5 Tips to Getting the Most out of an Exit Interview

Green glowing exit sign

Employee’s will leave a business for numerous reasons. They leave for reasons like retirement, moving, career changes, etc. but sometimes they choose to leave unexpectedly, even though you and your company would prefer to keep them. If this happens to you, planning an exit interview should be your very next step.

You would be surprised how many companies miss this essential step.

Some executives are afraid of it because they want to avoid the criticism. Other companies just don’t see any value in spending the time it takes to have one. Generally though, when conducted between mature people, it can provide priceless information to you and the inner workings of your company.

Here are 5 tips to getting the most out of an exit interview.

#1: Make it an Opportunity

A successful exit interview is an open door to untapped knowledge. This employee who has chosen to leave has made the decision with a lot of consideration. They probably have opinions and perspectives that they wouldn’t mind sharing with you before going. Unlike existing employees, they don’t have the fear that their opinions could be misconstrued and detrimental to their employment. Take this opportunity to learn about why they chose to leave and what you can do about it.

This conversation and your following actions could end up changing the employee’s mind, although this should not be your goal. Your goal should be to gain any knowledge you can that will enable you to improve your business from the inside. The exit interview should result in the employee leaving on a positive note and that your other employees will notice you took actions that show you care about their happiness.

#2: Use a Corporate Executive

As the owner, you should be the one conducting the exit interview. This shows employees that you really care about them and what they think about your business. It shows employees that you aren’t afraid of a little constructive criticism.

Direct supervisors and managers are often connected to the reason(s) an employee is leaving and that person may not feel comfortable expressing their true feelings in front of their direct supervisor. Conducting the interview yourself is also the only way to ensure all accurate information is reported to you and other executives. This is very important if you want to constructively use the feedback.

#3: Face-to-Face

Repeat after me: Exit interviews are always voluntary. Don’t irritate an already disgruntled employee by trying to force them to tell you why they decided to leave. It’s their decision and it could be for personal reasons so don’t press the issue.

If the employee would like to give an exit interview, great! Do the interview face-to-face if at all possible. Some employees may feel more comfortable with a questionnaire they can fill out and return and that’s ok too, but, face-to-face is ideal because this is the only way you will be able to sense subtleties and shifts in body language. You’ll also gain more information if you’re able to ask specific questions based on their previous response.

#4: Listen

Allow your departing employee to do 90% of the talking. You will focus on asking questions and taking notes. Don’t immediately try to explain something they tell you and make sure you keep calm and don’t get defensive. People will quickly close up if they feel this and suddenly the interview will be of no value to you.

Show empathy and listen to what they have to say. Once the employee has explained their reasons for leaving you can take a chance at reasoning with them if you wish to retain the employee.

When you are the one talking, probe to get all the facts, but never ask for names. Open-ended questions starting with what, how, and why are best in these situations. If you find out something like harassment is behind the employees choice to leave, you suddenly aren’t dealing with the average exit interview and that will need to be handled appropriately far beyond the advice in this article.

#5: Be Prepared

When you find out an employee has resigned you should immediately start preparing for the exit interview. Have any specific topics or concerns you want to cover organized and make your questions based on them. We have provided a few sample questions below to get you started on the right track.

Schedule the interview as soon as possible while the information is fresh in the employee’s mind. If you wait until their last day, most likely, this person has not been thinking about why they are leaving; they are now focusing on where they are going. At this point you have already lost them and anything valuable you can gain from them. Here are a few sample questions to get you started in the right direction.

Sample Questions

  • What ultimately made you decide to leave?
  • Why is this (reason for leaving) so significant to you?
  • How do you think (reason for leaving) should have been different?
  • What would you change about this company and why?
  • What could we have done better when it comes to (reason for leaving)?
  • What training or resources available did you think were most useful?
  • What training or resources do you think are lacking? How would you change them?
  • What can you say about the way you were managed on a day-to-day basis?
  • What can we do to retain valuable employees in the future?

If you perform an exit interview with these tips in mind you will gain a world of valuable information. You could even end up keeping that valuable employee you’re sad to see go. If anything, you’ll gain a different perspective on your business and possibly even yourself as the owner. You can always take these opportunities and turn them into something positive, but it starts with you.

Share with us any tips or knowledge you have gained through exit interviews. Were you the interviewer or the interviewee? Have you been able to change an employee’s mind through an exit interview?

We want to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Have you read the Employers Resource April newsletter? Check it out here.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *