Exit Interview Dos and Don’ts: Advice from HR Professionals

You did it! You gathered your courage and put in your 2 weeks’ notice. You’re feeling mentally prepared to work out your final days, bid farewell to your coworkers, then walk out the door seeking pastures new.

You’re sure you’re over the hardest part — and then HR gets in touch to ask when you’d like to schedule your exit interview.

Many people don’t even realize the exit interview exists. At a lot of companies, though, leaving your job for good isn’t as simple as packing up your belongings and sneaking out.

Exit interviews can be daunting. You’ve already gone through the nerve-wracking process of quitting your job, and now this? Having to explain why you’re quitting in minute detail? No thanks!

…But don’t stress! Not only does your exit interview not have to be scary, it can actually be a productive and beneficial experience for both you and your employer. You just need to be prepared, similar to how you prepare for a regular job interview — and the HR professionals at Links International are here to help.

What is an Exit Interview?

Understanding why someone is choosing to leave the company is tremendously useful for a business. If, for example, an exiting employee says there’s no room for growth, the company might adjust its organizational structure to reduce turnover. Furthermore, people are often more honest in their feedback than they would be in, say, their annual review.

The format of an exit interview varies from company to company. You might be asked to fill out a survey, have a meeting or perhaps some combination of the two. If you have a meeting, it will typically be conducted by someone from HR. Your direct manager may also meet with you in a more informal setting to discuss your motivation for leaving.

Many companies conduct exit interviews as part of their offboarding processes during an employee’s last week. Some employers opt to have the meeting several weeks or even months after the employee has left, either by phone or an online survey.

In addition to exit interviews to find out what motivated the resignation, many major corporations also provide outplacement services to their existing employees, providing them with practical and emotional support and help them transition into their next career.

The Dos and Don’ts of an Exit Interview

As in any interview setting, it’s integral that you are honest. That being said, you may want to word your answers carefully and not unnecessarily burn 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 especially critical during your exit interview, words can spread to other employees. It can be very tough requesting a reference once you’ve created such a dynamic.

Here are Links International’s top 3 dos — and don’ts — of the exit interview.

1) Do share helpful, specific information. Was there an issue or circumstance that precipitated your job hunt and eventual departure? If you mention something such as this, make sure to keep it factual. Focus on what happened, not on how it made you feel. Give examples. Furthermore, endeavor to come across as a problem solver. Suggest solutions and be constructive rather than complain about your situation. The facts will speak for themselves.

2) Do act professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical or offer feedback on areas that need work — but avoid being rude or offensive. And, as much as possible, be positive. Even if you secretly didn’t like your old job, coworkers or culture, try to give at least one compliment during the dialogue.

3) Do plan what you’re going to say. You want to be honest, but you also don’t want to say anything that will leave your interviewer with a wrong impression. Rehearsing what you intend to say ensures you don’t misspeak or phrase a response poorly.

1) Don’t boast about your new job. By all means discuss positive aspects of it — after all, you’re leaving for a reason. But don’t overdo it. If the interviewer asks why you’re leaving — and they probably will — don’t negatively compare your old job at this company with the role you’re moving on to.

2) Don’t be petty. Stolen sandwiches? Irritating coworker with a bizarre habit of eating multiple bananas all day long? Sure, these may be among the reasons for your departure, but they probably don’t constitute the kind of meaningful information intended from the interview. What’s more, pettiness equals unprofessionalism. Keep feedback substantive, not small.

3) Don’t complain. Your exit interview isn’t the time to moan about coworkers, management or projects. Be polite. It’s fine to voice critiques, but be courteous and civil while doing so.

7 Frequently Asked Exit Interview Questions

Exit interviews, as we have established, come in all shapes and formats. However, there are some fairly universal exit interview questions you can expect to be faced with.

1) Why are you leaving?

This is likely the key exit interview question that your employer wants answered. They wish to identify whether or not there was a single event that precipitated your departure, such as a falling out with your coworker or manager. They’ll also hope to determine whether there are any shortcomings with the position that needs to be resolved before bringing in a replacement. Remember, one of the key goals for a company is employee retention, and your feedback is vital in achieving that end.

2) What was the most significant factor in accepting your new role?

You don’t need to feel pressured to share in-depth details about the position you’re moving on to. HR wants to understand how they’re matching up with comparable organizations within the industry. Perhaps your new salary is significantly more attractive and your old employer needs to reevaluate their pay structure. Maybe the new company’s culture particularly appealed to you. Whatever it is, there’s no harm in sharing. Your old company wants to stay on track when it comes to attracting fresh talent.

3) How was your relationship with your manager?

Your working relationship with your boss was probably the most influential aspect in your day-to-day workplace satisfaction, so management wants to know about it. What did your manager do well? How did you feel about their overall management style? You should also come prepared to provide suggestions for improvement. Just remember not to get carried away. The critique will probably be relayed back to your old boss. If in doubt, keep it constructive.

4) How equipped did you feel to do your job well?

It might seem a little odd to air your grievances regarding lack of communication, training or infrastructure, but this information will be invaluable to your old employer. HR knows you’re leaving for a reason, and they’re well aware that you won’t only have positive things to say about your old job. Just err on the side of courteousness and don’t be too brutal in your honesty. Burning bridges is not recommended, and in the long run, doing so could seriously hinder your career.

5) What did you like most about your job?

While the main goal of exit interviews is to elicit constructive feedback, that doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to highlight positives. Whether it was a particular responsibility, your coworkers or flexible hours, your old company wants to know what made you look forward to coming in each day. This information is immensely helpful to management.

6) What did you dislike most about your job?

Inevitably, this one will come up if the former does. Maybe you hated having to coordinate the monthly board meeting. Perhaps your boss was a meddling micromanager. Or you think your entire department needs restructuring in order to work more efficiently and effectively. This is your prime opportunity to share those complaints you normally reserved for mutters under your breath and venting sessions over cocktails with friends.

7) What skills and qualifications should we look for in your replacement?

Perhaps your original job description emphasized that you needed to be great with database management — but, once you arrived, you realized that the database was rarely touched by anyone in the office. It was an obsolete job duty pasted over from description to description. Instead, you think that looking for someone with strong multi-tasking and organizational skills is far more important. Your employer will both appreciate and implement this insight.

Find Your Dream Job with Links International

As daunting as it might seem, an exit interview is honestly not worth stressing over. Think of it as a chance to have an up-front, frank discussion about the position that has been yours and that you are now leaving behind. And if you do start to worry, remember that nothing bad can happen. After all, it’s not like they can fire you!

At Links International, we understand what a massive decision it is to quit your job and look elsewhere to further your career. That’s why our recruitment services are designed to cover every aspect of your HR processes and have made us a leader in HR outsourcing in Asia.
Check out our useful job search and salary guide to see what prospects are out there for you and your career, and to help you know your value and worth within your respective field. You can also get in touch with us today and one of our friendly team will be delighted to help you with any and all of your job-related queries.