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What to say during an exit interview (and what not to)

August 29, 2022 - 15 min read

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Why do job exit interviews exist?

What to expect in exit interviews

How honest should you be in an exit interview?

What to say in an exit interview: 4 Dos

What not to say: 3 Dont's

It’s time to move on. You’ve concluded that your current position no longer serves a purpose, so you’re taking on a new role elsewhere. But before you leave your current role, you must learn what to say during exit interviews. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “An exit interview? I already did my job interview. Isn’t that enough?” But it’s not. Your former employer has plenty to ask you, and your constructive feedback means a lot to their future. Knowing how to explain why you’re quitting a job is a great skill to have.

We’ll explain an exit interview’s basic do’s and don’ts, and why you should always strive to leave on good terms. But before we explore that, let’s dive into the purpose behind exit interviews and why companies love them.

 

Why do job exit interviews exist?

Companies conduct exit interviews to receive constructive feedback when an employee leaves the company. Not every business does this, but those that do gain valuable insight into what it’s like for employees to work at the company. 

Companies want to know what the employee thought of their work environment, management, workload, and more. To sum it up, they want to know why departing employees have sought new jobs. Why didn’t they want to stay? What makes their new position better than their current one? Is this something the company can fix moving forward?

Exit interviews provide a constant flow of feedback that describes why employees would want to stay, leave their position, and most notably, what the company needs to change. Engaged employees that feel appreciated are more likely to stay in their current position. But if employees aren’t engaged or feel underappreciated, the company needs to know to correct course. 

Perhaps many employees have been quitting recently, and most have said it’s because they’re burnt out at work, or the company culture doesn’t make them feel included. The exit interviews bring this to attention. It allows companies to improve working conditions for existing and new employees, which is great for growth.

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What to expect in exit interviews

Don’t be incredibly nervous about your exit interview. Like any job interview, you want to be specific and honest with your answers. You’re already leaving the company, though, so you can be honest about what you didn’t enjoy. Just don’t burn any bridges with your feedback.

If you’ve never done an exit interview before, it’s OK to feel some jitters. But knowing what to expect in an exit interview should ease any of your nerves or uncertainties.

When learning how to prepare for exit interviews, it helps to know what type of questions you’ll be asked. Having an example of exit interview questions will help you brainstorm and prepare specific answers. 

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You should also know that human resources usually conducts these interviews as one-on-one meetings. But in some circumstances, your or another team’s manager will join. It could also be done in person on your last day in the office or over the phone or video call. 

Here are eight common exit interview questions to expect:

  1. Why are you leaving the company?
  2. What inspired you to look for another position?
  3. What helped you do your job well, and what hindered it?
  4. What recommendations do you have for onboarding new employees?
  5. How do you feel about your former colleagues and managers?
  6. Did you feel appreciated by your team and/or managers?
  7. What were the best parts of working in this position?
  8. What was the hardest part of working in this position?

How honest should you be in an exit interview?

Practicing integrity in the workplace means being honest at work — and when you’re leaving. Exit interviews aim to help with employee retention and better understand team dynamics. An exit interview is an opportunity to provide honest feedback, but not anything unprofessional and inappropriate. You can offer negative feedback if it’s done clearly and respectfully. 

These interviews aren’t the time to unload your anger and pent-up feelings, either. Honesty is fundamental in the workplace, but you should remain respectful and constructive. Even though these colleagues will become former team members or managers, they deserve respect. 

Maintaining these relationships and being helpful with your insights is also key to networking. Studies have found that networking helps people feel a sense of connection with each other. They bond over their love of their work or industry, so it’s a pleasure personally as it is professionally. 

Be mindful of your words, even if you’re leaving for negative reasons. Maybe you don’t find the work very purposeful or your new opportunity better suits your skillsets. Use an even, friendly tone and use specific examples to avoid being unnecessarily harsh while saying direct — potentially negative – things. 

