By Kathleen Furore

Preparing for an interview is something most job seekers are always a bit nervous about, so it’s something they take time to prepare for. But what about an exit interview? What are some typical questions/conversations that someone who’s leaving a company can expect? And, how honest should they be about any negative things they’ve experienced during their tenure?

First, if you’re nervous, acknowledge that and try to figure out why, says Adrienne Cooper, chief people officer at

“Do you distrust the person who is conducting the interview? Are you afraid to speak up about issues?” Cooper asks. “It could be the reasons for being nervous are also part of the reasons you are deciding to leave, and those can be difficult to discuss. Now is a time for you to clear the air.”

“It’s perfectly natural for an employee to experience apprehension before an exit interview,” says Frederick L. Shelton, chief executive officer at attorney recruiting firm Shelton & Steele LLC, who preps attorneys for exit interviews every week. “Unlike a job interview where both parties have a potential upside, an exit interview only benefits the company.”

According to Shelton, the reasons for an exit interview vary. The employer might want to improve the organization, document why things didn’t work out or even gain evidence in case the employee sues the company.

“So, the only potential upside for the employee would be the emotional gratification of telling HR how poorly the company is run, how bad the boss was and so on,” Shelton says. “And that is the last thing they should ever do.”

So how can you get ready for that last chance to express yourself before you walk out that door? Cooper and Shelton suggest being prepared to answer these typical questions:

  • What is your next job going to be?
  • When and why did you decide to look for a new position?
  • Who did you go to with any issues/concerns? What did they do to resolve the problem?
  • How was your boss? Is there anything he or she could do to improve their management style?
  • How were the resources you had access to – software and training, for example?
  • Did the company help you fulfill your career goals?
  • Is there anything that could have been done to keep you on staff?
  • Did you ever experience discrimination or harassment here?
  • What did you like most about your job and/or this company? The least?
  • How would you describe the overall culture and morale?
  • If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would it be?
  • What do you think it takes to succeed here?
  • What should we look for in your replacement?
  • Would you consider coming back to work here in the future? If so, in what kind of role?

Cooper says it’s important to be frank during the interview.

“Please be honest. Give the data points – what happened – and share why those moments or things were impactful – who did they affect and how,” Cooper advises. “The only way organizations can grow, evolve and address issues is by first hearing about them. This is an opportunity to make sure this happens.”

Maintaining control is also important, Shelton stresses.

“While interviewing to get a new job requires honesty and integrity, exit interviews require control, diplomacy and street smarts,” he says. “Departing employees need to think long game and protect themselves. The goals for departing employees are to make sure that no bridges are burned and positive references are preserved.”

And here’s something departing employees might not realize: Exit interviews aren’t required.

“The good news for professionals facing this situation is a simple paraphrase of the Nike slogan: Just don’t do it,” Shelton says. “You are under no legal or contractual obligation to go through an exit interview. If you do decide to go through the process and you’re nervous, just remember that you don’t have to answer any of the questions asked … employees can relax and know they are in complete control!”

Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at

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