How to answer Exit Interview questions – like a Pro

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

You’ve quit and becoming de-mob happy. But HR want to give you an Exit Interview. How will you answer these questions?

Perhaps you’re thinking They can go jump. Or maybe it’s I’m gonna give it to ’em both barrels. I understand those feelings. But an exit interview seems to be part of every HR manager’s repertoire, and your final pay-check and reference may depend on it. It’s ‘policy’.

An Exit Interview benefits your employer – to gain insight into your work experience in their company, with the intention of improving the workplace and reducing employee turnover. They’ll ask questions about your reasons for leaving, how you reached your decision, whether or not there was something that could have prevented your resignation, and about your job satisfaction. But in my experience, that never really happens. You have little to gain from an open, constructive discourse (that should have happened when you were in the job) but you do risk souring your exit if you don’t tread carefully.

Perhaps this sounds awfully negative to you, but it’s a truth gained from years of working with people transitioning between roles.

My first piece of advice is this: no matter how bitter, pissed, angry, peeved, blasé or disengaged you feel about your current job and employer, your Exit Interview is not the place to get retribution. Just don’t go there. A wrong move here could de-rail a clean exit, and quite frankly, it’s just not worth the bother. And burning bridges can be a very costly thing to do. Hold in the emotion until it’s over. Better still, have a cry or anger outburst way before your exit interview and get it out of your system.

If you’re not happy with the choice of interviewer, request a change. The person proposed to conduct your Exit Interview could be your worst enemy – an interview with this person is lighting a tinderbox. Or maybe you doubt your interviewer’s integrity, or intentions to play it straight. Whatever justifiable reason you have, ask for a change of interviewer.

Next, answer the questions you’re asked, and nothing more. HR doesn’t actually care about what you have to say other than the answer to the questions directed at you (it’s the truth). Don’t volunteer anything more than a direct answer to the question given, but try not to come across as obstructive or aggressively terse. Answer fully, but don’t stray from the question. All your answers are normally documented by the interviewer, so more information creates more paperwork for HR.

Remember, you’re being paid to do this. You’re still on the payroll – and no doubt it’s written in your terms and conditions of employment that you have to do it. So accept this must be done.

Focus on facts, limit loose opinion. In truth, HR doesn’t care much for your looser and broader opinions at this stage. You’ve quit, so you’re not so important or influential any more. Broad opinions expressed here won’t really go anywhere, except on your record, which could hurt you later, especially if they’re about the character or behavior of your manager, colleagues, or the interviewer in front of you.

But you can’t really be hurt or damaged by facts (especially if they are verifiable by other people.) Besides, this is a box-ticking exercise, nothing more. Facts can be expressed in a few words, whereas opinions require extra space on the interview form.

Don’t attempt constructive criticism. Or if you must, be very, very careful. It can come across as sour grapes and, again, HR ain’t interested – no matter what nods and smiles you experience in the interview. It’s so tempting to try and put things right before you leave, but you’d be wasting your breath. You have no skin in the game any more, and can’t be held accountable for the changes you’re suggesting, so your criticism – no matter how insightful and valuable – is destined to fall on deaf ears. Again, stick the facts about why you’re leaving.

If you strongly believe that something must change for the benefit of your (soon to be ex-) colleagues, then share it with them and leave it up to them to bring up with their superiors. This is the way to help them be influential and be involved in making the changes you suggest happen.

Next, don’t try to be remembered. ‘Leaving a legacy’ is vain. Truth is, you’re history and in the past tense of the organization. But an attempt to be recorded with a portrait and name on the wall is fallacy. Instead, use your energy and creativity in your next job where you’ll be earning your next pay-check.

Avoid filling uncomfortable silences (should you experience them) – you could begin to waffle about something that doesn’t aid the process, or worst still, bites you on the ass later on. Twiddle your thumbs, and smile.

Prepare in advance. You can do this by reading your organisation’s Exit Interview Policy, where it will state its purpose and process. If it’s not on your intranet, ask HR to see it. It is reasonable to ask to see the questionnaire used in the interview – you might not get it beforehand though.

Lastly, remain courteous, professional and dignified. The interviewer and HR are just doing their jobs, after all. To them, you’re a number, and in their process, so just run with it like you would with any other job-related task. This is an interview, so treat it like one – dress smartly, be positive, and walk out with your head held high.

Got a different view?

Please share your thoughts by leaving your comment below.

2 thoughts on “How to answer Exit Interview questions – like a Pro”

  1. Practical advice here, thanks! It’s easy to fantasise about really giving ’em what for in an exit interview but as you mention above, the reality is that it’s just not constructive.

    1. Thanks Jo. I understand about the fantasising bit – and it’s best we leave it there as nobody can take away our fantasy! Glad you liked it.

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