6 Steps for Conducting an Exit Interview

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When Kate McFarlane recently left her job after five years, she took advantage of her exit interview to vent. “Our HR rep had gotten the impression I was leaving because I was tired of the commute, but there was much more to it,” she says. “Over the years my department and the firm itself had deteriorated to a point where I found I could no longer work there. So when he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘I hear you’re leaving because you found a job close to your house,’ well, I took a deep breath and let him have it. I went on for about 20 minutes about what was wrong with the firm, the department, the management, the morale, the lighting, everything.”

While McFarlane, like many departing employees, used the exit interview to express years’ worth of pent-up frustration, she says, “I ended by saying that I hoped my honesty would help change some of the circumstances and that hopefully the firm could return to the great company it was when I joined five years prior.”

The information collected in an exit interview can give a company a unique perspective on its performance and employee satisfaction. People who leave may be brutally honest about their experiences without fear of immediate repercussions. In addition, it’s likely they have recently been job hunting and interviewing and can offer some useful intelligence on how the company compares with other employers.

Discovering why employees leave should be an essential part of a company’s strategic planning, but many miss this opportunity. “Some firms may feel they are small enough or turnover is so low that they know why their staff leaves,” says Brooks C. Holtom, an organizational behavior and HR management specialist at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., who does employment-retention research. “But it’s likely they are making assumptions that will naturally be biased in the company’s favor.”

Phil Guilliams, who directs technology staffing and HR for the call center outsourcer Precision Response Corp. in Miami, says, at least for his group: “Exit interviews must be required as a formal part of outprocessing. Without the employee expectations of an obligatory exit interview, many would not participate.” He notes, however, that employees who still decline are not penalized.

“People are sometimes nervous about saying too much and possibly burning bridges,” says Guilliams. “They rely on former managers and team members for references and networking. “One of the worst experiences I’ve had in my career arose from an exit interview where I had to report bad behavior by a manager. Almost immediately my comments got back to him, and he openly lost his temper in the office. It chilled the entire workplace.”

Guilliams says he informs all departing employees that their comments will be scrubbed of identifying information before being shared with anyone in the office, with some exceptions. “If they report criminal behavior, sexual harassment, incidents of discrimination or other legal issues, I have an obligation to take action,” he says. “I encourage them to be as honest as they can, [and I explain] that the point is to learn what we do well and what we can do better to keep our clients and staff happy.”

When retail clerk Nicole Etolen quit her job at a large office supply store, she says, “They wanted to know if it was because of something they had done wrong. The fact was, I was improperly trained, but I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, so I just said I couldn’t handle all the cranky customers.”

An experienced interviewer might have explored Nicole’s valuable observations about the company’s supply chain. “Our customers were generally really irate by the time they get up to the register because what they need was inevitably locked in a back room, and they had to wait an eternity for someone with a key to get it for them,” she says. “But once they did find someone to go back there, the item was out of stock.”

Exit interviews by nature could become either too confrontational or too perfunctory, so the interviewer must be extremely experienced and skilled to gently probe for the full truth, Holtom says. “And if an interviewer is not trained in active listening or is not strongly empathetic, they are likely to take offense when the employee starts to vent. This can be a very emotional encounter, and the interviewer needs to be able to manage it skillfully.”

The interviewer needn’t necessarily be an HR professional. A neutral manager or mentor the employee trusts and who has good interviewing skills could be the right choice. Outsourcing the exit interview to an independent third party is also a good choice, says Holtom. “The only real disadvantage to employers might be the cost—nothing else makes the ‘cons’ list,” he says. “You have a higher probability of getting a trained interviewer, they can gather systematic data, and employees are more likely to be honest and cooperative.”

Shelly Funderburg, director of hiring solutions for Manpower Inc. in Milwaukee, begins the exit interview process with a survey that explores topics such as benefits and pay, training, orientation, management issues, environment and culture, opportunities for growth, mentoring, and the effectiveness of the firm’s open-door policies. “I would never recommend using this instrument alone,” she says. “I still like to sit down and get feedback, using the questionnaire to guide the interview.”

Guilliams, on the other hand, prefers not to use such survey instruments. “I prefer a casual one-on-one discussion where I or someone else takes notes,” he says. “In my experience, questionnaire responses are poor, and I wonder if people are as frank as they could be when leaving a written record.”

But Elizabeth Perez, an HR practitioner working inside a large telecommunications conglomerate, would like her organization to rely more on anonymous questioning. “I think if companies truly want honest answers, they should not force face-to-face interviews,” she says. “It’s been my experience that we will get a more truthful answer by using a mail-in questionnaire sent after the employee has left or [by using a] third party to conduct a telephone survey.”

Perez does recommend that HR conduct some sort of final meeting to retrieve company property, go over check lists, etc. “If employees want to share their feelings and suggestions about how to improve the work environment, that would be a good place to do it, but I don’t think employees should feel put on the spot.”

“This information is so valuable,” says Funderburg, “it should be included in the company’s annual review, strategic planning, recruiting strategies, training plans, management development program and any tool companies use to evaluate themselves.” She recommends that the information be compiled and analyzed. “It doesn’t have to be a sophisticated tool, just something that can be rolled up to senior management on a regular basis,” she says.

Holtom recently conducted research on the validity of such data. He analyzed a year’s worth of exit interview statements from employees of two major organizations—a retail bank and a government agency—then followed up with 125 individuals. He found that three to six months after departure, about 70 percent of interviewees cited the same top reason for leaving as they did at their exit interview. When asked to cite the top three reasons, Holtom found a 90 percent overlap.

