The ins and outs of an exit interview

Note: This is not at all an opportunity to tell your boss to take this job and shove it.

The ins and outs of an exit interview

An exit interview can actually be cathartic.

Leaving a job always comes with mixed emotions depending on the underlying reason that you’re moving on. In order to make a clean, healthy break, you will likely be asked to take part in an exit interview. In fact, one survey found that 91% of Fortune 500 and 87% of mid-sized companies conduct exit interviews when employees depart.

While it might seem grueling if you’re itching to get out of there and start a new job, an exit interview can actually be cathartic and help the company that will soon no longer employ you make some improvements.

“Exit interviews give you a chance to openly and honestly express the good, the bad, and the ugly about your experience at an organization, without the fear of repercussion,” says Cathy Renda, director of employee engagement at WinterWyman, a talent-acquisition firm.

However, an exit interview is not about living out your fantasy of telling your boss, “Take this job and shove it.” It’s an opportunity to share your honest feedback about your employee experience, both positive and negative, without letting your emotions take over.

No matter what information you share, your ultimate goal when leaving a job should be to part on good terms, while also providing useful insights for the human resources team on how it can improve the employee culture.

Why an exit interview matters

Though they might feel like an exercise in futility, exit interviews are a literal means to an end—the chance to get some closure when your tenure with a company is over.

“This is your chance to ask any questions regarding your remaining benefits or retirement plan moving forward and how it may affect you,” says Ciara Van de Velde, client-engagement manager for Employment BOOST, a professional outplacement and resume-writing service. “More important, this is your opportunity to openly discuss your thoughts while sharing how you perceived your experience at the company.”

On the employer side, exit interviews are probably even more important. “They allow a company to take a pulse on a variety of areas related to the overall employment experience,” explains Peg Buchenroth, SVP of HR at Addison Group, a professional-services firm. “The data derived from an exit interview can provide insightful clues as to how a company can improve in certain areas or perhaps devote additional resources that could enhance the employment experience.”

How to prepare for the exit interview

Just like when you prep for a job interview, there are some things you can do to get ready for your exit interview. “Exiting employees should come prepared with a list of any questions regarding benefits or their current 401(k),” says Van de Velde. In addition to this, you should compile a list of things you enjoyed about the company as well as things you believe the company can improve on.

Expect to field questions such as if you thought the internal communication was effective, whether you were satisfied with feedback from management, if there was enough work-life balance, and if you felt you were given opportunities to advance.

Beyond making lists, the days before your exit interview is a great time to take a moment to reflect on your tenure with the company, says Renda. “If you can, think back over your experience with the company—from onboarding and training through today. What went well, what was lacking, what suggestions do you have?”

Other things you may discuss: your specific team/department dynamics, the leadership of the company, the benefits package, time off and flexibility, the technology, and more. If the organization has gone through changes, share your feelings on those as well. Most important: “Be specific and share examples whenever possible,” Renda says.

Watch your tone

No matter how professional you are, leaving a job to go work somewhere else could potentially stir some hurt feelings, so do your best to temper that. “Be mindful of how you deliver your feedback,” says Renda. “If you are combative, negative, and throwing people under the bus, the person you are talking to may end up on the defensive.”

Instead, focus on being gracious. “It’s not about hiding the things you aren’t happy with, it’s about delivering the feedback in a professional, polished, and positive way—with an eye toward helping the company improve—as opposed to your chance to vent and bash,” says Renda.

On the other hand, if you are leaving a toxic workplace behind, you may feel uncomfortable discussing more complex issues during the exit interview, and that’s understandable. “If you have overriding concerns about the company that you’d rather not provide during the exit interview,” says Buchenroth, “request to speak with your human resources representative privately.”

Leave on a high note

At the end of your exit interview, try to head out on a positive note. “Be sure to thank them for providing you with the opportunity to enhance and develop your skills. You never want to burn a bridge and ruin any chances for you to work with the same people or company in the future,” says Van de Velde. Especially in a niche industry, there’s a good chance that you will cross paths with members of the company at some point again.

Along those lines, be sure not to disparage the company even after you leave. “Be mindful of what you put on social media—it will follow you,” says Renda. “And remember your legal obligations under any employee agreement.”

Leaving a job can be complicated—the exit interview is just the final phase of that process. By taking it seriously and providing constructive feedback, you’ll exit your former place of employment with a lasting positive impression. Could you use some additional tips on leaving a job and starting a new one? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get career advice, workplace insights, and job search tips sent directly to your inbox. Whether you need help negotiating a salary, updating your resume, or getting a great new job, Monster’s expert advice can come in handy.