Common Exit Interview Questions
Simply put, an exit interview is an interview conducted by a member of HR during your resignation period.
Its purpose is to gain feedback about your experience with that organization.
Not every company will conduct an exit interview. However, over 90% of Fortune 500 companies complete exit interviews, suggesting that the interview does provide essential feedback.
For those that do, this leaving formality predominately benefits the organization.
Recruiting and training new employees is costly, and employers like to know how to improve employee retention.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (LBS), in September 2020, the number of resignations was three million. The areas with the most resignations were construction, arts and entertainment.
For the person leaving, an exit interview is an opportunity to air out any grievances you may have with the company. It is also a fantastic way to leave a great, lasting impression.
Going to this interview prepared and composed shows the employer your maturity, a willingness to discuss matters openly and what an asset you were to the organization.
Exit interviews are not as formal as a job interview. On many occasions, the interview may even be conducted in very informal locations, such as over coffee or lunch.
It might be with an HR representative, your in-line manager, or both.
The format of the interview will also vary. Some organizations may conduct face-to-face interviews, while others may ask you to fill out a survey form.
Regardless of the location and format, the exit interview is nothing for you to be worried about. Just remember that it is a way for your previous employer to gain some understanding. It is not a reflection on you or your performance.
Do not go with anger. Your departure may not be amicable. You may be deeply frustrated with your time at that organization or unhappy with the terms of your exit. But it is still important to act professionally and composed. If you do have a lot of anger or things you want to say out loud then vent to a friend or write it down and throw it away.
Do not talk about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. This interview is an opportunity for the organization to gain feedback. If they ask you questions that you do not want to answer then simply say, “I do not feel comfortable talking about that. Can we move onto the next question, please?”
Do not boast about your new role. It may be tempting to talk about how amazing your new company is and all the new benefits you’ll be receiving. But remember, your current organization may be one of your references. You don’t want to sour the situation. However, if part of the reason you are moving to another company is that they have a better package, let your interviewer know that was a deciding factor for your move.
Do take the interview seriously. When attending this interview, you are still part of that organization. You may have already mentally left, but they are still your employer. Act professionally and courteously until your very last minute.
Do give constructive feedback. This interview is not for pointing blame or highlighting everything you dislike about your place of work. However, if you are not happy with their employee development program, let them know and back your claim with facts. For example, "The employee development program could be improved by having more mentoring sessions/feedback/targeted goal setting. Competitor A’s program looks like this. Perhaps this organization could benefit."
Do write notes before. If there are specific points you want to mention, have the notes written down along with a reminder of the evidence to support them. Making notes will also help you to remain and calm and collected. If your departure is not a happy one, having an outline of what you want to say should help to stop you from saying anything inappropriate or emotionally charged.
Do remain professional at all times. Your reference may depend on it. Staying professional and keeping to the facts will influence your interviewer to do the same. If you act unprofessionally and make hurtful comments, the interviewer may be tempted to act in kind on your reference.
Do say thank you. Take the time to thank your interviewer for the opportunity to discuss your employment. At the end of the interview, say thank you for your time at the organization and all the opportunities it provided. Whether your experience was good or bad, there is always something to be learned. It is important to be thankful for these experiences. Career exploration is part of your career development. Everything you learned in that role will help you in your future.
While it may be tempting to list every single thing that made you want to leave your job, your HR officer does not want to know that someone kept moving your food or that your work neighbor made too much noise.
Highlight one or two practical reasons that impacted your decision. These reasons could be personal development, financial, flexible working hours or simply that your new workplace is closer to your home.
With this question, your HR representative is trying to establish if your leaving is because of:
- Abuse of power
- Serious problems with co-workers
- Working conditions
- Personal reasons
The main reason I decided to leave was that I felt not enough attention was given to employee development. One of my personal goals is to be in a managerial position by the time I am thirty. My new role includes mentoring and goal-setting.
Having discussed promotions and salary increases with you previously, I believed that this organization could not give me what I am looking for. I have very much enjoyed my time here and am thankful for everything I have learned. However, I felt I needed to be at an organization that provides more.
Be honest, but not petty.
Work environments are constantly changing and evolving. If your current organization has not updated its values or policies, then this feedback is essential.
Most businesses will not make changes unless there is substantial evidence to back it. These exit interviews allow HR to find patterns, thus allowing them to make the appropriate alterations.
You are under no obligation to divulge all your deciding factors. Choose one or two that you think will help the organization improve themselves in the future.
My new role comes with a benefits package that suits my lifestyle. It includes a gym membership, on-site counseling, and requests that all lunchbreaks be taken away from the desk. The work environment is less formal.
This new role promises a new challenge, added responsibility, and more money. These three factors are pivotal to me achieving my goals, and I felt they were not available to me here.
If your answer is 'yes', then say so and give examples of how and when. This interview is for feedback – it doesn’t always have to be negative.
