What is an Exit Interview?

When you leave a job, you should always push for an exit interview. While they’re not mandatory, they’re a great opportunity for both you and your employer to learn more about your experience working at the company.

In the article below, we examine what an exit interview is, why they’re useful and common questions that you might be asked or want to ask.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a formal interview between you and your employer before you leave the business. This interview is an opportunity for you to offer constructive feedback on your experience with the business whilst also allowing the employer to provide feedback on you as an employee. This can be a useful exercise for both parties as it offers points to use going forward, supporting improvement and development.

Exit interviews are usually held by either a member of human resources or your line manager. While they’re not as formal as a traditional job interview, they’re still usually held in a professional setting and operate on a question and answer format. If you’re not offered an exit interview prior to leaving the business, it’s a great idea to ask your manager if you can hold one.

Why are exit interviews useful?

The primary reason for attending an exit interview is that you can learn more about yourself as an employee whilst providing feedback on both challenges and positives you experienced in the workplace. Typically, a good exit interview offers unique insights into the culture of the business, the working environment and your own working style.

For employers, an exit interview is a great way to learn more about the experience of working in the business. It’s often more beneficial than existing employee surveys as the person is leaving and may feel more compelled to deliver honest, direct feedback. Many businesses use exit interviews to shape their company culture, creating a more positive working environment and using data to drive policy changes.

Employees, on the other hand, may use the experience to learn more about themselves, their working style and what they may look to improve in their next role. Exit interviews are exceptionally useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses you may not have identified.

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How can an exit interview support a positive company culture?

In the current market, candidates and employers alike are prioritising company culture. Building a team of like-minded people that collaborate well together directly supports increased productivity and mitigates potential conflicts. For candidates, a great company culture makes the workplace more positive, meaning they generally want to stay longer.

Unfortunately, many businesses don’t understand what contributes to a great company culture. They may struggle to identify what’s positive and what’s negative about their business, meaning they’re unable to make beneficial changes. The solution is, typically, right under their nose – their employees. The people that make up a business are usually the best way of identifying both positives and challenges about the working environment, meaning any opportunity to ask them questions should be taken.

While one-to-one meetings and employee surveys are a great way to mine information, exit interviews are often much more candid and thus, useful. If you’re not holding regular exit interviews as an employer, you’re missing out on vital data you can use to improve the business.

What does an exit interview look like?

Generally, exit interviews adopt a simple question and answer format, much like a traditional interview. If you’re looking to find out how to hold an exit interview, here are the basic steps:

1. The exit interview should be scheduled as soon as the employee hands in their notice. If you’re an employee and you don’t receive an invite to an exit interview, you may want to directly suggest the idea and set one up. 

2. Both employee and employer should take the time to plan what they’re going to say. If you want to get the most out of the interview, consider specific scenarios and feedback you’d like to bring up prior to the meeting.

3. When the interview happens, remember that it’s a two-way street. No one should dominate the conversation and it should be an entirely confidential setting, ensuring that everyone can get across the points they want to. Likewise, everyone should maintain professionalism – there’s no benefit to personal jabs or ranting.

4. Once the meeting is complete, make sure you action the results. If you learn about specific challenges from an employee that’s leaving, it should be a priority to fix it as this makes life better for any employees still at the business.

If you don’t generally hold exit interviews, this might be a great time to consider starting. You’ll want to explain to both staff and stakeholders that the interviews will be used to improve the employee experience over the long-term. During the process, you should always encourage honesty and confidentiality for employees so that they feel safe to be as candid as possible.

As an employer, be prepared to hear honest feedback about the company or even your own management style. You should not meet this with a defensive attitude – it doesn’t help anyone and ultimately makes the process futile.

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What exit interview questions can you expect or use?

Below is a breakdown of the most common exit interview questions you might experience or use: 

What made you want to leave this position?

This is a common question as it gives a broad opportunity for people to lay out challenges or shortcomings within the role. This question is arguably the most important as it gives employers the most information they need to improve the overall employee experience. 

An employee should answer this question as honestly as they can – fundamentally your answer may help another employee further down the line.

Example answer: “While I enjoyed my role, got on with my colleagues and management, I do believe that the role didn’t offer as many opportunities for career development as I’d like. Ideally, we’d be offered more chances to undergo training and improve our individual skill sets.”

Do you think you have the right tools to do your job?

This is a great question to ask if you’re looking to analyse the resources you have available to you. A business should always be looking to create a positive employee experience and a key part of this is the resources that employees have available to them. It’s much easier to replace old laptops than a talented employee.

If you’re an employee answering this question, be sure to go into detail regarding frustrations, challenges or positives you had when actually performing your role. If you think one of the working processes could be optimised, go ahead and say so.

Example answer: “While the resources we have available to use are great, the way that we go about reporting is frustrating as it takes a lot of time which could be spent on other tasks. I think the business should look at automating the weekly reporting to create a more streamlined experience.”

How did you find working with your colleagues/team?

Employers may ask this question to understand the culture they’ve built and how employees interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s important to ensure that employees answering this question understand they can be as candid as possible – especially if you want to learn more about specific team members or team dynamics.

Example answer: “I felt like I had a great relationship with my immediate team that made working here very positive. I do feel like we could improve the relationship between marketing and the sales team – both work very independently which slows down certain processes and communications.”

What did you like most about this role?

While exit interviews are a great way to discuss challenges, they don’t have to be entirely negative experiences – they’re also a fantastic opportunity to discuss the positives a business can expand on. You may talk about specific responsibilities, the team or even social experiences that made the environment enjoyable.

If a business understands what it does well, it can further improve these aspects to make them even more appealing – vastly improving the working environment and improving employee retention. 

Example answer: “The best part of the role is the culture. The senior management team did a great job fostering a nice workplace with regular social events, which meant our team bonded and enjoyed coming into work.

What did you like least about the role?

It might not be the nicest thing to hear but understanding the negative aspects of the business is often the most useful. If an employer knows what challenges employees face, they can remove these obstacles and improve both productivity and morale.

As a candidate, you’ll want to identify common challenges such as lack of resources, unreasonable deadlines, frustrating parts of the working process or friction between different teams.

Example answer: “The part of the role I liked the least was how often deadlines were randomly given to the team. While I’m fine with deadlines, it’d be good to have more consistency and expectation around when they’ll appear as it’ll help us all plan and organise more effectively.”

Would you recommend this company to another person?

This question is a great way for a company to understand how attractive they are in the wider market. A key part of building success is attracting talent. The best way to understand how effectively you do this is by speaking with current talent.

If you’re answering this question, make sure you give balanced feedback. Whether you say yes or no, you’ll want to highlight why you’re saying what you are and give specific examples.

Example answer: “I’d recommend this company to other people as it offers great career development and a competitive salary. My only reservation would be your benefits package – other companies in the industry offer significantly more benefits which may dissuade me from recommending to certain people.”

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