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How to Handle an Exit Interview

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By Edward Parise, CPA


An exit interview is a discussion between an employee who is leaving a company (either voluntarily or involuntarily) and a representative from that company. The majority of exit interviews are scheduled and conducted by the Company’s Human Resources Department. The interview can follow a structured format, such as written questionnaires or they can be conducted as an informal exchange of information. Whichever format is used, it is imperative to remember that exit interviews are generally documented by the company, so choose your comments carefully.

With the recent trend of staff turnover, employers are interested in the employee’s reasons for leaving in order to prevent other employees from doing the same. If there is a noticeable trend resulting in the departure of numerous employees, a pro-active company will want to put a stop to it. Employers are aware that employees who are leaving the organization are an invaluable source of information; therefore, an exit interview can provide a detailed insight into the employee's attitudes towards the working environment and job responsibilities. Also, employers believe that a departing employee will speak frankly as to any improvements that management should take into consideration. Employers may attempt to get a sense of the morale and attitude of other workers by asking probing and direct questions.

During an exit interview, remember to keep the word “interview” in mind by preparing your thoughts and responses to anticipated questions just as you did during your hiring interview. It is imperative that you leave a company with the same favorable impressions as you made when you joined the company. You are under no obligation to disclose information such as your personal views on your colleagues or any personal animosity you have had with anyone in the company. In fact, it would be to unprofessional ask you questions like this and is of very little relevance.

It is essential for you to remember that the exit interview exists so that the company can find out why you are leaving them. You will be asked a variation of the following questions. BE PREPARED!

  1. What factors have led you to decide to leave the company?
  2. What factors were most important in choosing your new job?
  3. Before deciding to leave, did you explore the possibility of an internal transfer?
  4. Were you happy with your salary and benefits?
  5. What did you think about your performance and salary reviews?
  6. Did you feel you were given enough training and support in your position?
  7. What are your views on management?
  8. What did you most like and least like about the company?
  9. How would you rate our work environment? How could we improve effectiveness and morale?
  10. Is there anything we should change to avoid losing other good employees?

Remember to always remain professional and courteous even if you vocalize any dissatisfaction you may have felt while employed at the company. The comments you make may remain in your personnel file and could possibly resurface in the future to your disadvantage, such as during a professional reference check for your next opportunity. Do not burn any bridges! You never know when you may need to cross them again!

A final aspect to remember in an exit interview is to make sure that the Company covers the effects of your benefits. Use the exit interview, especially if conducted by Human Resources, to your advantage. Make sure you clearly understand health insurance coverage, COBRA, find out what options you with regards to continued Life Insurance coverage, inquire on how to handle your 401K transfer, and many other issues that you may need to clarify before your departure. Bring a list of questions with you and conduct your own “exit interview”. It is very difficult to negotiate or clarify severance issues after you physically leave the company.

Depart Graciously!

Thank the company for the opportunities you received while employed!

Look ahead to your new career!