What to Say in an Exit Interview

By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners

Originally published by Harvard Business Review

Given that most people will hold multiple jobs over the course of their professional lives, you may have the opportunity to participate in an exit interview at one or more points during your career. While not all organizations conduct exit interviews, if you do have the opportunity to participate in one, it is a chance to provide helpful feedback to the organization, so that it can learn and continuously improve for current and future employees.

Whether you are leaving to pursue a new opportunity, escape a toxic leader or environment, seek better work-life balance, make a career change, or all of the above, you don’t want to make the exit interview an emotional venting session. Be calm and constructive, sticking to the facts while being both open and direct in your responses. You’ll want to include the following information in your feedback.

Your reason for leaving

This is fairly straightforward — perhaps you were approached, unsolicited, by an executive recruiter with an exciting new role that was also a step-up in title and pay. Or maybe you are relocating to be closer to family or to support your spouse’s new job. Or perhaps you are burned out and need a break to reflect on what you really want in your career and life. This is helpful for the organization to know and can allow the exit interviewer to probe further in the appropriate areas.

How well your job was structured and if you had the appropriate tools to succeed

To what extent was your job meaningful and motivating, allowing you to do the work you most enjoy? Did your manager create opportunities for you to use your strengths? You’ll also want to share the extent to which you felt your manager supported you and helped clear obstacles, and whether you felt like you had had the appropriate resources to do your job well. These include things like budget, people, and other tools, such as the appropriate software to make your job easier.

If you had opportunities to learn and grow

According to a Gallup study, 32% of people leave their jobs due to lack of career advancement or promotion opportunities. You’ll want to share the extent to which you felt that you had a visible career path within the organization and if you were given opportunities to gain new skills and experiences during your tenure, such as stretch assignments or high-stakes projects, that enabled you to grow in your career. You should also share if your manager regularly provided actionable feedback (both positive and improvement feedback) that allowed you to learn continuously and get better at your job.

How you feel about your manager and other leaders

This is an opportunity to recognize good managers and leaders, highlighting what made them so good, as well as identify toxic ones. If your manager empowered you to make decisions and has shown good emotional intelligence, that’s helpful information for the organization. Just as helpful, is knowing about those who may be detracting from a positive working environment or are even a contributing factor to your decision to leave. This may be a boss who demonstrates bullying behavior or manages by instilling fear. In particular, when multiple exit interviews echo the same negative feedback, the organization has even more incentive to act on it. They might provide coaching to the leader in question to help increase their awareness and mitigate unproductive behaviors, or in more extreme cases, launch an investigation that may lead to further action. Rather than thinking of this as “telling on” anyone, consider it as shining a light on a problem to be solved in order to make things better for your soon-to-be former colleagues and the organization’s future employees.

What you liked most about your job and the company

Include positive elements of your experience at the organization — what you liked and appreciated most about the job, your team, and the organization. Just as individuals need to hear positive feedback to know what they should continue doing, so do organizations. This could include specific benefits offered, investments made in your learning and development, or an aspect of the company culture that you most valued.

Your top recommendations for improvement

Identify the top one or two areas for improvement within the organization. These may also be the factors that would have kept you from leaving (if there are any). These recommendations may include things like more flexible work options, more competitive compensation (data is always useful here if you are able to share this), a culture that is more welcoming of dissenting views, better upward feedback mechanisms, and so on.

Taking the time to share the information above can help focus the organization’s improvement efforts. Good leaders make things better for others, and the exit interview is a small, but important, way to contribute to this aim.



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