You’ve quit your job and accepted a position elsewhere. You want to leave on good terms without burning bridges, and your employer asks you to participate in an exit interview before your last day. You immediately wonder: 

  • What is an exit interview?
  • Who is involved?
  • What will they ask?
  • How honest should you be?

We break down these questions and more to help you successfully prepare for and navigate the exit interview process.

What is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is a manager meeting with an employee before they leave a position. Typically this happens after an employee submits a resignation letter and before the last day. Some employers use an exit interview to learn about the individual’s experience working in the organization, their perception of the company culture, and their reasons for wanting a new position. 

For employers facing a labor shortage, this is critical information. A Pew Research Survey found that the majority of workers who left jobs in 2021 reported their reasons for quitting as: 

  • low pay (63%)
  • no opportunities for advancement (63%)
  • and feeling disrespected at work (57%)   

In an ideal workplace, the company uses this information to change its pay scale, reevaluate the opportunities for advancement, coach supervisors and managers, and improve morale. After all, employee retention is one of the biggest challenges companies face, and with it comes a steep price tag.

New data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that the average cost per hire was nearly $4,700. So, it makes sense for companies to understand why someone wants to leave.

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Who Conducts The Exit Interview?

Depending on the company’s process, a human resources representative, a senior manager, or the CEO may conduct an exit interview. Some companies even hire neutral third-party organizations to elicit the most honest and direct feedback from a departing employee.

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How Honest Should You Be in an Exit Interview?

While negative feelings may have built up over time, the exit interview is not the place to air your unfiltered complaints if you want to be remembered as a good employee. It is a place to end the relationship well and give helpful feedback to the company representative.

A good rule of thumb is sharing information and feedback that can help other employees or improve the company.

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7 Common Exit Interview Questions (With Sample Responses)

While each organization has a different approach, here are nine common questions exit interviews ask, which may vary depending on the interviewer.

1. What is your reason for leaving?

While you want to be polite, you don’t need to disclose personal information if you’re uncomfortable. You can be sincere and vague simultaneously, and the approach depends on your relationship with the interviewer. If you can be honest, do so.

  • If you’re leaving for better pay: “I’ve grown a great deal at [company name] and appreciate what I’ve learned. I can pursue a position with a more competitive salary.”
  • If you’re moving out of the area: “I’ve decided to relocate with my family and hope I can count on a positive reference to assist in my job search.”
  • If you’re leaving for career advancement: “[Company] has taught me a lot, and I would have liked to further my career here. But another organization approached me about a new position that will challenge me and expand my professional opportunities.”
  • If you’re changing industries: “One of the things I learned during the pandemic is that I greatly value [autonomy, a flexible work environment, working with people], and moving into a different industry allows me to pursue that.”

What you don’t want to say is:

  • This is a toxic workplace.
  • You don’t pay me enough to deal with these crazy people.
  • A bunch of idiots runs this place.

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2. What are your thoughts about management and opportunities for improvement?

How direct you want to be with negative feedback is up to you. Here are some options for you:

  • If you want to defer your answer: “Management provided some direction to line staff on production goals, but it would be beneficial to hear more about the company’s vision from the top leadership at our quarterly meetings. Often we felt directionless as a team.” 
  • If you’re not passionate enough: “It’s clear the company is committed to the original mission. But new employees might benefit from having a clear direction on implementing that mission from the outset of their tenure.”
  • If it’s not a great fit: “I appreciate management’s commitment but feel like my work style differs from the culture here. I look forward to working in an environment where I can be more effective.”

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3. Were you given the proper tools to succeed?

If there were areas where you lacked the tools or specific software to do the job efficiently and effectively, it’s okay to state it in a kind and constructive way… 

  • If you had a specific need: “Overall, I had the right tools for the job most of the time. But it would have been great to have a second monitor to manage multiple spreadsheets simultaneously. Providing my replacement with one may help set them up for success.”
  • If you want to dodge the question with humor: “I had the correct tools to navigate the work environment for the most part, but you know how it is (laugh). You can never have too many resources—budget, people, office space.”
  • If you want to support your team: “While our team always met its goals, I didn’t feel like we were empowered to work to our full potential. We could not communicate in real-time from diverse locations and made our manager aware of these gaps but didn’t hear any follow-up. Investing in this tool could help the business increase revenue by reducing response times.”

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4. Did you feel you received appropriate training for the position?

Like the previous answer, if you have constructive feedback, feel free to share it. The person interviewing you, mainly if it’s an HR generalist, may not know what someone in each position does and the necessary training. If you don’t have any feedback or the answer is yes, go ahead and state that (kindly!) and move on to the next question.

  • If your team lacked training: “I found that employees would benefit from coaching on how to deal with disgruntled customers, even those not directly in the customer service group. That training would have helped me learn the skills in various situations.”
  • If you needed management training: “When [company name] promoted me to supervisor, I had no specific management training and had to seek it outside the company at my own expense. It would be an attractive benefit for all new managers to have support in this area.”
  • If there’s an opportunity for additional training: “It seems there’s a lot of time wasted on meetings and training that lacked real-life applications. It would be great to look at what trainings are effective and see if a more hands-on approach might be more useful.”
  • If you’d like to set up incoming staff: “There’s a vast difference in understanding between the new and veteran employees. It may be helpful to bring the group together more regularly to touch on the history, how it impacts day-to-day operations, and what’s ahead.”

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5. What did you enjoy most about working here?