“By definition, the exit interview is a rear-view approach,” Holtom says. Companies should not rely too heavily on this data. “What you really want to do is figure out whom you want to stay and figure out what will make them want to.” Employee focus groups, annual surveys and other prospective analytical tools can evaluate retention issues much more broadly. “There are a lot of other reasons people stay or go; job satisfaction is only one.”

Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.

Follow these steps to conduct an exit interview with an employee who is leaving the organization:
  1. Select an interviewer. …
  2. Prepare in advance. …
  3. Ask the employee to complete a written survey. …
  4. Schedule the interview at the right time. …
  5. Listen closely. …
  6. Ask if you can share their responses with management.

The Most Important Question in an Exit Interview | The Engagement Studio

How to conduct an exit interview

Follow these steps to conduct an exit interview with an employee who is leaving the organization:

1. Select an interviewer

Its common for a member of the human resources team to conduct the exit interview because they can provide an unbiased atmosphere for the employee to share their thoughts. They can also take unique action as a result of the feedback they receive during the exit interview. You may also choose to use an external company that can conduct the interview so employees dont feel any pressure during the meeting. However, especially for employees who have enjoyed their time at the organization, this can seem more impersonal.

2. Prepare in advance

Every employee is different, so even if you have conducted exit interviews with other employees before, its important to prepare for each one individually. Know what youll ask, become familiar with the employees role and responsibilities and get set up for the meeting. You can do things like bring a comfortable chair in for the employee to use and make sure to block out your calendar so that nobody interrupts your conversation. The exit interview should be held in private.

3. Ask the employee to complete a written survey

Consider asking the exiting employee to complete a written survey before your meeting. This will provide them with the opportunity to think about their responses in advance. You may find that the employee is actually more open in a written survey because they feel more comfortable. Plus, when you are able to read their thoughts prior to your meeting, you can develop questions that guide the conversation.

4. Schedule the interview at the right time

Most employees will provide two weeks notice, so consider scheduling the exit interview around when the employee has around a week left. At this point in their departure, they should still be invested in their role and open to sharing their thoughts. However, some organizations decide to conduct the exit interview after the employee has left the company, which leads to a more casual conversation that gives the employee a lot of space to answer your questions.

5. Listen closely

Its important to actively listen to the employee so you can understand what theyre saying. Part of this is asking them the necessary questions to avoid making assumptions about the feedback theyre providing. When you listen, youre giving the employee the impression that what they are saying is important to you and the organization.

6. Ask if you can share their responses with management

Make sure the employee knows that the exit interview is confidential, but you may want to ask if the employee is open to you sharing their specific feedback with others in the workplace, like their direct supervisor or the executive in charge of their department. No matter what, you should assure the employee that anything they want to remain private will be. Many employees want to make sure that their reputation remains intact and look to you to assure them it will be.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who is leaving the company and (usually) a member of the human resources team. The exit interview serves as an opportunity for you to learn more about an employees reasons for leaving the company, which can provide you with important feedback that you can use to improve the workplace for the other team members and future new hires.

Effective exit interview questions

Its important to have a productive meeting with the employee that results in an open and honest conversation where the employee feels at liberty to share their thoughts with you about their time employed at the company. Here are some questions to consider asking:

Dos and don’ts of conducting exit interviews

Review these dos and donts of conducting exit interviews so you can prepare for an effective meeting:

Best practices for exit interviews

What to avoid during an exit interview

How to process employee feedback

Any exit interview you complete should provide you with some helpful information about the organization and the experiences employees have there. Here is how you can process employee feedback:

1. Share relevant information with the appropriate people

Whether the exiting employee has shared positive or negative feedback, its important to share appropriate details with the right people at the organization, as long as you have approval from the employee. With positive feedback, its a chance to let others know what they are doing right so they can continue doing so for all the employees who remain and possibly increase loyalty to the company. Youll want to share negative feedback with the manager or higher level up if needed so that leadership or the organization can work on improving and therefore preventing a high employee turnover rate.

2. Create a spreadsheet

Its crucial that you take notes from the exit interview. Documentation can help you and others refer back to an interview to glean important information from it. With it, you can organize your notes and scan for similarities to make trend-finding easier.

3. Look for trends

By looking for trends in employee feedback, you may be able to address issues before you continue to lose important individuals. For example, some feedback you may receive from multiple exiting employees is that the job didnt end up being what they expected. In this case, you may want to look at the job descriptions for certain roles to make sure they match what the actual tasks are for the position. If employees report feeling unmotivated in their role, you can implement retention programs or provide more promotional opportunities.

FAQ

What are 5 typical questions asked during an exit interview?

The Best Exit Interview Questions To Improve Your Business
  • 1) Why Did You Start Looking For Another Job?
  • 2) Why Are You Leaving?
  • 3) What Does Your New Position Offer That Influenced Your Decision To Leave?
  • 4) What Could We Have Done Better?
  • 5) Would You Ever Consider Returning To This Company?

What is asked in an exit interview?

Typical exit interview questions include why you are leaving, why you decided to accept a new position, your likes and dislikes in the office, whether you would change anything about the company, whether you would recommend the company to others, and what suggestions you might have for improvement.

How does an employee prepare for an exit interview?

If you’re an employee who is leaving, keep the following points in mind when preparing answers for your exit interview.
  1. Be objective. Keep your focus on the job. …
  2. Practice your answers. Consider asking a friend or colleague for help.
  3. Take notes. …
  4. Consider nonverbal signals and body language.

When the exit interview is conducted?

Most exit interviews are conducted long after an employee has disengaged. Recommendations about the optimal length of an EI vary. Some executives believe it should be kept to an hour, with the option of continuing should the conversation merit it. Others recommend up to 90 minutes.

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