It's Not You, It's Me: How to Conduct Yourself in an Exit Interview

Spiral Notebook on desk open to page reading 'Exit interview Tips' with numbered list, with a pen laying on top and coffee cup in background

Not every organization conducts exit interviews, but for many, they are standard procedures when an employee leaves. Employers hold exit interviews either in person, over the phone or sometimes even by an online survey in order to get valuable feedback about an employee’s experience with their company and to gain deeper insights into things like company culture, work environment, morale, management performance or any other work-related issues.

If you’re asked to participate in an exit interview, you’ll likely be asked some version of the following questions:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • What were the best and worst parts of your job?
  • How happy were you with things like salary, benefits, perks, time off, the office environment, etc?
  • How do you feel about your managers or supervisors?
  • How do you feel about the support/training/feedback you received?
  • How do you feel about your relationship with your coworkers?
  • What recommendations do you have for the company on how to improve?
  • Would you recommend this company to others? Why or why not?

Since you’re already on your way out (or possibly you’ve already left your company -- many conduct exit interviews after an employee has already left to encourage unbiased feedback), it can be tempting to just breeze through the exit interview without giving the process or your answers much thought. And you could be wondering: what’s in it for you to put additional thought, time and care into this exercise?

Exit interviews, while typically most beneficial for employers, can also be a valuable professional exercise for the departing employee, as it forces you to think critically about your past experiences and what you’ve learned. This can be a useful self-reflexive exercise that helps you to be more focused and clear on what your workplace expectations or needs are going forward.

But, perhaps most importantly, it’s likely the final interaction you’ll have with your employer and your company’s leadership, so it’s a great opportunity to make sure you’re leaving on a good note and not burning any bridges in your wake. If you are still proving your value even at this very final stage of the relationship with your employer by giving them rich, honest and insightful feedback, you’ll leave with your professional reputation intact and in a great position to ask for things like future work recommendations, professional connections and endorsements. Or, on the off-chance that you end up making your way back to that company in the future, they’ll be much more likely to welcome you back into the fold.

Here’s how to provide substantive, valuable feedback to your employer in the exit interview, but also keep your relationship in a positive place as you take your final leave:

Be Honest, But Not Bitter

The first one among the exit interview tips is to have control over the words you speak. When you’re answering your employer’s exit interview questions, it’s all about knowing how to give constructive feedback that’s honest yet not overtly negative or disrespectful. Here, it’s all about tone and the way you phrase your feedback.

An employer will be much more likely see your feedback as valuable if it’s communicated professionally and honestly, but free from overt anger, resentment or bitterness. Try to be as positive and kind as you can be, even when giving an honest opinion about a serious issue you see in the workplace.

It may help here to keep in mind that the exit interview isn’t meant to be a therapy session for disgruntled employees to unload all of their pent-up frustrations. Rather, you’re performing another professional duty for your employer by giving them insider information that they can then use to improve their company, their strategies, their culture and their teams.

Be Specific

One of the best ways to make the most of the exit interview and leave a good impression on your employer is to give as many specific examples as possible in your answers. This instantly gives all of your feedback much more credibility and weight, making it more likely that it will have a positive impact on the organization. Being specific in your feedback also is a final way to show your own value and insight to your employer, making them even more likely to give you a glowing recommendation, a favorable review, or even a future job offer.

Also, try to focus your examples on larger issues that have affected your role, department or the organization as a whole. If you had a personal dispute with a coworker, for example, that probably isn’t an appropriate issue or complaint to bring up in the exit interview because it’s a one-on-one problem, unless of course, you can point to specific ways that the company mismanages conflict.

Be Sure to Give Positive Feedback

The last one on our list of exit interview tips is to show positivity in your interview. Don’t limit your feedback to only negative comments or complaints. A company not only wants to know about their shortcomings but also what they’re getting right so they can do more of that. Be sure to communicate the things you liked about working there and what you feel they do well. By providing a mix of both positive and negative feedback, your employer will likely view your comments and experiences as more fair, honest, and accurate than if you only provided one-sided, negative complaints.

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