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How to survive your exit interview

How to survive your exit interview

You got offered a great new job, you handed in your resignation, you’ve worked most of your notice and you’re ready to move on to pastures new. There’s only one more hurdle to overcome — the exit interview. Although you might be tempted to spill your guts and say exactly what you think of your manager, your team, the systems or the company as a whole, stop and take a breath. Ultimately, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.


These days many employers, (some surveys estimate 95%), conduct exit interviews with staff who are leaving; particularly ‘high profile’ or ‘high visibility’ employees. The idea is that the employee will feel less inhibited to give the company honest feedback and, in turn, the company will benefit from learning about the causes of office turnover.
However, in reality, you should be cautious about how much spleen you vent and think about the consequences to you and your career if you burn too many bridges.

Don’t expect too much change

You may feel as though this is the time for you to deliver some insightful, earth-shattering revelations about a process that could be changed or an HR issue with someone else at the company. However, bear in mind that unless the company is particularly blinkered, your superiors will already be aware of the situation.
Your employer may also question why, if the situation is so serious, you have only just brought it up. Either way, don’t expect a company-wide change to result from your comments.

Don’t put anyone else in the firing line

Even if there’s a particularly negative atmosphere within the office, don’t throw your colleagues under a bus by saying “X is unhappy” or “X is thinking about leaving”. It isn’t your place to bring this up and it is unlikely that your colleagues will thank you for it. Remember that they will still be in the situation after you leave and will have to deal with the consequences of anything you say. Focus on what your experience has been and the issues that have impacted your career. Don’t speak for anyone else.

Remain professional

No matter what issues you’ve had in your role, or why you’re leaving, try to keep your responses professional and as free from emotion as possible. Stick with facts, not opinion. Remember that this is unlikely to be the last time you have dealings with this company and if you can leave with a professional reputation intact, the better it will be for you in the long run. In particular, be aware that anything you say about your manager or colleagues will probably get back to them, so being nice isn’t just about being popular, it’s a safer career decision.

If you think you’ll have problems keeping it all in during the exit interview, try to get it out of your system ahead of time either by ranting to a friend or writing down all your concerns, frustrations and irritations in a mock “resignation letter” to your boss. Just make sure you do it outside the office and tear it up afterwards!

Plan ahead

The best way to approach your exit interview is to prepare as thoroughly as you did for your job interview. That will mean you can give feedback that is likely to benefit both parties and you’re less likely to say something you might regret.

A large part of this is anticipating the kind of questions you’ll be asked. Remember that this is a chance for the company to find out why you’re leaving them, so the questions should be fairly predictable.
When coming up with answers to these questions, make your responses brief and diplomatic.

Don’t be dishonest

Whilst an all-out rant about the negative aspects of your job is not a good idea, you shouldn’t be completely dishonest either. It’s perfectly fine and it is usually expected that you will not be completely positive about all aspects of your employment.

If you are leaving because you simply aren’t challenged in your role any more, then say so. If you’ve been offered more money elsewhere, then that’s fine to say as well. As long as the reasons you give are professional and not based on emotions, personal conflicts or personality clashes, you should feel free to tell your exit interviewer.

Remember, whatever terms you’re leaving on, this isn’t a therapy session. Your aim in an exit interview is pretty much the same as your initial job interview – to come across as a professional, well-mannered employee who is an asset to any business.


Common exit interview questions

Plan ahead by preparing answers to these common exit interview questions

What factors have led to your decision to leave the company?

What made you choose your new job?

What are your views on the management at this company; what are they getting right and what are they getting wrong?

Did you feel like you were given enough support in your job?

What did you like most about working here and what did you like the least?

How do you feel the company treats its employees?

How could the company improve morale/effectiveness/productivity?

Is there any other way that we could improve the business?