Leaving a job can feel very exciting. After all, you’re probably leaving because you’ve found another, more rewarding opportunity. But before you can ride off into your new professional home, you may be asked to participate in an exit interview with an HR representative of your company.
What is an exit interview?
Though not required by law, companies like to conduct exit interviews because it provides them with invaluable data about the employee experience as well as their successes and shortcomings as an organization. Gathering insight and feedback from employees who leave can be a good way to improve employee retention and the overall company culture.
As a departing employee, you have the ability to provide honest feedback and responses on what drove your decision to leave and how the company can improve.
In the exit interview, the HR representative will probably ask you questions about your time at the company and observations about the functions. Questions will vary based on the specific organization, your role, and how long you've been there.
How to prepare for an exit interview
Your company may provide you with questions in advance or ask you to fill out paperwork to direct and guide your conversation. If they don't, take some time to reflect on your experience and what you really want your company to know. Below are some common exit interview questions you can expect to be asked:
1. Why are you leaving the company?
Don’t be surprised if this is one of the first exit interview questions you’re asked, particularly if your departure is coming as a surprise to your employer.
Be honest with your interviewer about your reasons. That’s the point of the exit interview process. If you weren’t given enough development opportunities or your boss’s management style was not a good match for you, say so. If you found a position with better compensation and benefits or work-life balance, let them know — this is valuable information for company leaders and HR staff members. Feel free to also report any more serious reason, like sexual harassment or any form of discrimination.
2. What did you like about the company?
If you’re departing from the company on bad terms or if you’re feeling disgruntled, it can be hard to think of anything you liked about your company. But take a few moments before your exit survey to jot down a few things that you enjoyed. What drew you to the company initially and what made you stay? Perhaps it was your colleagues, a flexible work schedule, or your health benefits. Whatever the reason, don’t let any bitterness keep you from giving credit where it’s due.
3. What did you dislike about the company?
Since you’ve made the decision to leave your employer, chances are you have a few (or a lot) of reasons or things you disliked about your company. While you may feel compelled to lay out the laundry list, try to stick to the most important things that truly affected your decision to leave, such as work-life balance or a change in your career goals. Maybe the cafeteria meatloaf was dry or your supervisor chewed her lunch too loudly, but unless that’s the reason you’re out the door, your exit survey isn’t the place to air that grievance.
4. Did you have a clear understanding of your role and what was expected of you?
This question speaks to the training and guidance you received from your manager or supervisor. If his or her management style wasn’t a good match for your personality or style of working, it’s OK to say so — especially if you feel like it was detrimental to your progress.
After all, it can be hard to do, much less enjoy, your job if you’re not sure what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. If your manager was unclear about her or his expectations, you should not feel bad about saying so, even if you liked your manager personally. This is the kind of constructive feedback that can help your manager grow.
5. Did you receive all of the resources you needed to do your job?
My last job was one that required me to rely on large sets of data. Often, the data I received was unreliable. As a result, I was unable to provide the best service to my clients because I didn’t have the tools to do so. This is the kind of thing a company needs to know in order to do better. Remember that resources can also include things like training and professional development tools.
6. Did the organization help you fulfill your career goals?
In answering this question, remember to think back to the goals you had when you first started the job. Perhaps your goal back then was to learn a new subject matter or strengthen your computer skills. If you were able to achieve those, let them know, but also feel comfortable sharing how the company may have fallen short on sustaining your ambition long-term.
7. How would you describe employee morale at the company?
Companies are often so focused on results, that they lack insight into what their employees are really feeling day-to-day. If you know that employees are unhappy, scared, or unmotivated, you should raise that with your interviewer. Likewise, if there were aspects of the company culture you really enjoyed, you should encourage them to emphasize those going forward.
8. Would you recommend this company to a friend?
The best recruiting tool an employer has is their workforce, past and present. If you’re not willing to recommend the company to a friend, that’s a big red flag for the organization that improvements will need to be made.
9. Is there anything we can do make you change your mind?
Companies will try to keep valued employees until the last moment. Before going into the interview, ask yourself if you would be willing to stay if the company made certain key changes or concessions, whether specific to your position or more general. If they’re reasonable, then raise them in the interview and try to negotiate a solution that would make it feasible for you to stay.
10. Are there any other unresolved issues or comments you’d like to share?
This is your opportunity to share any thoughts and insight and honest feedback you have about your employee experience with the company. If you have a pressing issue or comment that you didn’t get to share, this is your chance to do so.
What if my company doesn't have an exit interview?
If your organization doesn't offer to have an exit interview when you decide to leave, you might request to have one anyway. If there aren't any established procedures for handling this type of conversation, propose some structure for it. You might provide an outline or some pointers for what you'd like to discuss in advance, so your manager or an HR professional is prepared, and you can have a frank discussion together about your suggestions and ideas about employment at the company.
If your company isn't amenable to having this discussion, you can always provide informal feedback. You might email your manager or HR with your ideas or find another forum for expressing them. One caveat: If you're upset about the way you've been treated at the company, airing grievances publicly online—even anonymously—is not appropriate. This can burn bridges, as well as make you look unprofessional; there are always ways your comments can be traced back to you. If you'd like to file a complaint, go through the proper channels. Contact HR or discuss the situation privately with managers at the company.
What comes after the exit interview?
Your HR representative may want to follow up with questions. She might also ask if you want her to share feedback with your manager. This is entirely up to you, but carefully consider what implications this will have for the future.
If you've asked any questions in your exit interview, you may want to follow up through the appropriate channels, too. And then it's time to move on. Work on looking forward to your new job and giving this opportunity your all, rather than dwelling on past experiences.
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