Exit Interviews: Everything You Need To Know

By Matthew Zane
Nov. 27, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

You’ve put in your two weeks’ notice, packed up your desk, said your goodbyes to coworkers, and you’re ready to skip on out of your company’s building for the last time.

But wait! There’s still one more hoop you have to jump through: the exit interview.

Anxiety is certainly a natural response to the prospect of such a meeting, but if you can prepare for the questions that will be asked and know what you want to say, you’ll be on your way to bidding your former employer a healthy and professional adieu.

Key Takeaways:

  • Exit interviews are surveys conducted at the end of employment usually by your direct manager and/or an HR representative.

  • Companies conduct exit interviews to determine if there is anything they need to change to prevent employee turnover.

  • Keep your exit interview objective, constructive, and positive.

  • Answer questions to help current and future employees.

Exit Interviews: Everything You Need To Know

What Is an Exit interview?

An exit interview is a survey that an employer conducts with an employee who is resigning or being dismissed. A manager will use the information collected at this meeting to determine problems within the company. In theory, a company will assess areas of improvement and opportunities for change based on a former employee’s responses.

An exit interview is usually conducted by someone from human resources and possibly with your direct manager. For a company, learning why employees are leaving is immensely important for adjusting its policies and structures. Exit interviews are unique in that they potentially allow the employee greater freedom of expression than they would normally feel comfortable with at a year-end review.

Note that some employers use different methods, such as written surveys or online forms.

The Reasons For Exit Interviews

It’s important to keep in mind that an exit interview is conducted primarily for the benefit of the employer, not the employee. Employee turnover isn’t a great thing for a company, what with rehiring and training costs associated with finding replacements.

The goal of an exit interview for an employer is determining what aspects of the corporate culture are playing into a person’s decision to leave the company, With this knowledge, adjustments can be made to hopefully reduce turnover in the future.

What HR wants from the interview is honesty and candor. That doesn’t mean you should launch into a “why I hate my job” diatribe (more on that later). A company wants constructive, actionable feedback on how business is done and how the employee feels it ought to be done.

Exit Interview Questions

While it’s unlikely that every single one of the questions listed below will come up, it’s a good idea to consider each of these questions and formulate some sort of response for them.

  1. What led you to accept a new job offer?

  2. Did you feel that your salary/benefits package was sufficient?

  3. Why did you begin searching for another job?

  4. Do you feel that support was given when you requested it?

  5. How was your relationship with your manager?

  6. Did you share any complaints or concerns with relevant people at the company?

  7. Did you feel like your work was valued?

  8. What would you improve about the company?

  9. How would you describe the corporate culture here?

  10. What did you like most about your position?

  11. What did you dislike most about your position?

  12. What should we be looking for in your replacement?

  13. What could we have done differently that would have kept you working here?

  14. Did you feel like you had opportunities to improve and grow professionally?

  15. What were you looking for in a new employer?

  16. Would you consider rethinking your decision and remaining at the company?

  17. Did you feel you had clear objectives in your position?

  18. Did you receive feedback that allowed you to improve your performance?

  19. What was the most challenging thing about working here?

  20. How do you feel your feedback was received by management?

Example Exit Interview Answers

Every company is going to employ a different methodology in conducting an exit interview, but there are some pretty common questions that you can count on. Let’s go over the five most common exit interview questions as well as some example answers to help you structure your own repsonses:

  1. Why did you decide to leave your position?

    There was no single event that made me decide to leave, but I was becoming bored with my daily responsibilities. I didn’t really have a chance to work on creative projects that I enjoy most, and I didn’t feel connected to the success of our team’s projects because my tasks weren’t really aligned with my strengths.

    That being said, I gained a lot of background knowledge of the industry that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise, and I am really appreciative for the breadth of responsibility that I was entrusted with.

  2. Do you think you were given the tools to succeed at this job?

    By and large, yes, I think the training was sufficient and your new employee mentorship program was really effective in my case. After onboarding, there was a pretty steep drop in opportunities for professional development, though. Sometimes the job sort of outgrew the scope of my knowledge, and learning the task and completing it were treated as simultaneous.

