Reasons for leaving a job can encompass multiple factors and reasons: the company culture, changes to management or structure, changes to your role’s responsibilities and workload, team morale, reward and recognition, a complete career change, relocation, better work/life balance – and everything in between.

Whatever the case may be, most companies that constantly work to improve their employee retention numbers will often host structured exit interviews for all staff members who depart.

So what should you expect if you’ve put in your resignation and asked to attend an exit interview? How should you prepare and is there anything you absolutely should avoid mentioning? Here are top tips for how to prepare and conduct yourself in an exit interview to ensure the process benefits both you and your – soon to be ex – employer.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who has resigned from their job and a representative from the company – usually a member of the HR team. Exit interviews usually take place towards the end of an employee’s notice period, such as on their last day of employment.

From the company’s perspective, an exit interview is a chance to collect feedback about the employee’s experience – both positive and negative. It often provides real and tangible examples of where the business is performing well and where improvement is needed, particularly if it is directly impacting staff turnover.

For employees, an exit interview is an opportunity to raise relevant issues and concerns from their time working with the business, and expand on their reasons for leaving if they feel comfortable doing so. It’s also an occasion to share any positive moments, as many employees leave on good terms and have personal reasons for leaving.

Common exit interview questions include:

  • Why did you decide to leave this job?
  • How would you describe the relationships with your (1) direct team and colleagues, (2) management and (3) the company overall?
  • Do you feel you were adequately trained and supported to effectively the duties of your role?
  • Do you feel that your responsibilities matched those of your job description?
  • What have been your favourite aspects of the role/company?
  • What areas of this company do you think can be improved?
  • Is there anything you would change about this job?
  • Are there any company policies or procedures that you feel can be improved?

Remember the purpose is improvement

Even if you’re leaving your company on bad terms, it pays to remember the purpose of the exit interview Q&A and discussion is to help improve the business and its operations.

For example, you might be asked about your relationship with your manager. If it was a poor relationship, you can say so but come prepared with ways this could have been improved, such as better communication, more transparency, or more training and development.

Rather than use this interview as a time to complain, criticise or go on the attack, use it as an opportunity to point out flaws that could be improved but always make practical suggestions so that the business can actually understand what would have produced a more successful outcome.

For example, if you mention that yourself and your team did not get along with a certain manager, the business may already have knowledge about this issue and have tried to make changes. But by specifying that you felt that better project management experience and clear planning was lacking from the manager and therefore caused poor communication, the business can pinpoint the exact trouble spots and address it from there.

Come prepared with positives

Every job has its pros and cons, and an exit interview is a good time to point out all the positives of your role to demonstrate your appreciation and genuine enjoyment for your job.

Whether it’s the autonomy, challenging tasks, your team and manager, networking and travel opportunities, company lunches, the great location, or excellent benefits package, it’s good to make note of these areas to ensure they continue for other employees. It shows your interviewer you’re capable of seeing the attractive parts of the job, especially if you need to raise other complaints.

Furthermore, weaving your appreciation into the exit interview means you leave on good terms – you never know if you’ll come back to work for the same company in years to come, or if the HR manager ends up as the hiring manager (maybe even your boss) for a future role.

Share any concerns but maintain a professional demeanour

Although an exit interview is your chance to provide honest feedback, professionalism is key to maintaining a good relationship with your soon-to-be former employer. In order to mention your concerns are professionally and calmly as possible, write down a list, review it and take it with you to the exit interview in order to stay on track.

It’s best not to throw certain people under the bus, as it never reflects well on the person who is complaining, since it sounds more like a personal issue rather than a company-wide one. For example, if you had a specific problem with a colleague in another team, you can make a more general statement about how you found that team to be highly negative or gossipy (or whatever the issue was).

Stay calm and clearly state your honest reasons for leaving. But do so by focusing on company-level issues rather than personal dramas.

Bring your exit interview checklist

It’s likely your employer will have an interview exit checklist they need to cover off but there’s no reason you can’t bring one, too.

This will be highly useful if you know you have a number of main points to cover but are worried that you might forget to mention one, or that it might come across poorly if worded the wrong way. Formulating your own checklist can help you prepare, stay focused and ensure you make your point without causing offense if you were to mention it off the cuff.

Don’t burn bridges

Even if you know you’ll never return to the same company, maintaining a good relationship with the business and former colleagues may open you up to future job opportunities elsewhere. It also ensures you’re likely to receive a great reference. Plus you could easily end up working with one or two of your old colleagues in a future job, who remember you in a positive light.

Throughout the entire exit interview procedure, it’s important to be honest about your departure while staying professional, positive and purposeful.

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