Job Interview Tips

The dos and don’ts of an exit interview

Written by Eric Titner

It’s been said that every journey has a beginning and an end, and our career journeys are no different. Most of us start our trek through the work world with lofty goals, some semblance of a plan, and a desire to succeed. Hopefully, with a little luck and a lot of effort, we get to realize some or all of these goals, but those of us who’ve been in the work world for a while quickly come to realize that things rarely go precisely according to plan. Some jobs turn out to be life-changing opportunities, while others may fail to live up to expectations or not last as long as we’d hoped—and like all things good and bad, they inevitably come to an end.

Leaving a job is an almost unavoidable aspect of our career journeys—these days, very few of us stay in one job for our entire work lives. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average worker will hold over a dozen jobs across their lifetime. Simply put, leaving a job (hopefully for greener pastures) is a facet of professional life that we all need to get used to.

When some jobs end, there’s an exit interview component to the process. Exit interviews serve a dual purpose. They allow employers to gather valuable feedback from those who know the company best, leading them to learn, make necessary adjustments and helpful improvements, and evolve. It also allows soon-to-be-former employees to express their feelings about a variety of company-related issues, which can be a helpful and cathartic process while coping with the loss of a job.

That said—an exit interview should not be approached as a reckless free-for-all or an opportunity to unload and rant at will about everything you’ve ever disliked about the company during your tenure. Remember, it never helps you to burn a potential bridge as you travel through your career path—especially if you ever need to provide a reference when you’re back on the job search trail.

If you’re about to enter an exit interview, consider the following dos and don’ts to ensure that it’s a helpful and productive experience.

Do be constructive

Above all else, your exit interview will be your final opportunity to provide the company with helpful ideas to make improvements and ensure that current and future employees have a positive environment to work in. So, if your company uses exit interviews as part of its HR process for outgoing employees, why not take the opportunity to make it a productive experience? Do your best to answer each question thoughtfully and provide constructive feedback where possible. Wouldn’t you want your colleagues to do the same if they were leaving before you?

Don’t brush off the experience

Some people choose not to take exit interviews seriously. Instead, they simply shut down, watch the clock, barely speak, contribute nothing meaningful, and just wait for the opportunity to bolt out of the room. Bad move. Don’t approach the interview as a throwaway moment or something to quickly get through. Instead, invest some time to think carefully and critically about your tenure so you’ll be able to provide valuable feedback during the experience—it’ll likely be your last chance to do so, so make it count.

Do be honest

It’s often been said that honesty is the best policy, and this holds true for exit interviews. When fielding questions during the process, make sure you answer with care. Avoiding or obfuscating the truth, or simply flat-out lying will only ensure that the feedback you provide will not help the company improve and will not lead to a better work environment for others—a real lose-lose result.

Don’t be angry

Yes, sometimes leaving a job can be an emotionally volatile time, especially if it wasn’t your choice and you’re anxious or stressed out about what will happen next. But that doesn’t mean that you should approach an exit interview as your chance to unload all of your angry or charged feelings onto the unfortunate individual conducting the experience. It will not only make you seem unprofessional and immature, but it will also leave a bad (and potentially lasting) final impression, and likely lead to any feedback you do have not to be taken seriously. Instead, rise above and do your best to handle the exit interview in a professional and mature manner.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.