Your former employer wants to understand your choice to leave, so take the time to articulate how you describe your experiences. Don’t be afraid to mention exact numbers, statistics, or dates while answering questions to provide better context. 

couple-of-colleagues-talking-what-to-say-during-exit-interview

Providing honest feedback might be hard or confusing. Here are some tips to help you be more honest but still respectful in your exit interview:

  • Don’t exaggerate or embellish stories or feelings
  • Be straightforward and don’t speak in riddles
  • Set aside time to reflect on your experience beforehand
  • Dive into your self-awareness and emotional intelligence to consider how this information will be received
  • Avoid hurtful or offensive language
  • Think about what you would want to be different if you were starting this job tomorrow
  • Brainstorm concrete examples of negatives and positives to rely on in the interview

It may also help you find closure and leave the company on a more positive note as you start your new job and a new chapter in your life.

What to say in an exit interview: 4 Dos

You have the opportunity to say a lot in your exit interview, but a few things should stand out to you. Some pieces of information are more helpful than others for employers as they work to improve the work environment, so here are four exit interview tips of what to highlight:

1. Your reason for leaving the job

So why are you leaving? What prompted you to write your resignation letter? Take the time to explain why you’re leaving your current position in detail. Maybe you’ve decided to be your own boss, feel inspired to have a career change, or want a job that lets you work remotely. But don’t shy away from not-so-positive things, like experiencing burnout or struggling with your work-life balance.

2. Satisfaction with the job as a whole

Think of the big picture here. Reflect on how satisfied you were with management. Did people act as true leaders, or did they scroll through social media instead of doing their work? Think about the job benefits you received and if they supported you enough. Consider how this position helped your future career opportunities. Has it helped your career aspirations or limited them?

3. What you enjoy about the company

Reflect on when you’d enter the work environment each morning. Reflect on the company culture and your work’s purpose. Was it a welcoming environment, or did you feel reluctant about coming to work? Think about the company’s mission, values, and goals. How did your work values align with those? Don’t forget to highlight some positive moments and major wins from your team.

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4. Your recommendations for the future

After all of your reflection, voice some concrete recommendations to your former employer. This is likely the part of your exit interview your former employer will pay most attention to. Keeping honesty in mind, let your ideas be known.

Do you have an idea of how scheduling could work better? Should some of your job responsibilities belong to someone in another department? Voice it. Your words will likely impact existing and future employees.

What not to say: 3 Dont's

It’s still valuable to know what not to say in an exit interview to avoid accidentally going too far. Sometimes you get emotional and blurt out things you shouldn’t. You might not know how to productively express your feelings. But learning what not to say helps you organize your thoughts and be more intentional with your constructive feedback.

Here are three things to avoid saying in your exit interview:

1. Immature comments

Did someone continuously steal your parking spot or always speak too loud in meetings? Petty comments aren’t useful. Ranting might feel good for a minute, but this won’t provide any useful feedback to your former employer. Your exit interview is an opportunity to help your former company improve, so keep your feedback productive, meaningful, and mature.

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2. Boast about your new position

You absolutely want to be honest about your reason for leaving, and if it’s because you’ve landed a position that pays better or feels more purposeful, say it. But you don’t need to spend half the interview boasting about how amazing your new opportunity is.

If you compare the two jobs, explain how your old company can improve to be as favorable as your new one.

3. Rude and unprofessional comments

Never forget your professionalism. Your exit interview isn’t the time to slam your former colleagues or talk about how much you hated one of your managers. Keep your language work appropriate, and remember to keep other people’s feelings in mind. Your honest feedback is welcome, but not when it’s offensive toward others.

Knowing what to say during exit interviews will help you maintain good working relationships with your existing team. Ending your tenure at this company on a positive note will keep doors open for future networking, mentoring, or career opportunities. 

When it’s your time to bid your coworkers and managers farewell, remember to be honest and value growth for you and your former company. Focus on giving constructive feedback, and you’ll be ready to have fun in your new chapter.

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Published August 29, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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