How to prepare for an exit interview

On the Job

How to prepare for an exit interview

The number of people who are quitting their jobs is rising, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. If you’re thinking about making a job change, get ready for the exit interview.

Exit interviews are conversations between a former or soon-to-be former employee about their employment experience. Organizations conduct exit interviews so they can learn why employees leave and how they can improve the work experience to benefit others.

The interview might be conducted by an electronic survey after an employee leaves, but the most common way is an in-person interview with human resources or a third party during an employee’s notice period. Some typical exit interview questions include:

  • What makes your new job more attractive than your current job?
  • Based upon your experience with us, what do you think it takes to succeed at this company?
  • How often did you and your manager discuss your career goals?
  • Do you feel your medical and dental benefits were competitive with other companies?
  • If you could tell the company one thing to change, what would it be?
  • If you could tell the company one thing to not change, what would it be?
  • Would you recommend this company as a good place to work?

It’s good to think about exit interviews before giving notice. The reason? At the point you give notice, the company might try to immediately schedule your exit interview. Many organizations only require two weeks’ notice, so it wouldn’t be an unreasonable request. You want to be prepared so you answer the questions proactively. A hesitant or reactive response doesn’t put you in the right position to offer useful feedback.

When you do give notice, lots of different things can happen, but there are three typical scenarios to think through.

Scenario #1 – You might want to return someday.

You might be concerned about giving honest feedback in case you need a future reference or even want to return to the company. There’s nothing wrong with letting the company know you want to keep the door open to future opportunities. They’ll want to hear that – it’s a sign that working for the company was a positive experience. And if you have some suggestions on how to make the work experience better, share those, too. Balancing positive and negative feedback is a very effective way to share information.

Scenario #2 – The company doesn’t conduct exit interviews.

Some companies might not do formal exit interviews but they may conduct casual, informal conversations asking the same questions. You have a lot more flexibility in the conversation because it’s not structured. So choose what you want to focus on.

Jenifer Krueger, senior employee relations consultant at Colonial Life, says you don’t always have to wait to be invited. “Depending on the employee’s comfort level, she or he can request an exit meeting with the manager, skip a level and go to the immediate supervisor’s manager, or go to human resources.”

Scenario #3 – The company doesn’t let employees work out their notice.

This might seem like an unusual situation, but it does happen, especially in highly competitive industries. Traditionally, the company pays the employee in lieu of notice and the employee leaves the same day. Don’t take it personally. Again, this is usually an industry practice. But it’s possible the organization might send an exit interview questionnaire after the fact.

When presenting constructive feedback, Krueger says to focus on where you can make a difference.

“Consider the greater good that could be accomplished or satisfaction in knowing there was something important that needed to be shared prior to leaving,” she says. “Be prepared to articulate the issue/concern, come prepared with a specific example and offer a solution if one comes to mind.”

Exit interviews are a tremendous responsibility and a great opportunity. By thinking through the possible scenarios and how to approach delivering feedback, exiting employees can help organizations be more successful in the future.

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