How to conduct an exit interview

Exit interviews are often seen as a formality for employers, a brief conversation with the ship-jumping worker (or worse a questionnaire), that asks them about their time with you and their future plans.

Utilised correctly, however, an exit interview can be more than simply tying up loose ends. It is one of the best ways to find out about potential pitfalls in your organisation and improve your retention of workers. In much the same way that an applicant interview lets you find out a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, their exit interview lets you understand your business’ shortcomings as well as where you excel.

Confidentiality and discretion

You might assume that a worker who has successfully secured employment elsewhere will be fully prepared (and relish the opportunity) to give you both barrels when it comes to all their grievances. But in truth studies suggest that often exiting employees are too concerned about reprisals to really express how they feel, as the Harvard Business Review puts it: “Are they really going to tell you they’re leaving because they don’t like their boss? Probably not, because they want references.”

As such you need to create an exit interview protocol to reassure leaving employees that their feedback is valued, and any notes forwarded on to HR will be anonymous. Some good things to consider would be conducting the interview in a neutral space, off-premises. Also, rather than using the leaving employee’s Line Manager as the interviewer, use someone from a completely different department with who they will have had little to no contact.

Standardised questions

It is good practice to create a standardised set of questions for all exit interviews, this will vastly improve the quality of data you collect from people leaving the business in the long run. Phrasing is important, rather than asking employees overtly what they disliked about their job, ask them what they would change. Remember to include positive questions such as if any co-workers or managers were especially helpful or deserve recognition.

Keep it short and sweet

No one wants to be forced into an arduous drawn-out interrogation towards the end of their tenure at a company, and the truth of the matter is that after too long employees are likely to seize up. So, keep exit interviews as concise as possible, but long enough that the leaving person feels like you are affording them adequate time to express themselves. Forty minutes is plenty of time, but it could be good to tell interviewers to block out an hour and a half of time in their schedule in case the leaver has a lot they wish to express.

End on a high note

Finally, as the Harvard Business Review highlights, one of your key goals for carrying out exit interviews should be to ‘create lifelong advocates for the organisation’. Employees will come and go, but if ex-employees leave with positive feelings about their time at your organisation, they will likely go on to recommend it to friends and colleagues in the future, improving your brand’s reputation and helping you recruit more easily.

A really good way to end an exit interview on a positive is to feedback to the ex-employee some highlights from their managers and colleagues, such as particular strengths they have, projects they managed well and other good notes.

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