Throughout your exit interview, you’ll probably be asked a couple of generic questions and formalities, but be on the lookout for “trap” questions. They might not seem malicious at first glance, but some questions might actually pry a little too far or even make you admit to a faux pas you didn’t commit.
Below, we spoke to human resources directors and C-level executives to get their insights on the types of exit interview questions you should consider avoiding answering altogether—or at least be wary of.
Asking anything with a pre-supposed answer to a more important, underlying question
According to Janelle Owens, HR Director at Test Prep Insight, when going through an exit interview, the most important questions to watch out for are those that presuppose the answer to a more important, underlying question.
“Watch out for loaded questions that by answering you’re indirectly admitting you did something in violation of company policy,” explains Owen. “For example, ‘Mrs. Jones, how long were you using the company printer for personal use?’ or ‘Mrs. Jones, how many coworkers’ employee files did you access over the last 6 months?’”
This is a classic trick that police investigators use as well that is meant to catch you off guard and try to bait you into admitting that you were doing something wrong indirectly. If you have violated any company policies or committed any other wrongdoing that could possibly come back on you, take your time in the interview and think long and hard about your responses—or just don’t respond at all if you don’t like the question.
Asking about anything or anyone that influenced your decision to leave
If you’re being asked if there was there anyone in particular that influenced your decision to leave, consider taking a couple beats to think about why you’re being asked this question and how you want to answer it.
According to Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer, Resume.io, this question is essentially asking you to point the finger at a former colleague, and while it may be tempting to speak your mind on your way out, it is unprofessional and, depending on your answer, it could end up costing you a reference or recommendation down the line.
If there’s anything they could do to make you stay
“Oftentimes the point of this question is not to actually make you a better offer that will convince you to change your mind and stay, but to find out whether or not the company can continue paying or treating the people still working there a certain way,” explains Bax.
“That is not to say necessarily poorly, but they are trying to determine, based on your answer, if they run the risk of losing more people if they don’t increase their benefits, provide more professional development opportunities, etc.”
If there is anything you wish you could change about the company
If you’re asked about what you wish you could have changed about your experience with our company, you have two options: either offer honest feedback or be tightlipped and move on.
“Here’s an opportunity to offer constructive feedback, but again, be careful not to vent without a proposed solution,” says Anne Jacoby, CEO of Spring Street. “Rather than share a list of negatives, share personal experiences starting with ‘I.’”
For example, “I would have appreciated the opportunity to have more direct access to leadership. Here are some potential ways to do that…” rather than “Leaders should have been more accessible to me.”
If there was anything you didn’t like about your job
According to Eden Cheng, Founder of WeInvoice, asking if there was something specific you didn’t like about your job is typically a company’s way of getting free insights on what they should change about the role before looking for your replacement.
“Here, they’re asking you this because there’s a chance that they want to compare your notes to previous employees who had your role, or they may rethink the position,” says Cheng. “Talk honestly about what you liked and about what you disliked, but keep things professional. Or, feel free to make a small (but tactful and tasteful) joke about your dislike.”
Asking about your relationship with your manager
If you’re asked about your relationship with your manager, it’s important to keep in mind that this question is not a trick about you, but about your previous boss and their leadership style.
“If your manager was actually a jerk or made unlawful moves, mention them. But if you just had some unassuming beef with him or her that rose to the level of you leaving the job, in the interests of karma, try not to throw him or her under the bus,” says David Walter, Head of Human Resources at Electrician Mentor.
“Remember, your commentary could potentially cost that person their job.”