At nearly every turn, transitioning to a new job can prove stressful. On top of the job hunt itself, you must also endure the application process, sit through rounds of interviews, and then eventually tell your current boss you’re quitting. Even after all that, you’re still not done. Before you leave your current position, you’re still faced with an exit interview.
Though most of us rarely give them another thought, exit interviews have now become a common part of the process of quitting a job and leaving the company.
Whether your exit interview has already been scheduled or you’re just anticipating one coming up, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to provide everything you need to know about how to approach these meetings, how to answer exit interview questions, and how to handle yourself with professionalism and style.
What Is an Exit Interview?
Once working professionals announce they’re leaving the company, many of them will have a final one-on-one meeting with their HR manager.
Known as an “exit interview,” this meeting is good for both employers and employees alike. For employers, it provides a good opportunity to learn more about the motivations behind why employees are quitting. For the employees themselves, they’re given an opportunity to share honest feedback on the company and offer suggestions for improvement.
What Does the Exit Interview Process Look Like?
For the most part, exit interviews will be scheduled in advance, giving employees time to prepare themselves, both intellectually and emotionally.
As for the exit interview process itself, it can vary from company to company.
- Some exit interviews only require employees to fill out a questionnaire, either on paper or online
- Some exit interviews are one-hour, face-to-face meetings in which employees are asked a series of predetermined questions and given space to answer them
- Some exit interviews are open, free-wheeling discussions in which HR managers ask a preliminary question and let the conversation evolve from there
According to Stephan Jacob, editor at BestForAndroid, depending on the experience that the employee has had at the company, the tone of the meeting itself can vary.
Oftentimes, employees who failed to resolve differences with their company have the most heartbreaking exit interviews. For several years that I have handled both hiring and exit interviews, I can easily spot the difference in their eyes, from eye contact filled with excitement to no eye contact at all.
To make sure you’re prepared to leave a positive final impression during your exit interview, always practice your answers to common exit interview questions ahead of time, particularly questions related to unresolved conflicts.
Thinking through how you will respond will be key to answering difficult questions with confidence.
5 Common Exit Interview Questions
Planning what to say in an exit interview starts with studying some sample exit interview questions and planning how you might sensibly answer them.
Practicing your answers doesn’t simply make you more confident. It also allows you to consider what you really want to say, reducing the risk that you’ll lose your train of thought and/or ramble without clearly answering the question.
What prompted you to leave this position?
This is likely one of the first questions you’ll face, as it is by far the most commonly asked of all exit interview questions.
In truth, you may have reasons for leaving that have nothing whatsoever to do with your experience in the company.
- Adjusting your work/life balance
- Moving to a new city/state
- Changing careers entirely
- Going back to school
Then again, you may actually be leaving your position because of issues that relate to the job or the company itself.
- Wanting to earn a higher salary
- Not getting along with management
- Feeling the nature of the job has changed
- Searching for a place that values you
Whatever your reason for leaving the company, this is your chance to state them openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind. Though it may feel uncomfortable to state your reasons, particularly if you’ve been holding them in for a long time, remember that this is the entire purpose behind an exit interview.
Did you feel valued while working here?
Don’t underestimate the importance of feeling valued at work. It’s actually a really big deal, and employers need to know when they’re dropping the ball on this.
Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged. This compares to just 33 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of those who said they do not feel valued. (American Psychological Association)
Employers who fail to recognize and value their employees for their unique gifts are understandably going to lose talented workers. Helping them see their gap in this area could be a gift both to you and to them.
Don’t be afraid to offer specific examples of why you did not feel valued:
- Managers did not offer help, resources, support, or encouragement
- You were constantly talked over or interrupted
- Successes were not recognized
- Contributions were overlooked
- Input was ignored
This is your chance to help the company see the work experience from your perspective. Be firm, clear, and direct as you answer.
What did you like the most and the least about this job?
The reason HR managers ask such exit survey questions is to gauge not only why you’re leaving the position but also what adjustments they can make in order to help the next person stay longer.
If you haven’t had a positive work experience at this company, it may be difficult for you to think of what you liked best about the job. Still, be sure to come up with at least one or two positives so that they can see the value in those areas and maximize them moving forward.
It’s generally much simpler to put our finger on what we like least about a job. In fact, the elements you liked least may even be major contributors to why you are quitting in the first place. Whatever you do, make sure you narrow this list down to one or two items.
Remember, they’re asking what you like the least, not what you didn’t like in general.
Did you like our office culture? What suggestions would you make to improve it?
Evaluating a company’s office culture can prove tricky. You must ask yourself not only whether the office culture worked for you but also whether it worked for everyone as a whole.
Simple ways to assess company culture can include
- Evaluating the onboarding process (were people able to adjust quickly and well?)
- Gauging openness with leadership (could all employees raise concerns without being punished?)
- Looking at incentive programs (how did they work and who had access?)
- Observing team interactions (what was the nature of these engagements?)
As you evaluate these elements and compare your evaluations to your personal experience, you have a good baseline from which you can answer how you feel about the office culture.
In offering suggestions for improvement, make sure they’re as practical as possible.
Rather than simply suggesting that the company “provide incentive programs that benefit everyone,” lay out specifics of who currently gets overlooked and how such programs can be restructured to be more inclusive.
How to Answer Exit Interview Questions
As you consider the exit interview questions you’re most likely to face, it’s important that you have a good handle on your approach to answering them, regardless of the specific ones you’re asked.
According to Rahul Vij, managing director for WebSpero Solutions, there are some overall attitudes you should adopt as you think through how to answer exit interview questions:
To answer these questions be specific, polite, and honest. But do not be disrespectful or bitter even if there are certain issues for which you are leaving the company. Discuss such things politely, as your interviewer is not the one who did that to you, but they surely can make it right.
That final point is key.
As an HR manager, the person conducting your exit interview is likely not responsible for the majority of the issues you faced while working at this company. In your frustration, it would be all too easy to use this opportunity merely to vent emotionally, using the HR manager as our punching bag.
Such an approach would be beneath you.
Instead of venting at the HR manager, be clear, honest, polite, and respectful. Lay out your concerns in a way that will help you feel that your voice has been heard and make a difference for others down the road, all without unduly injuring the person in front of you during the interview.
If you’ve never taken part in an exit interview before, you may find the idea daunting. However, with a clear understanding of the exit interview process and a bit of preparation on the most common exit interview questions, you can feel confident to approach this meeting, knowing you have everything you need to succeed.
- Visualize the interview
- Anticipate the questions
- Practice your answers
- Consider how to handle yourself professionally
Then go get it.
You’ve got this!
Resources on Preparing for Job Applications, Exit Interview Questions and More!
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