Exit interviews are a useful tool and a commonly used one by businesses and employers to gain feedback from you: To discover what you liked and disliked about your employment.
Typically, this feedback is used to retain employees and reduce employee turnover moving forward with the business.
Although they are sometimes used to give counter offers, in an attempt to stop you leaving the business.
But if you’ve never had an exit interview before, or even if it’s been a while since you’ve had one, you might be a bit nervous before you head in there. Which is completely understandable.
We’re here to give you some insight on what to expect in your exit interview, the typical exit interview questions, and how to answer them.
- What is an Exit Interview?
- Are Exit Interviews Mandatory?
- Is an Exit Interview Important?
- 10 Common Exit Interview Questions and Example Answers
- What to Say in an Exit Interview
- What NOT to Say in an Exit Interview
What is an Exit Interview?
So first off, what is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a wrap-up meeting when an employee leaves a business. It is commonly conducted by HR professionals, by senior members of the business, or by your direct manager.
It is common for businesses to have a policy of conducting exit interviews for every employee that leaves the business. This is with the goal of reducing employee turnover, and improving the employee wellbeing and retention of those who are still with the business.
Exit interviews can take a variety of formats, which can depend on the size of the business and the specific role and team you are leaving.
These can be a survey or questionnaire for you to fill in, a video or phone call, or most commonly, a face-to-face interview.
It is common for HR professionals to be involved in exit interviews whether they lead them or not, to make sure that they are compliant with any HR policies the business has.
Some businesses however will have a much more casual approach to an exit interview. This can be your manager taking you out to lunch or just grabbing you for a quick chat, to find out why you’re leaving and to wish you luck in your new role.
Are Exit Interviews Mandatory?
Because exit interviews take place while you’re still employed by the business, yes, they are generally mandatory if they take place during your usual working hours.
Of course you can refuse to have an exit interview. After all, you’re leaving the company soon anyway, so there’s not much they can do about it.
However this is not something we would advise doing.
Even though you’re leaving the business, you should aim to leave on good terms without burning bridges with colleagues. This is especially important for those who work in smaller, niche industries or in a specific location.
Ideally, you will be leaving on a positive note, and retain some connections with your manager and superiors, who you may work with again in the future.
In short, yes, exit interviews are mandatory.
Is an Exit Interview Important?
An exit interview can be important to exiting your current role on good terms with your soon-to-be-ex employer. Which has a few different benefits that are well worth keeping in mind:
Leaving With a Good Reference/ Recommendation
Future employers may reach out to your current employer to ask for a reference or recommendation. And your chances of receiving a positive recommendation letter are much higher if you leave on good terms.
You May Work With the Same People Again
Depending on how niche the industry you work in is and the area you live in, there could be a strong chance that you’ll be working with the same people again.
And the last thing you want is to apply to a new company further down the line, and be confronted with your old manager who you were rude to on your way out of an old job!
And while the chances of this are slim, word does get around. You don’t want potential employers to find out from their network that your last impression on an old job was a poor one.
You May Even Want to Go Back in the Future!
Leaving with a good impression also increases your chances of joining the company in the future.
It could be because your new role doesn’t work out quite as you hoped, or because you want to return the company later in your career. Whatever the reason, leaving on a positive note can massively increase your chances of being hired back to the business at a later date.
10 Common Exit Interview Questions and Example Answers
Here are the top questions you can expect during an exit interview, with some example answers. Of course the answers you give will likely be completely different. But these structures
What made you decide to leave?
1. How did you find working with your manager?
As the saying goes, people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. And your manager plays a huge part in your enjoyment of your work and with overall employee retention. Meaning that if a company is losing large amounts of employees, then the senior executives may be worried that a failure in management is the cause.
Example answer: “My direct manager and I always got on well, throughout our time working together. They were always happy to help, and I always felt like I could talk to them when my workload was too high.”
2. What was the main reason you accepted your new job?
Your employer is trying to understand where they went wrong and why you’re leaving. So whatever the reason, be honest. If an employer is offering you a higher salary, flexible working, remote working opportunities, increased benefits, opportunities to learn new skills or work with exciting clients, then it’s fine to be up front about that.
Example answer: “My career goal is to reach a manager position. My new role is offering me the opportunity to learn management skills and then progress to leading a team, which will be instrumental to my further career goals.”
3. What did you enjoy most about your job?
An exit interview doesn’t have to be all negative. Your employer also wants to know what you enjoyed, so they know which benefits or perks of the job are the ones that are most important to keep and even expand upon.
Example answer: “I loved the flexibility I was given in my work. As a parent with a young child it really helped, and I felt I could be more productive overall without worrying about childcare as much. It was something I always really appreciated.”
4. And what did you dislike most about your job?
Similarly, they will likely ask what you disliked about working at the company and in your current role. While you don’t want to be too personal or overly harsh here, this is your opportunity to point out areas that the business could improve in. Although we strongly advise to remain professional.
Example answer: “Something I dislike about my role would be the clients and how much freedom they had to make revisions during the process. Sometimes clients were allowed to make so many revisions that it pushed back our deadlines and we always ended up behind schedule.”
5. What tools or software would have made your role more enjoyable or more successful?
Sometimes a driving force behind someone leaving can be the software, technology or tools they get to work on. And if your old employer is falling behind the market and it is costing them employees, they would need to know!
