What is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is typically a meeting between at least one representative from a company's human resources (HR) department and a departing employee. (The departing employee usually has voluntarily resigned vs. getting laid off or fired.) The HR rep might ask the employee questions while taking notes, ask the employee to complete a questionnaire, or both. (Sample exit interview questions are listed on page 2.)
What's the Purpose of an Exit Interview?
Human resources departments conduct exit interviews (also called exit surveys) to gather data for improving working conditions and retaining employees. However, a hidden purpose is to help employers avoid costly litigation down the road, caused by "disgruntled" employees. In other words, your comments and the notes an HR rep takes during your exit interview might be used against you in court, should you decide to sue your former employer.
Must I Submit to an Exit Interview?
No. It's your right to decline an exit interview. A reputable employer will respect your decision. However, a not-so-reputable employer might resent that you didn't participate and file a "would not rehire" or similar adverse notation in your personnel records. The same employer might reveal the notation during a background check.
Should I Participate in an Exit Interview?
Naturally, the decision whether or not to participate in an exit interview is ultimately up to you. But there are varying opinions about whether or not you should participate. Some career experts think you should, because, although it doesn't help you much, it helps a sincere employer improve working conditions for remaining employees.
But other career experts question the usefulness of an exit interview. (A better time to conduct such a meeting is while an employee is committed, not while he or she is on the way out the door and concerned about burning a bridge.) Consequently, they don't think the risks for departing employees are worth it, so they advise against participating. Alternately, they advise participants to give "generic" responses only or at least think carefully before responding.
Besides potential bridge burning, risks for departing employees include the information falling into the wrong hands and ruining references, the employer revealing negative information during a background check, and as previously indicated, the employer submitting either positive or negative information as evidence in a lawsuit.
Some things to consider before participating in an exit interview are listed below.
- As a departing employee, will you benefit from an exit interview?
- Is the exit interview anonymous or must you sign a questionnaire or the HR rep's notes?
- Is the reason you're leaving any of the company's business or an invasion of your privacy?
- Why did your employer wait until you're leaving to ask your opinion?
- Will the HR department really use your comments for improvements or are they just trying to find out the "real" reason you're leaving?
- Might an exit interview burn a bridge, ruin a reference or cause an adverse background check for you?
- Might you sue your former employer down the road?