    While I was certainly able to get through my work, it probably would have been more efficient for the company to dedicate some time specifically to employee training or allow for independent study during work hours. This would have encouraged me to proactively improve my skills rather than do so in a piecemeal, ad hoc sort of way.

  3. Were you comfortable asking your manager for support?

    I always felt supported by Jordan, but I was also aware that she herself was swamped with work. It’s amazing to have a great supervisor like that, but when it’s clear that their time is stretched thin, they can’t be as useful of a resource.

    I think our team sort of grew organically and Jordan’s managed to take it on bit by bit, but things could really chill out if she had another person running point for day-to-day questions so she has time to get the more important elements of her job done.

  4. What would you change about your position?

    I’d remove a lot of the tedious admin work that could be outsourced to data entry contractors or potentially automated. It was an incredibly grindy part of the job that made it difficult to focus on the customer-oriented tasks where I thrive.

  5. Would you recommend this company to a friend?

    I would recommend this company to a young person emerging from college and looking for a wide breadth of experience in the field. Start-ups are a great arena for trying on a bunch of different hats, and I’ve really enjoyed that element of this work environment.

    But for a more experienced friend who’d expect a compensation package larger than you’re currently able to meet, I probably wouldn’t recommend working here.

5 Tips for Exit Interviews

  1. Don’t go out guns blazing. The most crucial tip here. If you have to vent about your frustrations with management, corporate policy, or organizational structure, do so…to a friend or partner. Get all your anger out in a safe, unofficial place.

    HR doesn’t want to hear that you think your manager is a jerk. They want constructive feedback that they can apply to make other employees feel better and less likely to leave. Which brings us to the next tip…

  2. Keep it objective and constructive. Stick to the facts of the situation: why are you leaving and what could the company have done better to make you stay. The golden rule applies here; you’d want a departing coworker to voice concerns that are prevalent around the office because it might make your experience better in the future.

    If the salary or the benefits your employer was offering weren’t up to snuff, say so. If the opportunities for promotion were limited or you felt restricted in performing your daily tasks, say so. But do so in a constructive way that provides actionable feedback that the company could employ to improve.

  3. Stay positive. If you’re leaving your position, you almost definitely have some negative feelings towards your soon-to-be ex-employer. Channel those feelings into constructive criticism.

    That doesn’t mean you have to be critical about your entire experience though. Talk about how the job helped you grow as professional and useful skills and experiences that the company afforded you. If you think the company does important work and had a great mission or product, bring that up as a positive point of why you were happy to work for such an organization.

  4. Prepare beforehand and plan what you want to say. I know there are a lot of potential questions that might come up in your expert interview (listed above). You don’t need a five-paragraph essay response ready for each one, but having a general idea of what you want to express will help you feel less timid walking in.

    It’s a good idea to practice this with a confidant who can point out where you’re being imprecise or overly critical (and potentially mean-spirited). It’s a great chance to soften the edges of your grievances.

    It’ll also help clarify (for yourself) why you’re unhappy in your current position. And through that, you’ll likely have more constructive things to say that the company will appreciate hearing.

  5. Keep the purpose of an exit interview clear in your mind. Remember that the exit interview isn’t your work-time therapy session; it’s for the company to improve. While you might not care much about your company’s future success, you can at least fake it for a half-hour conversation.

    Try your best to be helpful and provide insight into what about the company’s structure or management made your job less appealing. Hopefully, your parting gift to your ex-coworkers will be a more positive work experience in the future.

What to Say in an Exit Interview

While there are no right or wrong answers to questions posed in an exit interview, there are some things that you should make sure to clearly express:

  1. Your reason(s) for leaving. Be honest here. If it’s simply a matter of receiving an offer for a higher-paid position elsewhere, tell your former employer. It might help them rethink what a fair salary is for someone in your position.

    If you weren’t happy with how management handled your feedback, then the company can reevaluate how employee and employer communication works.

  2. What you liked. Chances are, even at a horrible job, there was some silver lining. Don’t come off as bitter by saying there was absolutely nothing positive about your experience working for the company.