Example answer: “My new role is offering financial support with any technology I need to complete my job. So I won’t have to use my own personal phone, laptop and monitor.”
6. Were your goals and objectives related to your career progression made clear to you?
A lot of people change roles to receive a promotion or to progress in their career. And part of this can come from not being sure if you were going to be promoted anytime soon. So having a clear progression plan in place is crucial to employee retention.
Example answer: “When I first joined I was given a vague idea of what I needed to do to progress in the company but after that I wasn’t given any information. I had to request to have 1-2-1’s to see if I was progressing at all.”
7. What are the most important skills, experience or certifications do you think we should look for in your replacement?
With you leaving, your employer will be looking to replace you as soon as possible. And fill your empty role with the right person. And who knows better what skills or experience that person needs, than you?!
Example answer: “When I first started I had to quickly learn how to effectively use Microsoft Excel for data analysis on large sets of data, and it was quite stressful. During the interview process it wasn’t made clear how important this was to my role. I think that’s something that will be important when looking for my replacement.”
8. What did you think of the company culture?
Your employer may also be interested in using the exit interview to gain insight into the company in its entirety, not just your role. And as the company culture is so hugely important to a company’s employee retention, it’s an area they will be interested in.
Example answer: “The company culture was something I really enjoyed. It’s been a lovely place to work, and everyone was happy to collaborate on work. But I felt like we didn’t have as many social events as we could have, and I would’ve enjoyed some more team events and socials.”
9. Would you recommend this company and position to others?
Obviously your employer is now looking to fill your position, although they probably won’t ask you to actually recommend people for the role. But knowing if you would recommend people for the role and why, tells them which parts of the role are their biggest selling points and gives them honest feedback.
Example answer: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and I would absolutely recommend someone for the role if I thought they would be a right fit for the position. Given how social the company is, they would have to be a right fit for the company culture as well.”
10. What could we do to make you stay?
Some companies may try to use the exit interview as an opportunity to gain insight to prevent you from leaving, by finding out what they could offer you. This would then be used later in a counter offer, to appeal to what’s most important to you.
However we always advise against accepting counter offers (for numerous reasons that you can read here). So we advise against saying anything that could be used to tempt you to stay.
Example answer: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and appreciate the opportunities you have given me. However I’m ready to move on, and there’s nothing you could offer to get me to stay.”
What to Say in an Exit Interview
It’s likely you’ll face questions outside of the ones we have given above. After all, while these are the most common exit interview questions, you could be asked anything.
So it’s important to know what to say and what not to say in an exit interview.
Your Reasons For Leaving
One of the core purposes of an exit interview is to find out your reasons for leaving. Which requires a bit of honesty from you, within reason.
For example if you have a poor manager which caused you to leave, we would advise against saying “You thought your manager was an idiot and you hated working with them”.
Instead, it would be better to say something along the lines of “Your preferred way of working clashed with your manager, and that it may be helpful for them to receive additional training on team management to prevent them clashing with others like yourself.”
This is a much more diplomatic approach, that doesn’t place the blame entirely on the manager, and gives solutions to the problem.
What You Enjoyed About the Role
You don’t want everything in your exit interview to be negative. And they are likely to ask about what you have enjoyed about working for the company. So make sure to highlight some parts of your role that you have enjoyed.
And what you don’t say here matters just as much as what you do say. For example if you say you loved the clients you worked with and the opportunity to work from home, it shows that you didn’t enjoy going into the office.
If you and multiple others have all said the same thing when leaving, the business may then choose to offer more remote and flexible working.
That’s up to them, but you’ve given them all the information you can.
What The Company Could Do to Improve Employee Retention
At the end of the day, any worthwhile company will use the exit interview as a way to improve their own employee retention efforts.
And being honest and upfront about areas that the business could improve without being overly critical, is a helpful way to leave the business that they will likely appreciate.
And as we’ve mentioned earlier, leaving on good terms has a host of benefits that you may not immediately think of.
What NOT to Say in an Exit Interview
If you are leaving a job that you didn’t enjoy, it can sometimes be easy to go too far. But you want to avoid becoming emotional and saying something you regret. Which can easily happen in a tense and high-pressure situation like an exit interview.
Which is why it’s always a great exercise to think of what to say and what not to say in an exit interview.
Brag About Your New Job
They are likely to ask about your new job, but we would avoid bragging about it too much. You don’t need to give away too much information, and again, you don’t want to leave the impression that you haven’t enjoyed your current role.
So say how it is a good opportunity for your career and something you’re excited about, and leave it at that. Don’t go on and on about how great it is and how much you can’t wait to leave.
Be Overly Negative, or Vent About the Business As You Leave
While you’re (hopefully) leaving for a better position, you should avoid being altogether too negative about the position that you’re leaving.
This one is fairly obvious for a number of reasons. But if you’re leaving because you’re not happy in your current role, it can be tempting to use your exit interview as an opportunity to vent.
And while it can be cathartic, it probably won’t do you and your career any favours.
Anything That Could Burn Bridges or Damage Your Reputation
Venting may feel good in the moment, but you should strive to do your utmost to prevent burning bridges or damaging your reputation. Which can be difficult, given that some employers may even not be happy with you for leaving.
Your exit interview is an opportunity to hopefully improve your former company, helping them to grow and become a better place to work.