How to Conduct Exit Interviews
How to Conduct Exit Interviews

How to Conduct Exit Interviews

Fully Capitalize on This Underutilized HR Practice

The Often-Overlooked Exit Interview

In the world of human resources, the focus is always on a strong start. From finding that perfect candidate to conducting a spot-on interview, it’s all about the beginning. However, strong HR practices are not just about the first phase or hiring.

Inevitably employees quit, which kicks off the process of wrapping things up and conducting an exit interview. For many companies, the employee exit interview is an afterthought.

However, the exit interview is a powerful tool to consistently evolve and optimize company performance and culture. The exit interview is a rare opportunity to get honest and raw feedback about an organization’s effectiveness in many areas, from how closely a role matched the actual duties of a job, to how well leadership actually leads.

In this guide, we’ll outline exactly how to conduct an exit interview that will deliver valuable feedback to your organization.

Step 1: Determine the Exit Interview Format

The format of an exit interview is important. The two most common exit interview formats are in-person or questionnaire. Each format has pros and cons.

Questionnaire Exit Interview

The obvious benefit of a questionnaire-based exit interview is that an employee can do it on their own time. When an employee is in the final two weeks of a role, they are usually quite busy transitioning work, so this could be more convenient.

However, a questionnaire exit interview may fall by the wayside because the employee is so busy during the final stretch. Also, in a questionnaire scenario, an employee may not feel as compelled to divulge rich, honest feedback. Plus many people simply don’t enjoy writing long-form answers, so you run the risk of receiving one-sentence replies, with very little usable information.

Face-to-Face Exit Interview

The face-to-face exit interview offers some distinct benefits. You end the employment in the same way it began, with the attention of an interview which shows professionalism and class. With a formal in-person exit interview you also receive more three-dimensional feedback. People are often more open during conversation and the detail provided is much more useful. The drawback of an in-person exit interview is that it may feel like an obligation, which could negatively color the feedback provided. Also, when feedback is given in conversation, it is harder to track so you’ll need to consider a way to record or capture the interview content for analysis later on.

Step 2: Select the Interviewer

If you decide on a face-to-face exit interview, you will need to decide on the person who will administrate the interview. Determine who will be the interviewer (manager, HR, etc)

Step 3: Create a List of Questions & What NOT to Ask

For an effective exit interview, you will need a prepared list of questions. This will help organize the interview and save valuable time for both the interviewer and exiting employee. exit interview tip Open the interview with an explanation of what an exit interview is. While the term “exit interview” is widely understood in the HR industry, many employees won’t know what it is or the significance of the exit interview.

Once you share that an interviewee’s responses will directly help the organization, this will make them feel valued and inspired to offer genuine, useful feedback.

Some of the top exit interview questions to consider:

  1. Describe your experience with the company.
  2. Why are you moving on?
  3. What were the best parts of working here?
  4. What could be improved at our company?
  5. How closely did your role match the initial job description?
  6. What was it like working with the company’s leadership?
  7. How was your onboarding experience? How could it have been improved?
  8. Were there any leaders or colleagues who specifically helped you here?
  9. What advice would you give to the next employee in this role?

Exit Interview Questions to Avoid

  1. Would you be willing to stay?
    At this stage it’s too late for this question.
  2. Which colleagues or managers were the worst to work with?
    While it’s important to get constructive feedback, singling out specific people in an organization is not useful. Focus on larger themes.
  3. Why didn’t you enjoy working here?
    This is too specific and could steer the conversation into emotional territory. Instead of asking them directly why they didn’t like the organization, focusing on broader questions about ways to improve will generate better information.

Step 3: Use the Exit Interview Data to Improve

Data is the hottest currency in business, and exit interview feedback is a goldmine of data. To really capitalize on an exit interview, you should apply the principles of data analytics.

First ensure consistent data collection, which is why it’s important to conduct interviews the same way each time. This applies to how the interview is conducted (in-person vs. questionnaire) and the types of questions. Of course, there will be exceptions to this rule, but the more you apply consistency to your exit interviews, the better the insights can be.

Next, you should create a process for analysis. It’s not enough to collect your exit interview information. You must actually review it, find key themes, identify action items, and implement them. If you do not have a process for exit interview feedback collection and analysis, think about leveraging your internal data experts. They likely have solid frameworks and methods for data analysis.

Finally, you should take action. As insights are uncovered from exit interviews, share the information formally with stakeholders and decision-makers. For example, if you receive feedback that indicates employee onboarding is not thorough enough, share this with managers and leadership. Formulate a plan to improve onboarding materials.

Make the Exit Interview Your Secret Weapon

The HR department that puts as much thought into the hiring phase as they put into an employee’s last two weeks are at a major advantage. However, as discussed, many organizations sleep on the opportunity to fully-leverage this step in the human resources toolkit.

As you plan your initiatives for next quarter and next year, add a line item to analyze your current exit interview processes. A few simple tweaks could lead to measurable improvements in your company culture.


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