How to Handle an Exit Interview and Leave Your Reputation Intact

4 minute read

So you’ve decided to leave your role. Perhaps you’ve got an exciting new offer on the table, or you’ve realised it’s time for a change and want to take a short break from work. Whatever the reason, it’s important to leave a workplace on good terms.

Many charities conduct exit interviews, largely to find out what improvements they could make to their operations and working environment to boost staff morale and employee retention. What will you be asked? Here are some of the questions you may face—and how you can answer them tactfully without appearing bitter or ungrateful.

1. What’s your main reason for leaving your position? 

Here, the charity primarily wants to find out whether the reason is about them, or whether it’s an external factor, such as a change in your family situation or a move abroad.

Be honest but polite. If you’ve been offered a role that’s more challenging and will help you develop in a given field, be open about this. If the reason is largely down to salary, you can also say this, but be mindful that charities are often unable to match salaries and that your motivation to work in the sector may be questioned. Depending on your situation, it might be worth mentioning this as one reason of several, rather than the sole factor.

If your reason is related to your personal life, you can reveal as little or as much detail as you like. But, if you’re looking for greater flexibility due to, for example, caring responsibilities, it’s worth mentioning this. It may just encourage your employer to reconsider their policies.

2. What could we have done to keep you here? 

This is usually a follow-up to the first question, and it can be a tricky one to answer. In a culture of trust and honesty, if you wanted to make a change to your working conditions or develop yourself in a given area, you should have felt that you were able to ask for this well before an exit interview.

If the reasons are too complex or frustrating to go into, it’s best to keep it simple and steer away from laying blame on the organisation at this moment in time. It’s best to politely say: ‘The new role offered me an exciting chance to develop in x field, which has been my area of interest for a while,’ or ‘I want to focus on spending some time with my family, and later look for some part-time/more flexible work.’

These kinds of statements will give your employer enough to think about, without you having to risk leaving on bad terms.

Woman at laptop in meeting with man

3. To what extent did you find your work interesting and were you able to develop your knowledge and skills? 

It’s useful to give examples when answering this question. Even in the unlikely event you found your job monotonous and unrewarding, try to look for the positives. Perhaps there was a part that was more enjoyable? What did you learn while in the role?

Then move on to the elements that motivated you less and try to think of how they might be improved for those who are recruited for this role in the future. Could any processes or tools be changed to make them more effective? Maybe there’s some useful internal or external training that could be provided for future employees?

4. Do you feel that you had the right tools to do your job well? 

Here’s your opportunity to be super open and honest—and remember to think of the word ‘tools’ in the broadest possible context. We don’t just mean a laptop or a piece of software, but tools such as online platforms that support you in your day-to-day role, as well as the mentoring and training that was provided for you.

If you’re particularly keen to leave on good terms and make an impact even in your final days, you could leave the HR team with suggestions of tools that you’ve researched and that might be beneficial for your team in the future.

diversity amongst charity trustees

5. What was your relationship like with your manager and team?

This is one of the trickiest questions if you’ve had a difficult relationship with your manager, and it’s worth preparing thoroughly for it. Unless you’ve had a serious grievance that relates to their treatment of you, it’s best to keep your answer as professional as possible. Focus on the positives, and give objective tips about how your manager might improve in their role. Maybe it’s a case of giving greater autonomy to the team? Or increasing/decreasing communication?

Had a brilliant manager, and your decision to leave was nothing to do with them? Say so! This is a great time for open praise and the positive feedback will always be welcomed at their next performance review.

Find a career with meaning

6. Would you recommend our charity as a good place to work? 

If your answer’s yes, that’s great. Perhaps you might even have some friends that you’d like to recommend for upcoming positions?

If you want to say ‘no,’ be careful how you phrase it. You might want to say something along the lines of, ‘This is a great place to work for people who are passionate about x / want to develop y. But it might be less appealing to those who like to focus on z.’

Ultimately, it’s about balancing honesty with politeness

Remember that an exit interview is all about your ability to think critically about your experience with your employer. If this has been largely positive, that’s great. Do your best to help them improve and be sure to stay in touch. In today’s interconnected jobs market, networking continues to play a really important role. For this same reason, it’s important not to leave on bad terms. So even if your role has been far from enjoyable, be sure not to tarnish your reputation by remaining polite and focusing on suggesting improvements.

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Ewa Jozefkowicz

CharityJob's Former Content Manager Ewa Jozefkowicz has a passion for all things digital, particularly when it comes to UX and writing engaging copy. In her spare time she likes to travel and devour huge quantities of books.

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