How To Tackle an Exit Interview

So you decided to quit your job. You handed your notice and set things in motion. You agreed your last day in the office with your manager. And once it seems all sorted out, HR contacts you to set up “an exit interview”.

“What is that?” you wonder. “Do they want to keep me? After all, I was clear that I am not interested. Should I agree to take part in this or can I refuse? It’s going to be a waste of time after all.”

In the recent months, I got several questions about an exit interview. And as I changed jobs myself few times I’ve also taken part in some of those myself.

So here is the compendium of my knowledge and experiences with exit interviews.


What is an exit interview?

It’s a conversation at the end of your employment. Usually conducted by an HR team member. It is quite often structured – they will have a list of questions that are asked to all people undergoing this process. The aim is to gather feedback about working conditions, company culture, benefits, management, development opportunities. Basically, anything that constitutes the firm.

What for they do it?

The goal is to get information about things that need improving to keep people more satisfied and staying longer in the firm. The thinking behind the exit interview idea is that somebody who decided to leave the company will give an honest feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

It is much more difficult to get the same level of honesty about e.g. dysfunctional management from people who want to keep their jobs secure. They will not risk antagonising their boss. But somebody who leaves? The theory is that they shouldn’t care so they can afford to be brutally honest if necessary.  

Do I have to have an exit interview?

No, you don’t. You can refuse to have one (although I recommend taking part in it – more on that below). The company can’t force you. It is a request they are making and it’s in their interest to gather data. But I am not aware of any legal grounds obliging you to take part in it.

Should I take part in it?

Yes, you should. Not every company will conduct an exit interview. When yours is doing so – take part.

There are two main reasons. First: if you are leaving the job because something is wrong in the business: toxic environment, bullying boss, no pay rises, poor working conditions, anything really that is pushing you out – this is your chance to help those who stay behind. You can make your voice heard and get the message across to management. This is particularly important if you there are no trade unions in the business, so no other channels that can convey the message.

Second reason- an exit interview is your chance to build up a relationship and part on good terms. The world is small and future uncertain. You never know what will happen in your future career. You might need a positive references or cross paths with somebody from the firm. Why ditch the opportunity of showing yourself as a cooperative, engaged and caring professional? After all, all you need to invest is an hour of your time.

What should I expect at an exit interview?

The exit interview will most likely be a one-to-one meeting with an HR team member. It will last from 30 min to one hour. The HR person will have a list of questions and will be taking notes.

They will ask you some general questions about your impressions of the business, boss, your tasks. They will ask your reasons for leaving and some details about your next role:  what attracted you, how much more they are paying etc.

There may be also questions where they ask you to rank things, like:

“How do you rate development opportunities?”: 5 – very good, 1 – very poor

or give recommendations:

“What would you change in the team management style?”

How much can I say?

As much as you want. Coming back to the earlier point though, remember that this is a professional meeting and your goal is to leave an overall professional impression.

Try to be balanced. If there are things you can give positive feedback about – do it. Everybody likes to know that they are doing something right. When other things are not so rosy – tell it too, but keeping the feedback constructive. E.g. if your ex-boss was a bullying asshole, don’t just say:

“He is a bullying asshole. I’m relieved I don’t have to work with him anymore.”

Instead, say:

“I felt bullied at times and I know others on the team felt so as well. It would be great if he kept things on a more professional level and from time to time also recognized or praised the work well done”.  

Does it make sense at all? Will they ever do anything with it?

That’s a good question. I’m afraid it depends on the business really. I know that in some cases exit interview is just a formality – a procedure introduced by the ambitious HR, where are no chances of making any changes.

In more cases, however, the feedback gathered will be passed on and used to change things that don’t work. Especially if more people pointed in the same direction. The bullying boss might get under management supervision and the coffee machine might get replaced. Your voice just needs to be heard.

Have you ever had an exit interview? How was it?

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