If you have negative feelings, it may be hard to remember what you liked. But try to think of one aspect of your job that was fulfilling.

Something.

Anything.

  • If you enjoyed the team: “I enjoyed the camaraderie among the team. It was fun to play on the company softball team together.”
  • If you’re trying to stay positive: “The mission of this company is inspiring, and I’m glad I was able to contribute to that significant work.”
  • If you want to throw your coworkers a bone: “Our group worked hard during that product launch, and I admire the strong work ethic of my coworkers.”
  • If you can’t think of anything else: “I loved Bagel Tuesdays!”

As you head into a new position, take a few minutes to understand and create your Job Happiness Plan so you can be more productive, engaged, and likable at your new company.

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6. Would you recommend this company to others?

Unless the company is ethically challenged or downright sinister, you’ll likely be able to respond with a polite, general answer.

  • If you’re open to recommending the company: “Depending on the positions available and the person’s career goals, I may recommend this company if the salary schedule were updated to match the industry standard.”
  • If it’s a good place for newbies: “If the individual wanted an entry-level role, I would recommend [company] as a good place to learn the ropes.”
  • If you’re not sure: “[Company name] has great benefits that may be attractive to several colleagues looking to change industries. Please feel free to share the job descriptions you’re hiring for, and I will pass them along.”
  • If there’s a merger in the works: “I’m sure the merger will significantly impact operations, so I’m not sure if I am in a position to recommend it at this time. But I will remain a customer and recommend the product.”

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7. Would you consider staying on?

If this is the first time the company has asked this question, it’s probably too late. You’ve probably already committed to your new role and mentally have one foot out of the door. But it’s okay to be honest, as long as the answer isn’t “not in a million years.”

If there’s something they could legitimately do to keep you, consider these examples:

  • If you consider future employment: “This company has given me valuable skills and opportunities, but I feel my talents are underutilized here. However, I would strongly consider returning with the right offer and circumstances.”
  • If you would reconsider with modifications: “I’m grateful for all our team has been able to accomplish. But having two unfilled positions for over a year has stretched us beyond the breaking point. If and when you can recruit qualified employees for those positions, I’d be happy to consider returning in some capacity.”
  • If you want a modified schedule: “Part-time work is really attractive to me at this point in my life. If you would consider updating the job description and expectations, I’d be happy to discuss it further.”

Otherwise, feel free to say that you’d have to think carefully about it.

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How to Prepare For an Exit Interview

An exit interview should be a constructive conversation in a professional environment. It could provide valuable insight into a company you’ve worked at for some time—months to years or perhaps decades. To feel confident, take some time to prepare.

  • Ask who will conduct the interview. Will it be your boss, your boss’s boss, HR, or another third party? Knowing who will be asking the questions may help you decide. And it will probably inform your responses to the interview questions.
  • Prepare. Leaving professionally is important. Prepare for your exit interview by looking through past performance reviews, awards, accomplishments, thank you notes, or other documents to recall why you took the job in the first place and what went well.  
  • Get out of the negativity. If you have negative feelings about the company, writing the draft before the draft may be helpful. Take a few minutes to list the things you didn’t like, such as lack of trust, micromanagement, boredom, and low pay, to get the negative thoughts out of your mind. 
  • Then outline your responses. After you’ve written the answers, you can never share, write the neutral answers you plan to give (and be sure to bring the right notes to the interview!) Outline 3-4 bullet points for the questions above. 
  • Be objective. Focus on the job and the company rather than individual employees.
  • Practice. If the interview has your stomach in knots, ask a good friend or coworker to role-play with you, going through the questions below. Ask for their feedback on areas where you can improve or tone down any unhelpful comments.
  • Dress for success. Choose an outfit that helps you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Make an after-interview plan. Schedule lunch with a trusted colleague or partner to download about how it went. Leaving a job is an emotional step in your career journey.

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Exit Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Do Don’t
Understand that you may not have to say yes. Unless you signed a contract stating you will participate in an exit interview, you are most likely not required to. However, there may be reasons it would be beneficial—like preserving your reputation and keeping the peace. Let your emotions take over. While the thought of leaving a job dramatically, like Tom Cruise’s exit scene in Jerry Maguire, don’t do it. You never know when you might cross paths with a former boss or coworker, or your former employer will acquire your new company. Instead, take the high road and keep your honest thoughts for your significant other or close friend.
Phone a friend. Do you have former colleagues from the same company who have gone through the process and can provide insight on the questions and format? Feel compelled to disclose where you are going to work. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to avoid the old company talking to the new company. Instead, say, “I’d like to get settled in my new job, and then I’ll reconnect.”
Take notes. Go through the 8 questions above and jot down bullet points with your responses. Take your feelings out on the interviewer. They probably have little to do with your departure or dissatisfaction. Instead, respect their position and understand that they are just doing their job.
Ask questions in the interview. Start by asking how they will use your feedback and who will have access to it. Feel free to request a copy of your notes for your files. Feel the pressure to expand on your answers. If you are uncomfortable, say, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing anything beyond what I’ve already shared.” 
Consult an employment attorney if you have any current or possible future legal action with the company. They can advise you on the appropriate steps when asked about an exit interview. Respond unless you feel prepared. Instead, try, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”

Wrap up the interview by looking them in the eye and thanking them for their time. Keep your head high as you walk out of the office and into your new opportunities.

Want more from your interview? A handshake can make (or break) an interview. Check out how to master a handshake: 22 Secret Tips to Master The Proper Handshake.

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