How to Conduct the Best Exit Interview: The Complete Guide

Oddly, one of the best ways to find answers to pressing questions about your business is when an employee is leaving.

An exit interview is more for the employer’s benefit than the employee. It’s during this interview that you probe to find out what is working and should stay the same, what needs to be changed, and what is completely broken.

When you conduct an exit interview, the process needs to be carefully constructed. In this article, we’ll explain exactly how to conduct the most effective exit interviews so that you can maximize the inside knowledge you gain from your employees.

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Why Exit Interviews Are Important

If you’re not convinced of the value of an exit interview, consider:

  1. Employees are more honest during an exit interview. During an exit interview, you might find out why you’ve been having employee turnover problems. You might discover the source of personnel conflicts. The reason? Some employees are wary of talking about some of this while they’re still employed, but during the exit interview, they have a new freedom to do so. They don’t have to worry about losing their job, so they speak freely.
  2. You can learn about how the employee perceives work. Find out what the employee thought about efficiency, culture, expectations, stress—maybe the job wasn’t a good fit all along. This leads well into the next point, regarding your hiring process.
  3. You find out how good your hiring process is. The exit interview is at the end of a retention failure, but since retention starts with hiring, the interview is still part of the retention chain. An optimal hiring process that inspires retention is always your goal.
  4. You can ask about specific areas of concern. Whether you’re not confident in how your managers or HR department are doing, or if your workplace culture or benefit programs are resonating with employees, the exit interview is a good place to find out.
  5. You can find gaps in salary and benefits. An exit interview is a good time to determine how your business compares with others, particularly if the employee is leaving based on salary considerations.
  6. You can end things on a positive note. While you can’t always control the reasons or situation surrounding an employee leaving, a well-conducted exit interview can help ensure that the last contact with your company is positive. That matters. In the future, they may be more likely to recommend your company to new employees or other business connections.

Preparing For An Exit Interview

A great exit interview is one you’ve prepared for ahead of time. They should not be approached haphazardly.

  1. Prepare emotionally. Every employee handles an exit interview differently, depending on their personality and how they feel about your business. Remember, it’s not personal. Be patient, even if the employee can’t provide the detail you want. This is a time for you to listen, not argue and be defensive.
  2. Don’t use a direct supervisor. Find someone from HR, or another supervisor to give the interview, and not the employee’s immediate supervisor.
  3. Prepare for privacy. The interview should be in person, one-on-one, private, and confidential. Let the employee know that you won’t be telling other employees about what they say. Let them know that the information will be collected anonymously and that you aren’t building a file on them. Keep your word.
  4. Have your questions ready. These questions should be the same ones you use at all exit interviews.

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How to Conduct an Exit Interview

The first step for a great exit interview is actually having an exit interview. Businesses that skip this step miss out on important employee insights, and by conducting one, you put yourself at an advantage.

To conduct the most effective exit interview, try following these simple guidelines:

1. Ask the right questions

Your interview questions should be carefully planned and used fairly consistently during all exit interviews. If you ask one employee what they thought of their manager, but not the other, you’ll have inconsistent information when it comes time to make decisions.

Here are some good exit interview questions to start with:

  • What has been your overall experience working here? Working with the team?
  • What did you enjoy the most?
  • Would you recommend a friend to work for us? Why or why not?
  • What could use improvement? How would you improve it? (you might even want to specify that they give you three or four specific things to improve)
  • Why are you leaving us?
  • Why do you prefer your new job over this one? (if they have another job lined up) What do they offer that we don’t?
  • Did you feel the management gave you enough feedback and support to do your job well? Did you feel comfortable talking to them?
  • Did you feel that your ideas and opinions were valued in your team and with management?
  • Were there any policies, systems, procedures, or other requirements that made your job more difficult to do?
  • Did you receive enough on-the-job training?
  • Do you have any questions or comments to direct to us?

2. Conduct the interview calmly and respectfully

Some employees are going to be very blunt and emotional. Whether you like or agree with what they have to say, you need to remain even-keeled to maximize the helpful information you get out of the interview.

Choose a location that is non-threatening to either parties involved, and be sure that it is private so that other team members can’t hear or see the interview being conducted. Remember, this is an employee that is leaving; and they have the power to affect your reputation on social media, job review sites, and through word-of-mouth.

Here are a few tips on how to be the best interviewer:

  1. Don’t get defensive. As the employee answers your interview questions, control the urge to interrupt or be defensive no matter how they respond. You are simply gathering information, not defending yourself or your business. The only exception may be if an employee decides to attack other employees by name. Direct the conversation away from that kind of talk gently.
  2. Be an observer. Take careful notes, and ask genuine follow-up questions that provide a clearer answer. If the employee says something that startles you, encourage them to elaborate and let them talk.
  3. Be an interpreter. Even if you disagree with the employee’s interpretation of events or feel accused, you must let them talk in order to determine what they are really saying.

3. Keep the conversation focused and productive

Don’t let your exit interview turn into an excuse for employees to share gossip and drama. Some employees might be tempted to talk about others during the interview in the hopes of getting them in trouble. Conversations need to be steered and kept on productive answers, not gossip. Be wary of being used by an exiting disgruntled employee who wants to drop a bomb on your staff as they walk out the door.

4. Conduct the interview quickly

It’s best to give the exit interview before the employee mentally checks out. Some businesses do it a month or so after the employee left, but that will not work for all industries. You’ll need to find out what works best, but it may be shortly after announcing they are leaving and before the final week of work.

5. Identify issues and take action

This is the most important step of the process. Yet, in a recent study, fewer than one-third of those who conducted exit interviews could identify a specific action taken that stemmed from an interview. That means that two-thirds of exit interview programs are basically just talk, with no plan to do anything with the information.

The point of an exit interview isn’t just to check off a box on a list. It’s to get information that you’ll use to make decisions and changes. This is especially important if you have employee turnover issues.

So what’s a manager to do? First, look at your interview notes, and see if there’s a common denominator across most interviews. Then, hold meetings with other company leadership and discuss the issues that were raised. From there, you can devise a plan of action to improve issues. Just don’t forget to keep employees in the loop about how and why these changes are occurring.

Take Advantage of the Exit Interview

Seeing an employee go is never easy. However, conducting exit interviews allows you to continue learning how to improve your business and culture for the employees who are still with you.

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