Exit Interviews: What you need to know
Deb Ward / MAY 17 2021

What is an “exit interview?” It’s a conversation with a departing employee and someone from HR (or another third party) to discuss the employee’s history with the company. The purpose is to gain insight into the reasons the employee left and to act on the feedback they’ve given, when appropriate. 

It’s important because the company can learn how to improve working conditions and employee retention, while the leaving employee can share constructive comments and think critically about their past experiences and what they’ve learned. It also allows the departing person to leave on a positive note, opening the door for referrals, professional connections, and endorsements in the future.

Typical questions asked in the exit interview. Depending on the size of the company and its culture, your exit interview could be a formal process or a casual conversation. You will almost always be asked some form of these questions:

  • Why are you leaving? Even if the company already has some idea, they may probe further for additional reasons. For instance, you may have left for much better pay, but you may also have had struggles getting along with your manager. That information can give the company an opportunity to improve a manager’s leadership style going forward.
  • What do you feel the company is doing right, and what could be improved? It’s important to uncover the positive as well as the negative. Be prepared to share both aspects of what you enjoyed and what was difficult or uncomfortable.
  • How was your relationship with your boss?  Many people leave because of conflict with their immediate supervisor or boss. Even if there were no events that specifically led to your leaving, it helps to share that you just didn’t get along, didn’t share values, or didn’t appreciate their leadership style. Again, be graceful and non-emotional… this will help identify how future individuals may better fit in with that department.
  • Did you feel the company helped you attain your career goals? Be ready to share whether you felt the company was invested in helping you grow professionally and what opportunities were available to you. This is a key piece of what makes an employee feel satisfied with their jobs.
  • Did your job meet your expectations? Was the job description accurate when you applied and accepted it? If the job didn’t align with your skills and experience, your feedback will assist in helping the company edit the job description and get the right people in that position.
  • How do you feel about your relationship with your co-workers? Be prepared to share how you fit in with your team and what was good as well as what could’ve been done to make it better. Were the work assignments fair? What about the shifts? Did each team member have the necessary skills? Were you encouraged to help each other and step in when needed?

How to provide valuable and actionable feedback.

  • Be honest. When you’re giving constructive feedback, you are honest… not negative or disrespectful. It’s all about how you phrase your comments and your tone of voice. You want to communicate professionally and not from anger or resentment. You’re not there to vent your frustration, but to give them insider information they can use to improve the culture and the company.
  • Be specific. Try to give as many specific examples as possible in your answers. It gives you credibility and will have a positive impact on the organization. Try to focus on the larger issues affecting your role and your department, and not a personal dispute.
  • Give positive feedback. Don’t make it all about complaints. The company also needs to know what is working well so they can do more of it. 

The exit interview is basically to help the company learn where it can improve and to make sure employees leave feeling good about their time with the team. Discovering why people leave should be a strategic part of the company plan and the data gained should be shared confidentially with those involved.

Employees should be made to understand how that information will be used and that any action taken does not compromise them in any way. If all goes as planned, both parties should feel respected and heard and leave the door open for future interactions, if possible.

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