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Exit interview guide

Key takeaways

  • An exit interview is a chance for you and your soon-to-be-former employer to discuss what did and didn't work during your time there.
  • Companies typically want to know why you're leaving and what led you to seek a new job.
  • Before you part ways, be sure to clarify the timeline for any remaining pay and benefits coverage, and identify a company point of contact for any questions after your departure.

When you put in your notice, you might not have expected to get invited to do an interview with your future corporate ex. But these meetings, called exit interviews by those in the biz, are valuable tools for your employer—and you—to learn from each other one last time.

Here's what you need to know about exit interviews so you can navigate these final talks with confidence and grace.

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What is an exit interview?

In the simplest terms, an exit interview is a sit-down between a company and a departing employee to discuss the company's performance as an employer and the situations that might have led to the employee leaving.

Not all employers provide exit interviews, and if yours does, you don't have to participate—unless doing so was stipulated in an employment contract or severance agreement. It's a good idea to look up your company's policies before you give your notice. And, because exit interviews aren't guaranteed, be sure to check your understanding with your manager.

How does an exit interview generally work?

Exit interviews work a lot like other interviews you're likely to encounter professionally, including the interview that brought you to this job in the first place. An interviewer, usually someone in human resources or an employee who is not your direct manager, invites you to a phone, video, or in-person meeting and then asks you a series of questions. This normally is scheduled for your last day, and you are given notice—and potentially a list of questions—to prepare responses.

Unlike with job interviews, your goal isn't to impress your employer so much as to provide constructive feedback. Without thoughtful responses, they won't be able to improve and address the situations that might be causing valued employees to leave.

Still, exit interviews are not the time for "scorched-earth" tactics and airing years of grievances. It's impossible to predict the future and you never know which companies or teammates you might cross paths with again.

Common exit interview questions—and how to respond

Because it's got "interview" in the name, it can be easy to stress about exit interviews. But remember: No one is expecting perfect sound bites. The expectations for your responses are simply that they're straightforward, professional, and designed to maintain relationships—not burn bridges.

To help you prepare for whatever questions come your way, think through how you'd respond to the following exit interview questions:

Why are you leaving the company?

You're on your way out. The question is why? Of all exit interview questions, this one is the most important, according to Alan G. Crone, employment attorney and author of The Law at Work.

"People leave bad environments, not jobs," says Crone. "If the person is A talent, the company must understand how to better retain A talent." And departing employees are often the best way for companies to identify what he calls "fatal flaws."

You might share the factors that led you to seek other employment, such as company culture or a perceived lack of opportunity, to name just a couple of potential motivations. Human resources professionals and recruiters want to know these so they can improve on them and prevent future employee turnover, Crone says. Sharing reasons for changing jobs—like if the new gig provides a better commute, better pay, or even if you're making a career switch for caregiving—are all helpful for your past employer to hear.

What worked well and what would you change about the role you're leaving?

Regardless of whether your position was your dream job when you started, roles change over time, and it can be helpful for your leadership to understand what is working well that you would keep and what changes you'd recommend.

If there were any responsibilities or organizational structures that proved particularly burdensome, now is the time to mention them. If your company is backfilling your position, it might want to reexamine these to make things better for the next hire. Or if they're factors that can't change, the company might choose to emphasize them to future applicants to make sure they're aware of what they're getting into.

Did you have adequate skill development and mentorship to perform your role successfully?

Employers often have many of the basics covered when it comes to training, but training doesn't always cover everything you need to know. If you have feedback in this area, think back to your onboarding, how you handled skill development and additional training or support that you would recommend. It could help to list what the training provided as well as the information you needed to succeed and where you ended up having to get that info.

What did you enjoy most about your time at the company?

It can be easy to think of exit interviews as a chance to point out a company's flaws, but they can also help employers identify places where they're receiving top marks, says Laura Schneer, CEO of Career Boost, a career-coaching and resume-writing service. This helps them know what they should focus on maintaining, if not growing, to attract and retain employees.

Try to come up with at least a few positives for your exit interview—whether that's your coworkers or the breakroom snacks.

What to ask during an exit interview

Like job interviews, exit interviews aren't one-way conversations: You can ask questions of your employer as well. And by doing so, you could glean vital information on your transitional pay and benefits—as well as feedback to help you find success in your next role.

Consider asking these questions during your exit interview:

Can you walk me through my last paycheck and benefits?

Leaving a job can come with emotional and financial stress, even if you're leaving under the best circumstances. To help lessen the blow, you can use your exit interview to better understand the details of any outstanding pay and benefits.

Now's the time, for example, to get a date to expect your final paycheck as well as to note the last effective day of your current benefits and the cost to maintain them after you leave. (You can continue health insurance benefits when you leave a job through a federal program called COBRA, though it might be more expensive than when you were an employee.) If you have a severance package, ask how it's paid and at what intervals.

What will happen to my retirement savings and money in health-based savings accounts or commuter benefits?

Be sure to ask about what happens to the money you have floating around your company's tax-advantaged plans.

You'll probably want to start with your workplace retirement plan, if you have one. Depending on your account balance, you have a few options for old 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other employer-sponsored retirement plans, from leaving the money where it is to rolling it over into a new workplace plan or individual retirement account (IRA).

If you have money in a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA), health care flexible spending account (FSA), or dependent care flexible spending account (HCFSA), nail down the details on how you can use the funds before you leave. HSA dollars don't expire and are yours to keep. You can leave the money where it's at or transfer it to a new HSA.

If you were covered under a health care FSA, you may continue coverage under COBRA for the same annual amount you had at the time you left the company.

But money in FSAs may need to be used before your last day—or be subject to forfeiture. Similarly, you may lose access to any funds you've amassed in a commuter benefits program once you leave your current company, so you may want to map out a plan to quickly spend these. Also pay attention to tuition reimbursement programs and your vacation time accrual (i.e., if you accrue 1 vacation day per month and took a week off in February before leaving in March, you may have your final paycheck adjusted accordingly in some cases).

Is there anything I didn't ask that you think I should have?

In the rush of the moment, it can be hard to figure out what information you might need now—or after you leave the exit interview. By asking a broad question like this, you allow the interviewer to offer up information others might have asked about in previous exit interviews or helpful tidbits they don't normally call out explicitly: for example, the deadline to submit expenses for reimbursement before you leave.

What to ask during an exit interview with your manager

If your exit interview is moderated by someone who managed you or your manager asks to meet 1-on-1 with you to conduct an exit interview of their own, consider asking the following questions of them:

Do you have constructive feedback on my performance or areas for improvement?

You might not be able to ask the date someone ghosted you, but you can ask your supervisor to call out areas for improvement. Whatever their response here, try to view it as a gift. Ask for clarity and specifics on anything you don't understand.

The tips you receive could help you forge a better relationship with your next manager or be a better manager to your new team.

Would you write me a reference for LinkedIn?

If you're leaving on good terms, consider asking for a letter of reference so future employers can read the good things your old company or boss has to say about you. Nowadays these come not as actual letters so much as endorsements on LinkedIn.

"Having a written testimonial is a long-term asset," says Crone, and employers seeing former managers attesting to your skills can bolster your candidacy for your new job—or even better position you for the next.

What to do with an old 401(k)?

Consolidating 401(k) savings in a rollover IRA might make sense for you.

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