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The Exit Interview

by Ryan Guina

I did my exit interview this week, and it was a fairly interesting experience. My only previous exposure to an exit interview was in the military, and I’m not sure you can really compare that to the corporate world very easily. Enlisted military members sign a contract for a defined time period, at which point they can reenlist, or decide not to reenlist. I chose not to reenlist, and though a few people tried to convince me to stay, they all understood why I was leaving. I filled out a questionnaire, signed a few forms and I was on my way.

The Exit Interview

If you’ve never gone through an exit interview, they vary by company. Some exit interviews are in-person, some are computer based, and some are a combination of the two. The purpose of the exit interview is for the human resources department to gather information about why their employees are leaving, and hopefully use that information to make improvements in the company’s operations.

Exit interviews are optional

Exit interviews are normally requested for employees leaving of their own free will (i.e. not for getting laid off or sacked). You do not have to give an exit interview if you don’t want to. In fact, if you don’t think you can be positive and give your company useful information, just don’t do the interview. Politely decline and be on your way. But if you think you can provide them some insight, you should give the interview. You may be helping out some of your soon-to-be former coworkers.

You should answer questions truthfully, or not at all

Your company is interviewing you so they can (hopefully) improve their operations. The best thing you can do is give them the information they need to make those changes. If your situation is similar to mine (my managers weren’t interested in making changes, they were looking for blame) then just change the direction of the questions or decline to answer them. I started off giving in depth, truthful answers, but as the interview steered more toward assigning blame, I pretty much just stopped answering questions. Which leads me to my next point:

Never burn bridges

It may be tempting to tell your manager to “take this job and shove it.” But don’t. One of the worst things you can do in your professional career is burn bridges. My managers tried to get a rise out of me. Perhaps it would have made them sleep better at night after losing a valuable asset. I don’t know. But what I do know is this: I work in a relatively small professional community, and it doesn’t take long for word to travel between managers in different companies. The best thing you can do is remain professional at all times.

Questions to expect during an exit interview

You will probably get hit with a couple dozen exit interview questions when you are leaving. Some common questions include:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Was there a single event that caused you to leave?
  • Is there anything we could have done to prevent your departure?
  • Did you receive enough training, support, etc.
  • Were you satisfied with your benefits package (salary, commissions, bonuses, & other benefits)?
  • Multiple questions regarding management.
  • Multiple questions regarding the company (i.e. did you look for an internal transfer, would you work here again, would you recommend working for our company to other people, what did you like/dislike about the company, etc.)

I’m sure every situation is just a little bit different, so it helps to think about why you are leaving the company and what you want to accomplish with your new company. If you have those goals in sight, answering your exit interview questions will be easy.


Published or updated July 20, 2008.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly

Great article! I’ve been through one very brief exit interview, but I was a contractor and my leaving was expected though not the timing of it.

I think who is giving the exit interview also makes a big difference. If it is a HR person who is truly looking to gain info to help make things better your answers (or willingness to answer) will probably be different than if the interview conductor is your former boss who is miffed at your leaving. I agree the #1 priority should be to remain professional.

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2 FFB

You’re so right about not burning bridges. Some industries, though they seem big, can really be very small. Many top managers know each other and give each other quick calls when they see a resume. You also never know when a company can merge with another and you find yourself working for the same parent company again. Your previous employee is ripe with contacts should you ever need them.

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3 David Carter

Good tips, I think it is real important not to burn bridges. For a lot of fields of work, there are only a few companies to work for and if you leave, you want to be sure they would be willing to take you back. I see a lot of people hop around jobs and I know eventually they will have trouble finding a job b/c they have already worked everywhere.

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