If your answer is 'no', give suggestions about what support you would have liked and when.
If there is a particular incident where you felt that you were not offered any support and it affected your work, mention it but keep it impartial.
I was pleased with the support given at this organization. When I received a customer complaint, I was allowed to share my point of view and my record was considered before a decision was made. There were regular training sessions and I had monthly review sessions with my line-manager that I found to be very useful.
Unfortunately, I do not feel that I was supported enough in my role. While there were regular training sessions, I felt that it was every employee for themself. When a colleague complained about me, I was not allowed to explain myself. I was punished for something that was a misunderstanding. I appreciate that the incident happened during a busy period, but there was no support offered to me from any senior members.
Again, be honest but keep it reasonable.
If you resigned because you wanted a promotion and a pay rise, find a constructive way to say that.
It is also ok to say that there was nothing they could have done. If you are moving or want a fresh start, then nothing could have kept you there. If you are leaving for reasons entirely out of their control, let them know.
With everything that has happened in my personal life this past year, I needed a fresh start. I very much enjoy working for this brand but there is nothing you could have done to retain me. It was just a move I needed to make.
Having been in the agency for three years, I felt that I was due a promotion. I was informed that this would not be likely for another 18 months. My new role is more senior and representative of my current performance. Had there been more promotions available, I may have considered staying.
Stick to the positives with this question as the follow-up is usually what you disliked.
Your answer may help them to write the job posting. But it also keeps things lively and lets your employer know that they have done some things right.
I liked the office environment and the people I worked with. The workload was always fairly shared and my manager ensured the work was complete without being too overbearing. Semi-flexible working hours gave me some control over the day, and there was never an issue with payroll.
It may be tempting to reel off a list of grievances, but keep everything constructive.
Was it a personal dislike or something that others have expressed displeasure for also?
Comments would be made by management if you left your desk for the full lunch break, and there was a double standard for senior management and the rest of the team. This made for an unpleasant work environment where no one felt comfortable speaking freely. The way the teams are structured means that the work is not distributed effectively. It might be better to distribute tasks according to skill strengths rather than seniority.
Generally speaking, these interviews are private. Information should only be shared to improve the organization, so your manager should not find out what you said.
If you had a good working relationship, tell the HR representative why. If your manager was awful, then HR has a right to know. It could be that the organization has already received complaints, and they are trying to find out more information.
Remember, be respectful and professional with the words you choose.
I actually did have a great relationship with my manager. They were approachable, willing to help with every situation, praised the team and individuals, and offered constructive feedback if there was something to improve.
Unfortunately, I did not get along with my manager. They were always looking for faults in our work and made a point of highlighting all our mistakes. You cannot have an open discussion with them. What they say goes. If I needed help with something, they were always too busy to listen.
A majority of people leave their current positions because of a lack of career development.
If this was a contributing factor to you leaving, let them know that they should be helping employees with their career strategies.
When I initially joined, I was under the impression that there would be a greater focus on development. However, I have been in the same role for over three years and my accomplishments are barely recognized. If you are going to promote this program, I feel that you should have a dedicated team and make it part of your employee’s work schedule. Competitor X, Y, and Z have mentor sessions once a month with each employee. They also dedicate a portion of the Monday meeting to personal goal-setting. I believe this is something this company could benefit from.
This is essentially a yes or no answer, but your interviewer may ask you to expand.
Depending on your answer, it may open a dialogue to negotiating your stay or return. If you say that you might return if the company culture changed and your pay increased, then be prepared for HR to work with that.
It may not happen in every exit interview, but if your company values you as an employee, they will do what they can to keep you.
If your answer is 'no' and all your previous answers have indicated that you really didn’t enjoy your experience, then keep it simple.
Unfortunately, I would not consider returning to this company.
Due to my new living arrangements, it would not be possible for me to return.
Under certain circumstances, I may consider returning. If the organization updated its policies and procedures to reflect modern-day practices, I’d be tempted. But I would also need a pay rise and more emphasis on career development.
This is not the time to talk about how Suzie stole your apple from the fridge. But if there are other pressing matters that contributed to your resignation, mention them now.
Remember that these issues need to reflect a flaw in the overall business. Small, personal grievances are not ideal for exit interviews.
Airing situations that irked you, but are no interest it top-level managers, will only make you look petty and on a power trip.
Thank you, but I believe that all the topics I wished to discuss have been addressed.
Thank you. Most of the issues have been addressed, but I would like to mention…
While exit interviews predominantly benefit the organization, they can be almost therapeutic for the person leaving.
It gives you a safe space to talk about the significant issues affecting your employment.
On some occasions, it may lead to negotiations. On others, it may lead to an improved work environment for the future.
Regardless of the outcome, remember:
- Stay professional and composed. If it gets heated, take a deep breath and take a moment to regain your composure
- Stick to facts and provide evidence if necessary
- Arrive prepared
- Leave a great lasting impression