January 22, 2016

A Guide to Performing Better Exit Interviews


It’s important to remember that employee engagement doesn’t simply stop after the onboarding process. Every phase of the employee lifecycle in equally important and that includes exit interview questions.

We’ve talked earlier about employee engagement and ways to keep your staff motivated. Now let’s talk a little bit about the end of the employee lifecycle – the exit interview.

Losing employees for one reason or another is a hard but very real fact of today’s business world. Retention continues to be one of the most difficult aspects of running a business and employees leaving your company is a simple fact of life.

When they do leave, it’s important that you are making the most out of that process as well. Conducting exit interviews is a must; it’s a process that can give your organization a lot of valuable information that could help with improving your employee retention program in the long run.

Exit interviews should be performed in order to garner information about the experience that the employee had as a part of your company. What went wrong? Why did they choose to leave? What could have you done differently?

Here are some tips to think about when performing exit interviews and trying and get the most out of them.

Laying the Groundwork

Before you start asking questions, you need to prepare the ground. You need to make sure that you are doing everything possible to ensure that the conditions under which the exit interview is being conducted will facilitate the former employee’s ability to provide you with relevant information and, most importantly, honest feedback.

Firstly, the former employee needs to be contacted cordially and informed about the process. It’s important to remember that exit interviews should always be optional. The only way you are going to get quality feedback is if the former employee is comfortable and actually wants to provide you with it. Making the exit interview mandatory and trying to pry information from someone who is not interested in cooperating in this process will lead you to nothing but a dead end.

Likewise, even if the former staff member does agree to the interview, he or she should also be allowed to refrain from answering any questions he or she does not feel comfortable answering.

Explain the process fully via email or a phone call first and then ask them if they would be willing to participate. You should let them know who will be performing the interview and what type of questions they can expect.

Be very upfront about confidentiality as well. Let the former employee know who in your organization will have access to the information that they are going to provide to you.

Be very clear about the purpose of the interview.

exit interview questions

Why are You Doing This?

The reason for performing exit interviews is to dig deeper into the process behind your former employee’s decision to leave. You don’t need to perform an exit interview to understand some of the fundamental reasons.

Sure, leaving to take a job that pays more is not uncommon. But that might not be the whole story. According to industry surveys, many employees believe that having fun at work is more important than money to many people.

More money, better benefits, proximity, more manageable work schedules; those are all very real reasons for taking another job. But the purpose of the exit interview is to dig deeper. You want to find out what spurred this person to begin the process of looking for a new job.

There must be an underlying reason behind that person’s realization that he or she no longer wants to work for you. Performing a good exit interview will help you to better understand those initial reasons behind the decision to start their job search.

exit interview questions

When Should They Be Performed?

The best thing to do is to wait a while. Exit interviews should not be rushed into. If the person has announced that he or she is resigning from their position at your company, give it a couple of weeks before contacting them about the possibility of participating in the exit interview.

No matter how long that employee has been with you or the circumstances of their departure, there’s going to be a significant amount of emotions involved. Give them a few weeks to get those emotions under control and gain some perspective on the situation.

Whether the employee is leaving upset or content, they are going to need some time to reflect on their time with you.

When employees leave disgruntled, chances are that they are still not going to be very positive about their experience with your company, even a couple of weeks later. But there’s a much better chance that they are going to be able to give you more constructive criticism rather than just dwelling on what they don’t like about you if a few weeks have passed and the emotions have had a chance to simmer down.

Whatever the case is, providing the former employee with a couple weeks to reflect on their experience with your company will most likely provide you with a better foundation for getting relevant responses from them.

exit interview questions

Who Is Asking the Exit Interviw Questions?

There are various schools of thought when it comes to who should be conducting these interviews. Some believe that a direct supervisor should be doing it. But there’s a good chance that the reason for leaving could be directly related to disagreements with someone who was directly responsible for that employee. This usually means that employees won’t feel comfortable enough to open up to someone about issues that they might have had with them directly.

The second option is to talk with HR. This does make the most sense since the HR staff is directly responsible for many processes within the employee lifecycle.

Others believe that it might be better to seek out a third party to perform the interviews. Someone within the company who is not a part of HR but also not from the same department as the departing employee. Chances are that employees might be most comfortable with giving someone with that description the most honest feedback.

Certainly, it’s not an exact science and any one of these options could work. The best option would probably be to conduct some trial and error experiments to see what shows the best results for your company.

exit interview questions

Asking the Right Exit  Interview Questions

While questions could (and should) vary from organization to organization, here are several staples that should not be ignored.

What are your main reasons for leaving?
What would you have needed to consider staying?
Did you receive adequate support and training?
Did you receive adequate feedback and guidance?
What did you enjoy most about working here?
What aspects could use some improvement?
Did you dislike any of our policies?
Would you consider working for us again in the future?

Also, you should always leave time at the end of the interview for the departing employee to give comments on issues that might not have been covered in the questions that you ask.

There’s a good chance that the employee already has a prepared response for you that he or she has put together in their minds. They might just be waiting for the end of the questions to provide you with that final statement that they have prepared to give you about their experience with your company.

Conclusion: Putting This Information to Good Use

The entire purpose of conducting exit interviews is to glean information from former employees that can be used to improve the workplace and increase retention. It’s all about establishing a learning process that will make sure that you are not making the same mistakes over and over again as an organization.

In order for the exit interview to become a positive tool for retention, the company must act upon them and implement the necessary changes to create a better and more engaging company culture.

And once the changes are implemented, managers need to keep track of this and measure the impact that these changes are making across the board.

A good idea for testing the changes would be to perform interviews or send out surveys to current employees in an effort to gauge how these changes have affected their working situations over the course of time.