mandatory step on the job-quitting itinerary: attend the exit interview.

Used to gather employee feedback on a business, exit interviews are a useful process for employers to pinpoint their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.

Below, we break down the purpose and nature of exit interviews, common questions asked, and the do’s and don’ts for any departing worker.

What is the purpose of an exit interview?

Conducted by a representative of the company (typically from the HR team), exit interviews are used to gather constructive feedback from an employee’s experience during their stay. These details can either be positive or negative, though overall offer insight into where a company is doing well and where they need to improve in terms of workplace management.

Individuals are free to delve into both pleasant memories and areas of concern, providing a clearer picture of their reasons for leaving. Their responses can then be used to determine ways of boosting future employee performance, retention, or engagement. Interviewers may also gain a candid assessment of the company culture; the recruiting and onboarding process; and current training or professional development needs.

What questions will I be asked in an exit interview?

Exit interview questions can differ depending on your manager or company, though common ones often include:

  • What are your reasons for leaving?
  • What areas of the company do you think could be improved?
  • How would you describe your working relationship with your manager, employer and/or colleagues?
  • Do you have any concerns surrounding current company policies or procedures, or feel like they could be improved? (And if so, how?)
  • Do you feel like you were adequately trained for the tasks you were assigned to?
  • Did you ever feel like your job role or title shifted during the course of your employment? (And if so, how?)
  • What were your favourite aspects of this job (or company)?

The do’s and don’ts of an exit interview

DO be pleasant and professional

Whether you’re leaving due to company faults or for personal reasons, it’s important to conduct yourself as a pleasantly and professional as possible during your exit interview. Provide clear details of your experience, offering interviewers a substantial look into your position and time with the company. Try to be as positive and as helpful as you can – regardless of any petty gripes you may have with the business. If possible, aim to at least say one good thing you enjoyed about the company, whether it be your co-workers, the business culture, or the benefits they provided.

Additionally, it’s important to treat the interview like any other serious workplace procedure. You may have already resigned from the job, but try not to brush off the experience; dress well, come prepared, and make your feedback count, as it’ll be your last chance to give it. 

DON’T vent or trash talk the company

It may seem tempting (especially if you’re leaving on negative terms), though try your best not to burn bridges and unload your frustrations during the exit interview. Rather than using this as an opportunity to angrily vent about a your difficult boss, approach your concerns in a tactful manner – explain how their management style didn’t work for you, how it conflicted with your work processes, and areas you believe should be improved upon.

On top of this, be sure to only bring up issues that company can actually address. Management can’t do anything about a co-worker’s annoying personality, but they can find ways to minimise distractions and improve communication in the workplace.

DO provide constructive feedback or criticism

Of course, do take this time to provide all the constructive feedback and criticisms you may have. Consider the ways your experience has made you a better employee, and be specific; if there were projects or events that helped facilitate this, don’t hesitate to let the interviewer know.

In a similar vein, if you found aspects of the company that could be worked upon or improved, be sure to detail these instances too – particularly if they were part of the reasons why you chose to leave in the first place. Your employer will appreciate this information, and can help you leave the workplace on a positive note.

DON’T boast about your new job or opportunities

Excited as you may be for what’s ahead, avoid gloating over any new opportunities you may have. Not only is this rude, but it’s also unnecessary information for the interviewer.

They may, however, ask your reasons for leaving – which may include your new gig. It’s important to keep your responses simple (i.e. your new job has offered more career progression, higher pay, etc.) but they needn’t know the fine details (such as the specifications of your new role), nor are you obliged to give them.

DO come in prepared

By brushing up on common exit interview questions, you’ll be better equipped to give clear, detailed responses with appropriate examples. This not only helps the interview process go more smoothly, but it also provides the interviewer with more substantial, valuable feedback.

Take the time to prepare your answers and reflect on the noteworthy aspects of your workplace experience. Recall any moments, projects, or specific people that may have helped your professional development, or have left an impact on your overall time with the company. If it helps, it may even be worth practicing how you’ll say them, ensuring you don’t accidentally misspeak or phrase a sentence poorly. 

DON’T burn bridges

Finally, it’s important to leave on neutral terms at worst.

The connections you’ve made at your current job can pave the way for new career opportunities, and your employer may also be a valuable reference when exploring your options in the job market. You also never know when former colleagues turn out to be future co-workers in a new company, or even potential business partners for an entrepreneurial venture.

Cathartic as it may be to burst out that door, don’t risk losing valuable professional relationships – they may very well come in handy in the long run.

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