Giving an Exit Interview – What to Expect and How to Be Professional

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Resigning from your job can be complicated on many levels. Your goal, as the employee, is to move on gracefully, without burning any bridges. Hopefully your exit will be amicable, and will keep the doors open to future opportunities. This is especially important in many close-knit industries where many people know each other. While it…

Resigning from your job can be complicated on many levels. Your goal, as the employee, is to move on gracefully, without burning any bridges. Hopefully your exit will be amicable, and will keep the doors open to future opportunities. This is especially important in many close-knit industries where many people know each other. While it may be tempting to “give your manager a piece of your mind” when you leave, it’s always best to remain professional and offer helpful tips when you leave. The best way to do this is in your exit interview, which is commonly offered right before you leave your company (sometimes on the last day of work).

Your exit interview is your opportunity to tell your soon-to-be-former company why you are changing careers, what you liked about your role, and opportunities they may have to improve their operations. Some exit interviews are a mere formality—the interviewer is simply checking a box that HR requires. But a good company will put serious time and effort into the exit interview and take the respondent’s answers seriously. Hopefully your exit interview will lead to real changes in your former company.

My Experience with Exit Interviews

Several years ago I resigned from my job. My managers seemed surprised when I resigned, even though I gave them many indications I was unhappy in my role (even telling them this verbatim). After several months of telling my managers I was looking for a new internal position, I started looking for a job outside of our company. I was finally offered two positions with competing companies in our industry and I accepted the better job offer.

A couple days after I resigned, my company made me a counter offer, which I rejected. They didn’t seem to understand that throwing more money at me wouldn’t solve the problems I had with my current role in the company. I was more concerned with job satisfaction and professional growth, neither of which I was receiving.

After I rejected their counteroffer, I had my exit interview and the opportunity to tell my managers the “official” reasons I was leaving. The exit review was an informal meeting with my direct supervisor and his manager in an office setting. It was mostly them talking, with me providing a few answers about how the company wasn’t meeting my professional goals. But it was mostly them talking. Soon, I was on my way. I later filled out an electronic questionnaire that gets filed with others to somehow make “meaningful” data, or whatever that means.

The funny thing is that even though my managers were asking me questions, they didn’t seem to be listening. They seemed to want to put words in my mouth and wrap everything up in a neat little box. A couple times during the interview I felt like they were trying to get a rise out of me. I guess it would have made them feel better if someone raised their voice or made a scene. That way the blame would be on me and they could feel better about the whole situation.

Well, I don’t play that way. I’m not in high school anymore and this breakup was purely professional, not emotional. So I held my tongue, tried to change the subject, and thanked them for their time. There is no reason to assign blame and there is no reason to burn bridges. Offer constructive criticism, offer potential solutions, and move on.

That meeting summed up the reasons I was leaving: My managers just weren’t paying attention to their employee’s needs, and I don’t want to work in that type of environment.

I filled out a questionnaire, signed a few forms and I was on my way.

What to Expect During Your 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.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Christa says

    I recently resigned from a position of which I loved, but it was time for me to move on. After reviewing your post I was reassured that my decision is correct and there are better things out there for us. I have been so happy since I left. I find myself singing while doing laundry, and going shopping for household needs. The thing that I am reminded of the most is that God has a plan for us and who are we to ignore the signs that we are done. And He wants us to move on to better things. Thank you Lord for your many blessings.

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