What is an Exit Interview?

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a specific type of interview that a manager holds with an employee when they leave the business. It’s designed to give the employee an opportunity to provide feedback about the business and their processes, while the employer can offer some constructive feedback about the employee’s work over their employment term.

The exit interview is usually a less formal situation than your first job interview but should still be treated in a professional manner, much like you’d treat a pay review meeting or something similar. It’s typically structured in a question and answer format, with time at the end for the employee to sum up their experiences working for the business.

Depending on the structure of the business, the employee exit interview will be handled by either a line manager, the HR department or whoever handles human resources within the company.

Why is an exit interview useful?

An exit interview is useful as it allows an employer to gain insight into an employee’s decision to leave, learn about the work environment within the business and the company culture that has been cultivated.

So why is this important? For a departing employee, it gives them the opportunity to provide constructive criticism about the position they’ve worked in. They may also receive feedback on their own working style and what they’ve done positively, which they can take into their next role.

For an employer, receiving honest feedback to exit interview questions can help improve the work environment, improve employee retention and make the role better for a future employee.

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How can an exit interview help you build a positive company culture?

The culture of a business is still vital to how team members operate over the long-term. Having a positive company culture that brings together like-minded people can help a team improve productivity, work collaboratively and reduce the potential of conflict or tension.

If you’re holding face-to-face interviews for departing employees in the first place, you’re already actively contributing to a positive company culture. Many businesses don’t consistently hold exit interviews and are missing out on discovering key insights that could help them improve their business and culture.

On a practical level, an exit interview may lead to changes that streamline how a business operates, make certain processes easier to understand or improve the work-life balance of employees. By understanding the business from an employee’s point of view, an employer can work more effectively to improve the company culture.

What does the exit interview process look like?

The exit interview process is relatively simple and typically they follow a basic structure: 

The manager or HR department organises the exit interview with the employee, providing a time and location.

The employer and the employee have a two-way confidential conversation that is prompted by a simple answer and question structure, giving space for the employee to expand where necessary.

The employer takes the feedback and analyses it once the interview is completed. Any constructive feedback they receive can be used to improve elements of the employee experience.

• If you don’t currently offer exit interviews and it’s a new scheme you’re launching, be sure to explain the process to staff and remind them that it’s a way of measuring and improving the employee experience. During the process you should always be encouraging the employee to be as honest as possible.

• Remember, there’s no point in conducting exit interviews if you’re not going to actively change certain elements of your business and you should be prepared for honest feedback that might expose issues or challenges.

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What are common exit interview questions?

Below are some of the most common exit interview questions that an employee will answer or an employer will use when they conduct exit interviews.

What made you decide to leave this position?

You’ll typically face this question if you quit a job voluntarily. It’s a common question in response to someone leaving as it’s the quickest way for a company to know if your position has shortcomings or issues that they need to resolve before they hire your replacement. It also gives you an opportunity to mention a single incident that triggered your leaving that they may be able to fix or avoid in the future. If you’re answering this question, be as honest as possible so you can help them make the position better for people in the future.

Example answer: “While I’ve enjoyed my time here, I didn’t feel I had a clear idea of potential career progression and after applying to several management positions with a different business, I’ve been fortunate enough to be accepted.”

Do you think you were given the right tools to do your job properly?

An employer will typically ask this question to see if there’s any ways they could improve the employee experience in terms of training, resources or hardware. For a business, it’s much cheaper to replace old technology or buy new software rather than replacing a competent, experienced team member. If you’re answering these questions, try to constructively communicate any issues or frustrations you had with training processes or outdated technology that limited your performance.

Example answer: “While the training resources we had were excellent, the majority of our laptops were quite old and this meant that short tasks would typically take much longer to complete which was frustrating.”

Can you describe your relationship with your colleagues and manager?

Your line manager generally plays a huge role during your time within a business and it’s important for everyone involved that you provide honest feedback about their performance. Aside from helping the business understand the overall employee experience, this can be a great opportunity to leave an employee-manager relationship on a positive note by providing good feedback.

Example answer: “I feel like I worked well with my manager and we had a good understanding of how we both liked to work. We didn’t have any issues during my time here and I always felt supported. If anything, I feel like my manager should have more confidence in their decision-making as they often turned to the team for guidance instead of trusting in their own knowledge, which is quite high.”

What did you like most about this role?

This is a standard question that allows you to highlight the positive elements of your job. Be as broad as you like with your answer as this is highly specific to your experience. You may talk about your team, specific responsibilities you had, social experiences that the business organised or any benefits that were part of your role. It’s important that a company knows what elements of the business an employee favours as they can expand on these aspects to make the company more appealing and improve retention.

Example answer: “One of my favourite parts of the role was the team socials we had each month. I felt this was a great way for the team to bond and allowed us to unwind after all of our hard work.”

What do you like least about this role?

A natural follow-up to the last question is the opposite – what do you like the least about your time in the business. Obviously this allows a business to understand some of the less desirable parts of the job and how they can make them more enjoyable or remove them entirely. Here you may talk about unreasonable deadlines, communication issues or certain tasks that were made unnecessarily frustrating.

Example answer: “One of my least favourite parts of the role was our reporting process. While I understand the importance of it, having to do it manually was time-consuming and frustrating. An automated version would be ideal.”

Would you recommend this company to others?

Your employers may use your answer to this question as a way of making the company more attractive to key talent in the industry. If you’re answering the question, it’s important to be as straightforward as possible and provide well-rounded feedback – both positive and negative. If the role has specific things that make it attractive, highlight these if you can.

Example answer: “I think that the salary you offer and the way the company handles annual leave is fantastic and quite unique in the industry. Unfortunately, I don’t think you offer as many benefits as other companies in the sector do, which may be a recruitment challenge in the future.”

Would you consider staying on in the role?

While it’s not common in the exit interview and usually happens sooner, you may receive a counter offer at this point. A counter offer is a package that an employer may offer in an attempt to keep you on. Whether you accept a counter offer or not is down to you but research suggests that this is not always the best course of action. If you’re definitely not staying in the role, thank them for the offer but decline firmly and remain professional.

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