Many companies conduct exit interviews as a standard step at the end of service. The goals often revolve around gauging the employee’s experience and finding out if there is anything that can be done to improve retention and reduce turnover.

On their way out, however, many soon-to-be former employees find exit interviews either an awkward situation or mistaken them for an opportunity to vent about everything that went wrong during their period of employment. Either way, this can’t be productive or doesn’t improve the situation for coworkers or the company.

A more constructive tone in communicating the good and the bad aspects can go a long way first in getting the attention of the interviewer, and second in building your image as a credible source of information. To do so, you must keep in mind the following points if you’re going through an exit interview.


Even if you have never been through an exit interview before, you must prepare for what you want to discuss. Have a list of topics that you think are critical to highlight. They don’t have to be negative issues, they can be pointers for better management, growth or opportunities.

In addition, have mental notes of areas that you will avoid. For example, you may not want to discuss personal issues of your coworkers, office politics, etc. If any of this was a direct cause of your decision to leave, you must think of how you will present your reasons without personal attacks or assigning blame.

Make sure that you also have a good list of positive experiences that you can bring to the table. Providing a balance in your review, again, will give you more credibility and help you present your experience with the employer as a complete picture.

Some companies run standardised set of questions. If you know one of your former coworkers who moved on, ask about what types of question to expect. Knowing these questions will help you prepare and will also reduce your stress during the interview. In all cases, if you’re not sure about what to answer or how to answer a particular question, don’t improvise. Your goal is to help provide the company with a better insight, so making up answers won’t really help.

Don’t vent

Over the years, many things happen in any workplace. Your interview that is an hour or so shouldn’t be dominated by a rant about everything that didn’t agree with you. Stay focused on your overall experience, what motivated you to stay with the company, big issues and areas of improvements. Avoid getting dragged into the details of one argument or issue even if it was a major cause for your decision to leave. In such a case, have a clear statement about why the incident led to your decision without dwelling on minor details.

Remember, you’re almost already out of the door, and the employer probably won’t take just your word for a major concern. So anything you say, make sure that it can be backed up if the employer decides to investigate further. Otherwise, you may be simply burning bridges for no reason.

In addition, remain professional in your tone, appearance and attitude. Last impressions do outlive the first ones. Even if you are meeting with just an HR representative, make sure that you appear as professional and pleasant as you would for a job interview. The more relaxed and confident you’re about your experience, the more likely your interviewer will take what you say seriously.

For the record

If you think that an exit interview is your opportunity to get back at poor management or incompetent staff, you’re mistaken. Your leverage is very little at this point. Having said that, you may be able to point out inadequacies and make sure that they are documented for the record. It may help your case, in particular, if your departure was on a less-than-good terms, to document issues with your supervisor, or any similar case.

If you end up in a legal situation with the employer, this interview may become part of the documents in the case. So to ensure consistency, make sure that you note the issues and list any pending problems. Again all of this has to be done in a neutral tone. Remember the exit interview isn’t court hearing.

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor.

Exit interviews

• Use them constructively for providing feedback

• Avoid emotional outbursts and personal attacks

• Stay on topic and don’t get dragged into details

• Document issues or problem that have escalated