What to say in an exit interview: A guide for departing employees

What to say in an exit interview: A guide for departing employees
Last Updated: June 27, 2023

 “Be good to those you leave behind because it is a night where you are going”. This is especially true when you are leaving a job. It is important to maintain relations and leave as amicably as possible even though the reasons leading to the departure may have been unsavoury. In a study done in the United States, statistics revealed that an average person changes jobs at least 12 times in their lifetime

If you remain in the same line of work, there is a good chance that you will have to engage with your previous employers and colleagues. Imagine how humiliating it would be to engage with your previous employers after throwing a fit of rage. Therefore, it is important to always leave with dignity and in a way that does not offend your previous employer. This article will discuss tips on what to say and how to handle an exit interview when leaving an employer.

Related: Tips For Exit Interview

Before we delve into things to say in an exit interview, we must first understand what an exit interview is and understand the events leading to an exit interview. This information will allow us to determine what to say in an exit interview as circumstances are different. An exit interview is an interview held with an employee about to leave an organisation, typically to discuss the employee’s reasons for leaving and their experience of working for the organisation. 

Companies conduct exit interviews to hear employees’ opinions about their job, supervisor, organisation, and more. These interviews are especially important because they offer a deeper look at workplace culture, day-to-day processes, management solutions, and employee morale. During an exit interview, an exiting employee needs to give as much helpful information as possible to the employer.


Several factors may lead an employee to leave an organisation. These factors determine how a person should respond to an exit interview. There are generally two ways in which an individual can leave an organisation, firstly by choice because they have found a better opportunity or because they have been pushed out of the organisation due to downsizing or termination of employment.


Related: Best Practices: Exit Interview

What to say in an exit interview when you leave on your terms

In most cases, when you leave on your terms, it is generally because you have found a better opportunity, or you were not happy with the culture in the organisation, or maybe because you felt like your career progression was stunted. It is in your best interest and the organisation's to be as honest as possible in such an exit interview. This allows employers to learn from your example and possibly adjust how they managed you when you were with them. This will improve the retention of critical staff and improve employee satisfaction. However, it is important to note that you must remain tactful and respectful to the interviewers whilst being honest. It would help if you were wary of saying offensive and rude things.​

Like any other interview, it would be a good idea to practice what you will say. Whilst it is important to be wary about what to say, withholding things and being resentful to an organisation will not help, being honest in a discreet way is the best policy. It is also important to try not to get too emotional during the exit interview, as this often leads to saying inappropriate things. Practising potential exit interview questions guides a person to say appropriate things that will not lead to speaking out of emotion, especially if the reasons for the departure were unsavoury.


Sample Exit Interview Questions and  Responses

Sample exit interview Questions and possible responses


1. Why are you leaving your position, or what led you to the decision to quit?

I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me, and I have learned a lot throughout my employment. However, I feel like I have accomplished all I can in this role, and I need to expand my horizon. I felt like I did not get the support I could have gotten when I expressed an interest in my career progression. I realized that it might be time to go in a different direction for the sake of my career progression.


 2. How do you feel about management, and do you have any feedback or suggestions for how we can improve?

“Overall, I am satisfied with the way management has guided me in my job, but there is room for improvement. Management sometimes overlooked the ways they could utilize my role, so I occasionally felt somewhat stagnant. However, if they empower new employees to feel independent from the beginning, we can get more innovative and new ideas from them to add value to the company’s success. This seems like a more effective solution than waiting for directives.”


Related: How to Survive an Exit Interview Without Killing Your Future Job Opportunities

What to say in an exit interview when your contract is terminated

This is usually the most problematic exit interview because it is hard or nearly impossible to put emotions aside. Reasons for contract termination vary from downsizing to poor performance on your part or breaking company laws. It is as hard as it may be to keep your cool, as losing your temper may ruin your whole professional career going forward. 

Professionally handling yourself will always work in your favour as an employer may decide to be discrete about possible faults of yours to protect you. In cases where your contract has been terminated due to downsizing or poor performance, an employer can even write a recommendation for you or recommend other employers to take you. However, this depends on how you handle the interview and what you say in the interview. Maintain your cool, be respectful, and watch your tone.


Related: Exit Interviews: How to Do Them Well

Sample exit interview questions and responses when the contract has been terminated


Do you feel that your particular job was significant in the overall operation of the business?

I do feel that my job was significant to the business; however, I felt overwhelmed with the workload, and I often felt unsupported. The lack of support may have contributed to my low performance. Had I gotten more support, I would have met my deadlines.


This response is honest and yet tactfully and respectfully put. As an employer, I would still recommend this individual to a less demanding organization that may be more up to this employee's speed.

In conclusion, what you say, how you say it, and your body language should remain professional and respectful in an exit interview regardless of the circumstance of departure. It is important to consider that your behaviour when you leave will haunt you or favour you, so choose to keep your dignity by remaining professional.


This article was written by Mutsawashe Musvaire, a consultant with the IPC. Mutsawashe can be accessed at mutsawashe@ipcconsultants.com

Mutsawashe Musvaire
This article was written by Mutsawashe a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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