How to conduct effective exit interviews
Exit interviews can be a valuable part of the termination process.
While people are currently employed by an organization, they are often afraid to fully voice their opinions. After the decision to leave is made, however, they are often more willing to offer honest feedback about their experiences.
That’s why an employee’s last few days are often a perfect opportunity for employers to learn how employees really feel about the company by conducting an exit interview.
What is an exit interview?
An “exit interview” is essentially a conversation between a member of an organization’s management or HR team and a departing employee. The purpose of an exit interview is for an employer to receive honest, candid feedback that they can use to improve their organization and minimize further employee turnover.
(The vast majority of exit interviews are conducted with employees who chose to leave voluntarily, as an employer usually has a good idea about why an employee is leaving if they’re the ones initiating the termination process.)
Questions to ask in an exit interview
Just like any hiring interview, employers should prepare a list of questions for managers, supervisors, HR staff or whoever is conducting the interview to use. Having a standardized list of questions is the best way to identify persistent or pervasive issues across an organization.
Sample exit interview questions might include:
- What made you start looking for a new job? Was there any singular event that caused you to decide to leave the company?
- Which aspects did you enjoy most about your job? Which did you dislike most?
- Did the reality of your position fit with the job description you were given?
- Is there anything you would have liked to change about your position?
- Do you have any suggestions for improving our company’s work environment or company culture?
- What did you value most about the company?
- Do you feel that you had all the resources and support necessary to perform your job?
- Did you have a clear understanding of how the performance goals for your position fit within the overall goals of the company?
- How did you feel about your relationship with your supervisor?
- Did you receive feedback about your day-to-day performance from your supervisor?
- What skills and abilities should we look for in your replacement?
- Would you recommend this company as a place to work to your friends or colleagues?
A word of advice: Don’t be afraid to stray from the list or try to use it like a script. Instead, allow the interview to evolve organically as a conversation. This will better help you garner valuable feedback and make the employee feel more comfortable speaking with you.
By incorporating exit interviews into the termination processes, employers can then take steps to capitalize on the feedback received during exit interviews by addressing any frequently mentioned problems or areas of concern.
Exit interview tips
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind to get the most out of your organization’s employee exit interviews:
- Treat exit interviews like hiring interviews.
Structure and plan for exit interviews just like you would any hiring interview during the recruitment process. Many of the same best practices for interviewing a potential candidate apply to interviewing an employee leaving your organization.
- Minimize the number of people in the room.
While panel interviews are considered a standard part of the hiring process, a panel exit interview may cause some employees to feel like they are on trial. Instead, exit interviews should be conducted one-on-one, preferably by an experienced HR professional.
- Don’t ask people to play the blame game.
Don’t ask employees to name names or assign blame during an exit interview. Instead, ask about specific instances or situations, rather than asking someone to rat out their colleagues.
- Let them vent.
Sometimes employees use the exit interview to air all of their grievances with the company. But listening to an unhappy or negative employee, especially one who isn’t leaving voluntarily, can sometimes be uncomfortable. The key in these situations is to allow the person to fully finish his list of grievances and then try to identify the root of their issues.
- If you’re not sure why someone is leaving, ask.
It’s an unfortunate reality that sometimes organizations lose great, high-performing employees. When a star employee decides to leave, use the exit interview as an opportunity to (respectfully) probe into their reasoning to determine whether it might be because of a bigger problem in your organization.
- Don’t want someone to leave? Ask them to stay.
Some organizations may use the exit interview as a last-ditch effort to convince someone to stay. A great way to get to the heart of an employee’s decision to leave is to ask: Are there any conditions, if changed or improved, under which you would decide to stay with the organization? If your organization is able to change or improve these conditions, the employee may be willing to stay.
- Can’t meet in person? Send an online exit interview survey.
Not able to meet face-to-face with a departing employee? No problem – just send the employee an online exit interview survey. This strategy is especially helpful for businesses with widespread workforces or multiple locations. Alternatively, you could conduct your exit interviews via video chat or Skype.
- Follow up on feedback.
Come up with a strategy to evaluate and act on the answers employees provide. If you’re not going to follow up on the feedback you get, don’t even bother to conduct exit interviews.