By Wilma Bedford
There’s no doubt that exit interviews can be a little nerve-wracking. Quitting your job was stressful enough. However, the exit interview doesn’t have to be an anxiety-inducing experience. In fact, this can actually be productive for both you and your employer. You just need to make sure you know what you’re in for.
The process is straightforward for many – provide HR with your reason for leaving in vague, palatable terms, and shake some hands on the way out.
But what about those who want to give negative feedback, or even sink the ship? This can be particularly true in highly problematic work cultures, where issues like harassment or sexism may continue to affect colleagues well after one worker has left – without having broached these issues for the mere sake of being “nice”.
Part of that ”niceness” extends to creating a better environment for the people remaining at the company. Ben Branson-Gateley, CEO and cofounder of CharlieHR, a London-based HR software company, believes it’s important to do the good deed for the remaining employees, since it’ll be “useful and helpful” for them. But if the worker’s primary goal for an exit interview is a little bit of release, then saying nothing or being genial may not be in their best interests.
It is important to look at these kinds of red-flag issues so that the company can look into and take action on them. “And if you have had a negative experience within the workplace, it’s important that the company you’re leaving is aware of that,” says Jill Cotton, PR and marketing manager for global jobs site Glassdoor. “And your [interview] experience … may not benefit you. It will benefit the company. And it will benefit the colleagues who are around you.”
However, there’s also the problematic possibility that feedback employers don’t like – however warranted – could come back to bite a worker down the line. Cotton says: “Quite often, people are staying within the same industries, and while you may have criticisms of the place that you worked, it’s really not going to help you get any further if you leave in a blaze of glory.”
So, here are a few exit interview questions you can expect to be asked, why they are being asked, and tips on how to handle them.
1. Why are you leaving your current position?
You’re asked this for a few different reasons. First, your employer wants to identify whether or not there was a single event that precipitated your departure − such as a falling out with your manager or a coworker. Secondly, he or she is hoping to determine whether there are any shortcomings with the position that need to be resolved before bringing in a replacement.
Remember, one of a company’s key goals is employee retention. And, your feedback is critical in helping to achieve that!
2. What was your relationship with your manager like?
Your working relationship with your boss was probably the most influential in your daily work life, so your company wants to know the good, bad, and the ugly. What did your supervisor do well? How did you feel about his or her management style overall?
Be prepared to also provide some suggestions for ways he or she can improve. It might seem counter-intuitive to say anything negative about your supervisor − especially when the “don’t ever complain about your boss” rule has been ingrained in your memory for years. But it’s necessary feedback.
Again, just remember that you don’t want to go off the rails and begin berating your boss. After all, much of your criticism will likely be relayed back to this person. So, when in doubt, keep it constructive.
3. What was the biggest factor that led you to accept this new job?
You don’t need to feel pressured to share all sorts of details about the position you’re moving on to. However, you should be prepared to hear a few questions along those lines. The people in charge simply want to get an idea of how they’re matching up with other organisations in the same industry.
Perhaps the pay at your new job is way better, and your employer needs to reevaluate its salary structure. Or, maybe something about the company culture really appealed to you. Whatever it is, sharing that information helps your employer to stay on track with its competitors − something that’s undoubtedly important when attracting new talent.
4. What did you like most about your job?
In a typical exit interview, you’ll be asked what aspects of your position you liked the most. Whether it was a particular job duty, your team members, or the weekly happy hours, your company wants to know what made you look forward to coming in each day. This knowledge helps your manager to not only continue expanding on these positive attributes, but also to play up the appealing traits when listing your position!
5. What did you dislike most about your job?
You will also have to share those not-so-great aspects of your position.
Now’s your chance to be honest and share those complaints that you normally reserved for mutters under your breathe and venting sessions over cocktails with friends. Avoid being aggressive and vindictive, though.
It might seem a little strange to air your grievances about lack of training, unhelpful technology, or a completely uncommunicative team. But, keep in mind that getting that all out into the open will actually help your employer to improve in the long run.
Your HR department knows that you’re leaving for a reason, and they’re well aware that you won’t only have positive things to say about your job. So, don’t hesitate to be honest. Just remember that you don’t want to be absolutely brutal with your feedback either − burning bridges is never recommended.
6. What skills and qualifications do you think we need to look for in your replacement?
Who has better insight into what it takes to do your job well than you? You were the one who got the work done day in and day out. And, chances are, you did it well. So, your employer wants to know what qualities they should keep their eyes out for when replacing you.
An exit interview is really nothing to stress over. Think of it as your chance to have a valuable and honest discussion about the ins and outs of the position you’re leaving. And, if you do start to feel stressed, just ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen. After all, they can’t fire you!
However, you should think hard about what you want from an exit interview before deciding how much to open up, experts say.
“If you’re in a situation where you’re convinced this is just going be too traumatising to even open some unpleasant issues up, just opt out,” suggests Branson-Gateley.
That old adage ”if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” may never be more applicable. Perhaps it’s more comfortable to strategically omit information; perhaps HR’s questions may stir up some unwelcome reactions and emotions.
But using the exit interview as an effective release, relies on the company’s culture. If toxic culture has pushed out a worker, it may be more likely a company won’t actually act on the feedback from an exit interview, says Yuletta Pringle, knowledge advisor at US-based Society for Human Resources Management. The process could, instead, be perfunctory; feedback from a worker may make no difference, no matter how much they might hope it would.
Whether being brutallly honest or merely having a quick, polite chat, Cotton stresses how important it is to prepare for an exit interview – to have a sense of the script beforehand. “Be clear about what it is that you want to say – make sure your bases are covered … so you know exactly what it is that you do and don’t want to say to an employer.”
7 Questions you’ll probably be asked in your exit interview.
The delicate art of the exit interview.
Meredith Turits. 2 Dec. 2021.