    Mention that you had an awesome team that helped you grow professionally, or that the unlimited vacation is going to be hard to leave, or the flexibility to work remotely improve your work-life balance.

    You’ve convinced yourself to leave your current company, so you probably already have the negative stuff straight in your head. Take some time to balance these negative aspects with some aspects of the job that you found genuinely enjoyable.

  3. Recommendations. Don’t get lost in the weeds trying to fix every little problem the company has. Think about the top one or two areas where your company could implement changes that improve employees’ work experiences.

    For example, if you can show how excited you are for flexible work options at your future company, it may help your old employer consider implementing a similar system.

  4. Your feelings about management. Walk a fine line with this one, if your experience is negative. You don’t want to come off as a tattle-tale who is thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to rip into your old boss. Remember the above advice of keeping it constructive.

    If there’s really egregious behavior going on, you can and should shine a light on it, both for the sake of your ex-coworkers and your ex-company as a whole.

    On the flip side, if you liked your manager, be sure to say so. If you can give reasons why you thought your manager was such a champ, the company may do more to incentivize similar individuals to rise to similar positions.

What Not to Do in an Exit Interview

  1. Angry, spiteful comments. It’s okay to be angry, and it’s okay to vent those feelings to a friend, but an exit interview is a formal exercise that also happens to be the final chapter of your relationship with the company. Stay calm and professional, or your other recommendations might not be taken seriously at all.

    Don’t be rude or petty about the little problems you had with colleagues or management. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges in your professional life, so do your best to leave on a positive, mature note.

  2. Unproductive comments. Look, we get it, you just want to get this over with and start your new job. But don’t brush the exit interview off as simply HR BS. Don’t sit there watching the clock and contribute nothing useful to the interviewer.

    It will only serve to make you look immature. This is your chance to help identify problem areas within the company, and with a license to be totally honest, why not take it?

  3. Be vague. If you say your manager never listened to your advice, be ready to back that up with some specific examples and facts. Gossip provides the company with zilch in the way of actionable solutions.

    If you feel like your salary was too low, come in with data on the national or statewide average pay for your position. That’s much more useful for the company than just saying that you didn’t feel you were receiving a fair wage.

  4. Take it too casually. It’s tempting to treat this final goodbye lightly, especially if you’re starting at a new position soon. But still come prepared, have the facts straight in your head, and bring any relevant materials you need to bring. Dress professionally and behave maturely.

    This is the final impression your ex-company is going to have of you, and you might need them for a reference some time down the road.

  5. Talk too much about your new job. It’s fine to say that you’re excited to start at a new role with better pay and more opportunities. But don’t use this as a platform to make passive-aggressive attacks against your old employer.

    For example, “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to head a team of software developers” is fine, while “X company actually recognizes values my leadership potential” sounds a bit childish.

Final Thoughts

An exit interview might seem like a pointless corporate dance with no real function. But a good company will ask you important questions and attempt to grow based on your responses.

You have a chance to impact the lives of your replacement, your ex-colleagues, your manager, and the company as a whole. If you can provide thoughtful feedback that leads to meaningful change in a positive way, you can ensure that the company will be extra sad to lose you as an asset.

Exit Interview FAQ

  1. Are exit interviews required and can I decline one?

  2. As long as you didn’t sign a contract stating otherwise, exit interviews are not required. You can decline an exit interview if you wish. However, consider your situation before you do. Remember that an exit interview is to help the company improve, so this is your chance to provide constructive feedback to the benefit of current and future employees.

  3. When should an exit interview be conducted?

  4. Exit interviews are normally conducted on during the last two days of employment. You and your employer may conduct an exit interview sooner if you feel comfortable. Most exit interviews are conducted at a time that allows for everyone involved to have a productive conversation without distraction.

  5. Does an exit interview have to be in person?

  6. No, exit interviews do not have to be in person. It is usually more helpful for an exit interview to be conducted face to face to allow for more natural conversation, however this is not necessary. If you do not feel comfortable and wish to conduct an exit interview over the phone, through a video call, or in writing, you may request this.

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Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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