Dos and Don’ts for Exit Interviews

Take the Opportunity to Be Honest Without Leaving a Bad Impression

Two people speak during an in-depth interview. In-depth interviews are common and useful research methods within sociology.
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When you leave a job, it’s common for the human resources department to reach out to you and set up an exit interview. During this conversation, you’ll be asked why you’re leaving the company and for overall feedback on the organization. 

Why Employers Set Up Exit Interviews

For companies, knowing why people choose to leave is tremendously helpful. If, for instance, an exiting employee says there’s no room for growth, the company might adjust its organizational structure.

Plus, people may be more honest in their feedback than they would in a year-end review. (However, while your employer may want your honest opinion, you shouldn’t use an exit interview as an opportunity to unload a pile of grievances. See more on that below.)

What to Expect at an Exit Interview

The format of an exit interview varies from company to company. You might fill out a written survey, have a face-to-face meeting or experience a combination of the two.

Typically, someone from human resources will conduct the interview. Your direct manager might also meet with you—perhaps in a more informal setting, like a goodbye lunch—to dig into your motivation for leaving.

Tip:

Expect questions focused on your experience at the company, including both high and low points, as well as on the reasons behind your departure.

Expect questions focused on your experience at the company, including both high and low points, as well as on the reasons behind your departure.

What to Say During Your Exit Interview

As in any interview setting, do not lie during your exit interview. However, you may want to carefully word your responses so you do not burn any bridges.

The world of work can be small, and you never know when you’ll encounter a former colleague in a new job. (If you’re very critical in your exit interview, word can potentially spread from HR to other employees.) Also, it is difficult to request a reference once you’ve burned a bridge.

Dos and Don’ts for Exit Interviews

Here are more dos and don’ts to follow during your exit interview.

DO: Act professionally. Just like in any other interview, behave professionally in your exit interview. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical or offer feedback on areas that need work—but avoid being nasty. And as much as possible, be positive—even if you weren’t fond of the job, coworkers or company vibe. If you can, try to give at least one compliment during the conversation.

DON’T: Complain, vent or be rude. Think of this as the flipside to the “Do: act professionally” advice. Your exit interview is not an appropriate time to complain about coworkers, a manager or assignments. Above all, be polite—it’s fine to voice a critique, so long as it’s politely worded. Basically, don’t be mean or hurtful.

DO: Share specific and helpful information. Was there a problem or situation that precipitated your job hunt and eventual departure? That’s something you can mention. If you do, keep it factual—focus on what happened as opposed to how you felt, and share specific examples. And, do your best to be a problem-solver, suggesting solutions where appropriate. That way, you’ll sound constructive and not like a complainer.

DO: Plan what you’ll say. You want to be honest in this conversation, but you also don’t want to say anything that will leave your interviewer with a bad impression. Practicing what you’ll say, before the interview, ensures you don’t misspeak or phrase a response poorly. Take a look at a list of common exit interview questions.

DON’T: Boast about your new job. That falls under the category of not being rude. You can talk about some of the positive aspects of the new position—obviously, you’re leaving for a reason, right? But don’t go overboard. It’s common for interviewers to ask why you’re leaving. If you do, you can highlight a positive aspect of the new role—increased pay, greater opportunities, a higher title, etc. Just keep it simple. 

DON’T: Be petty. Stolen lunch? Annoying, nail-clipping colleague? These may be some of the reasons for your departure from the company, but those probably don’t qualify as meaningful information HR wants from the interview. And it makes you look unprofessional. So, keep feedback substantive, not small.