What Is an Exit Interview?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Exit interviews are a specific type of interview that happens when you leave a job. Let’s take a look at the purpose of an exit interview intentions and some commonly asked questions.

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Many companies conduct exit interviews when an employee leaves the company. An interviewer will ask questions about the company’s strengths and weaknesses in an effort to improve the business. The interview, usually conducted by a supervisor or someone in human resources, takes anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes.  

Purposes of an exit interview

About 75 percent of companies conduct exit interviews, according to Harvard Business Review [1]. Why do so many companies go this route? There are several reasons: 

Identify areas for improvement

One key purpose of an exit interview is to get a first-hand account of any problem areas within the company. Employers want to know why you’re leaving. Ideally, you’ll provide some insight that could help improve the work environment and retain future employees. 

Review outgoing procedures 

Companies also conduct exit interviews to review any ongoing employee obligations. For instance, if you signed a non-compete clause, you might be reminded that you can’t work for a competing company based on the terms of your agreements. You might review additional obligations like intellectual property agreements, as well. 

Encourage the employee to stay

In some cases, a company might use the exit interview to offer you a new position or new responsibilities under different circumstances. This doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility. As an employee, you should consider this before your exit interview. Are you willing to stay? If so, under what circumstances? 

Common exit interview questions

During an exit interview, you’ll answer a series of questions. The questions will revolve around your decision to leave and how the company can improve. Here are 12 questions you might hear during an exit interview: 

  • Why did you start looking for a different job?

  • What does your new position offer that differs from your role here?

  • In what areas could the company improve? 

  • Is there anything that could have kept you here? 

  • How would you describe the company culture? 

  • How was your relationship with your manager? How could it have been better? 

  • Did you feel like a valued team member while working here? 

  • What are the best and worst parts of your job? 

  • How could we improve employee morale? 

  • Do you feel like you lacked resources, training, or feedback that you needed to improve? 

  • Did you have adequate growth potential within the company?

  • What would you change about this position? 

Most of these questions focus on your experience with the company and what could be done to improve it. 

Are exit interviews mandatory?

In most companies, exit interviews are set as an employee obligation. If you signed a contract agreeing to do an exit interview, then you’re required to do so. 

However, without a contract, you’re not legally obligated to participate in an interview, according to the Society for Human Resource Management [2]. You can voluntarily decline to participate. 

Should you participate? Ultimately the choice is yours. Some people believe that completing an exit interview is a way to leave on good terms and suggest changes that might aid the person who follows you. However, if you’re emotional about leaving or think you'll struggle to provide constructive criticism, skipping the interview may be best for all parties involved. 

What to expect during the exit interview

It's normal to feel a range of emotions when leaving a job. If you’re planning to complete the interview, it helps to know what to expect. During the interview, you can typically expect:

Questionnaire to start the process

To begin the exit interview, you may receive a set of questions via email or an online survey. Some companies use these pre-interview surveys as a way to guide the exit interview. With the basics provided from the questionnaire, managers can use the in-person time to talk about specifics. 

Professional setting

Generally, a manager or human resources representative will ask you to sit down in a conference room or office. Exit interviews are typically done in a professional setting within the company walls. Most companies tend to lean towards a formal setting to conduct the interview. If in-person meetings aren't possible, exit interviews could take place via video call.

Objective interviewer 

The person conducting the interview will ask questions, listen to your answers, and likely jot down some notes. Since exit interviews can be charged, the person asking the questions will remain neutral. This might be a bit off-putting, but it's meant to keep the interview professional. 

Confidential review process

In most companies, the data collected during an exit interview is kept confidential and anonymous. Companies that effectively use exit data to identify and fix problems do share your feedback with executives, but they do so anonymously. 

Before your exit interview, you can ask how your responses will be used. 

How to leave a positive impression

An exit interview presents an opportunity to make an impact for the experience of those on the team you're leaving, as well as on future employees of the company. Make a plan to stay positive yet helpful: 

Write it down.

Take some time to write down the thoughts you’d like to share. Whether you worked at the company for one year or 30, you’ve given your time and energy to the betterment of that company, so you’re bound to have something to share. To keep the interview on track and make sure you discuss your priorities, it’s helpful to write your thoughts down beforehand. 

Keep it positive.

While writing down notes and rehearsing responses to anticipated questions, it’s important to stay positive. You can point out problems, but try to do so in a productive and respectful way. 

For example, if you had problems with your boss, express those concerns constructively by suggesting improvements in work distribution or delegation of responsibilities.

If you’re disappointed about being passed over for a promotion, you can mention a lack of professional growth opportunities within the company.  

Express gratitude.

At the end of the interview, express gratitude. You should thank the interviewer for listening to your thoughts about the company. Express gratitude for the growth and learning you experienced while employed there. You’ll be more likely to leave the company on good terms when you show appreciation.

Participating in an exit interview is one of the last things you’ll do before moving on to new opportunities. Leaving on a positive note can be helpful should you need a reference in the future. 

Next steps

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Article sources

1. Harvard Business Review. “Making Exit Interviews Counthttps://hbr.org/2016/04/making-exit-interviews-count." Accessed February 15, 2022.

2. SHRM. “Making Exit Interviews Work, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0804agenda_empstaffing.aspx." Accessed February 15, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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