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8 Questions You Should Always Ask in an Exit Interview

Make sure you get all you deserve, and perhaps leave the door open.

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Exit interviews are common when someone is leaving a job. And usually, the onus is on the employer to ask the questions. If you're taking a new job offer, they may want to know why you're leaving, or what they could have done to keep you around. If you're being let go, they'll want to make sure you know everything about the package you're receiving, and your legal options.

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Rarely do people talk about the questions you should ask in your exit interview. Here are eight that can provide invaluable answers.

1. Will my feedback be anonymous?

If you have some important issues to get off your chest, this is a very important question to ask beforehand. You don't want to tear into an awful boss or coworker, only to find out that it has gotten back to them. You may even want to consider if it's worth the risk at all; if you work in similar fields, your paths may cross again in the future.

Despite this, you may feel a moral obligation to tell HR all about the problems that certain coworkers caused, for the sake of the people who are left behind. If you must spill the beans, ask this question before you say anything negative or controversial about anyone. You may even want to write something down that can go on record — minus your name, of course.

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2. What did I do well during my time here?

You can phrase this question however you feel most comfortable, but what you're looking for here is feedback on your strengths. What did you do that made a difference to the company? Were you a rock star at certain things? Were you highly prized in areas you didn't even consider?

All of this can be great information to take with you to your next job. You may have thought that speaking up in meetings about potential issues with a project was a cause for grief. But it turns out that people really valued you asking those "Devil's Advocate" questions, as it helped with the development of otherwise unconsidered issues. This kind of feedback can really bolster your performance in your next position.

3. Do I have the option to come back here one day?

It may seem like an odd question to ask — after all, you're probably leaving the company for very good reasons. However, "boomerang" employees can be common in some industries, especially if you're leaving to relocate out of state and may one day return. If you're leaving on good terms, this probably won't be an issue. If you're leaving because things went sour with certain people, it may be tricky to return until they, too, have left. If you're being laid off, you should be given the option to apply for other job openings that match your skill-set in the future.

4. What could I have done better?

No one is perfect. Even an employee that is being begged to stay will still have some areas that could use improvement. Now is the time to find out what those shortcomings are, as this will help you become an even better employee for your next company.

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Don't take any of this feedback personally. You asked the question, and you need to be an adult about the answers you get. Even if things take a turn, and you suddenly find out someone you respected was constantly complaining about you behind your back, just take it in stride. Fix what you think needs fixing, and ignore the petty stuff.

5. Can I use you as a reference in the future?

It may seem like a no-brainer that they'll say yes, especially if you were a good employee, but many companies frown on their staff providing references for ex-employees. If someone from that company provides a glowing reference for a person who turns out to be unreliable, a thief, a sexual predator, or anything else negative, it can come back on the business and bite them.

The HR department's job in any company is to look out for the business, not the people who work there. So, if you think you may want to use them as a future reference, ask before you put their name down. Otherwise, they'll typically verify your dates of employment, and that's about it.

6. When can I expect my final paycheck, and how much will it be?

Your final paycheck may not be issued to you on a regular pay period. It may also include unused vacation days, and depending on your company, unused personal days, sick time (although that's rare), and a portion of the annual bonus you were set to receive.

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Not only do you want to ask about the final total, but when you can expect to receive that amount, and whether it will be a live check or a bank deposit. If the numbers don't add up, say something now. If they don't have final totals yet, make sure you have the phone number of the person in the payroll department.

7. Is there any kind of noncompete in place?

If you were given an employee handbook when you first started, this may be covered in there. But, roles and responsibilities within an organization vary greatly between departments, so now is a good time to clarify. It's possible that you will be asked not to have any contact with your current clients or vendors for at least a year or two, especially if you will be looking to poach current accounts from your company.

Legally, you may not have anything to worry about, as this is typically more of a courtesy. How you handle this, of course, is entirely up to you. At the end of the day, you have to do what's right for you and your family, and if there's nothing in writing to stop you approaching people, it's your call. And of course, if they approach you without any prompting, that's another ballgame entirely.

8. What about a severance package and health benefits?

If you're being laid off, your company may have a set severance package in place. Many businesses offer two weeks of pay for every year of service, up to a cap of their choosing. Others give you a set figure (anywhere from a week to a year) regardless of your time there.

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You'll also need to know what's happening with your health benefits. Unlike most other countries, health benefits are tied to employment in the U.S. and losing coverage can be costly (or even deadly). Will the company continue covering your health insurance, and if so, for how long? What about COBRA? These are important questions to ask, and if they won't continue coverage, ask for more money in your severance to help cover the costs.

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If you are planning to leave your company soon, make sure you have at least some of these questions ready for your exit interview. And if you suffer a layoff, please remember to ask about your severance and benefits.

This article is from Paul Michael of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.