How To Conduct An Exit Interview Incl. Expert Tips
What happens when an employee gives their 2 weeks (or 3 months) notice?
Many organizations immediately scout for replacement. Their sole focus is crafting a job description and posting the job ad, evaluating suitable candidates for the role, and ushering in a new employee to fill the vacant position.
However, have you really considered the employee leaving your company? Have you given them any attention to unearthing their reasons for leaving the organization?
They could be leaving an organization for many reasons.
- leaving a toxic work environment
- setting up their own business
- taking a career break to care for sick loved ones
- learning something new
- or even traveling the world.
But, if you don't ask, how would you know any of these?
Since a leaver has little or nothing to lose, an exit interview can also be an excellent opportunity for them to
- speak openly about their experience
- identify areas of improvement in the employee life cycle
- and provide recommendations on fixing those issues.
This article will uncover everything you need to know about exit interviews and how to use them as a powerful part of your bigger employee retention strategy.
💬 What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a conversation between an organization and an employee who is leaving the business. Typically, the conversation is between the outgoing employee and a member of the HR team.
It's the part of the offboarding process that helps you understand why someone has decided to leave in the hopes that your organization can prevent those mistakes that could cause other employees to follow suit in the future.
Exit interviews are also great for determining competitor benchmarks. For example, suppose an employee complained about a lower salary and left your company for a competitor with greater pay. In that case, an exit interview could offer you insights on current market standards (salary) and other attractive benefits employees want.
How should you conduct an exit interview?
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends following the following main principles:
- Exit interviews should be conducted for ALL employees, irrespective of whether they are high performers and long-timers or not.
- Every organization should have a formal policy for conducting exit interviews.
- Exit interviews should be conducted solely when employees leave on their own (voluntary separation), and not for layoffs or terminations. These two scenarios should be approached strategically.
🆚 Exit interviews vs stay interviews
While exit interviews and stay interviews often pose similar questions to employees, there are still some differences.
An exit interview occurs after an employee has officially resigned.
A stay interview, on the other hand, is conducted periodically throughout the employee life cycle in the organization.
Stay interviews help to understand
- 💪 what motivates an employee to stay at the company
- 📈 what could be improved about their work experience,
- 🌱 and their thoughts about the next stage of their career within the organization.
They are part of your employee journey map — a tool to determine employee experience at every stage of an employee's tenure in the organization.
❓ Why are exit interviews important?
According to StoryTap's People & Culture Lead, Jasmine Leong:
"Exit Interviews can be an amazing data point for HR departments if done well. Together with stay interviews and engagement surveys, your HR team should be able to paint a good picture of your strengths and opportunities as an organization and ultimately reduce your team's turnover rates."
Exit interviews are among the most honest conversations employees would have with their employers. They are an organization's one shot at knowing what that employee truly thinks about it.
Employees rarely quit their jobs without reason. Finding out why is the single most powerful insight to improve retention in the future.
💡 5 Tips on how to conduct an exit interview
1. Select an impartial interviewer
StoryTap's Jasmine Cheong recommends having an impartial HR team member conduct the exit interview:
"You want to ensure that the respondent isn't too preoccupied with how their responses may affect future references, so they're not worried about damaging relationships. This way, you get the most authentic answers, with the ability to paraphrase the feedback productively."
Sylvain Roy, CEO and HR Consultant at Folks, adds that the best option is to have HR professionals be in charge of exit interviews.
"The person conducting the exit interview needs to position themselves as an ally in the organization and as a team player who cares about employee well-being. In any case, the interview should not be conducted by the immediate supervisor, as it is important to maintain a good level of objectivity during the exchange," he adds.
Selecting someone from the People team doesn't only eliminate bias:
It also ensures that any feedback gets implemented more quickly.
Some organizations use external companies or consultants. But this might come off as impersonal or violative, especially for employees who enjoyed working at the organization.
2. Listen closely and make it personal
Exit interviews don’t have to be frigid or impersonal just because an employee is exiting a company. When conducted properly, exit interviews are goldmines for gleaning new knowledge on what could be done to make the organization better.
Krittin Kalra, the founder of WriteCream, believes that the best way to conduct an exit interview is to have a one-on-one conversation:
“It should be conversational and not rigid. It should be a conversation that is open-ended and not overly structured — one that doesn’t make the employee feel anxious or nervous while preparing for it or during the exit interview itself."
Your main goal during an exit interview is to actively listen to the employee to understand what they’re saying. When you actively listen, your action tells the employee that the feedback they’re giving is important to you and the organization.
Jasmine from StoryTap prefers doing the meeting in person wherever possible -- or at least with the video on, if it's over zoom -- to really connect with who you're speaking with and build a trusting relationship.
3. Ask the employee to complete a written survey
"It's okay to ask the employee to complete a written survey before the exit interview (hint: ask politely).
Questions asked should always be the same across the board so that they're comparable", Jasmine Cheong recomends.
If the resources are available, send over a survey with standardized questions (i.e. On a scale of 1-10, how did you find the company), so we're able to draw data points and trends -- and then dive deeper into answers that stand out during the actual exit interview as well.
Asking these questions allows them to reflect on their replies in advance. And reading responses before the meeting helps you create a list of questions you can ask to guide the conversation.
Jasmine says that she'd also get the respondent's permission to share the feedback that they give so that they can help others who are still in the organization.
4. Adopt a multi-angle approach
"While the manager spending some time with the employee to gain feedback is beneficial, I'd recommend giving the employees the option of confidential feedback. This isn't always an easy route as the employee might have some important information to share.
However, allowing them to confidentially share their thoughts ensures that they do not burn "those bridges."
Therefore, they won't want to have to worry about any future comeback."
5. Schedule the interview at the right time
It's best to schedule your exit interview about a week before the employee leaves. To make them comfortable, consider sending the questions ahead of time, just in case they want to prepare for it in advance.
❓ Examples of exit interview questions to ask
While you don't want to make the exit interview look scripted, you shouldn't also attend the meeting unprepared. Compile some interview questions for guidance and keep a casual and friendly tone to allow the conversation to flow naturally.
For starters, Krittin recommends not asking personal /cliché questions such as "what are your strengths and weaknesses?"
Sylvain Roy recommends the following as great conversation starters:
- What led you to make the decision to look for a new opportunity?
- What convinced you to take this new job?
- What will you miss about us?
- If I put you in charge of the department tomorrow, what would be your priority?
- Are there any other topics that haven't been covered that you'd like to discuss with me?
Wendy recommends asking:
- If we could change one thing to support you in staying, what would it be?
- How likely is it that you would return to work for us in the future?
- What are the three best things about working with us?
- What are the three worst things about working with us?
According to her, the last two questions, in particular, can help an organization determine the general working environment for other employees.
Jasmine, on the other hand, loves to err on the side of more general, cultural, moral, and team questions rather than speaking about specific events or individuals. Her favorite question to ask is
"If you could change one thing that would make the most impact here, what would that be?"
She notes that it really captures the employee's top concern and would echo the concerns of others as well.
Other questions to consider are:
- How were you treated by your manager and team members?
- How well do you believe your work was recognized and appreciated?
- Do you feel you were given the necessary training and support to carry out your responsibilities?
- Do you feel your work was aligned with your personal goals?
📈 Best practices and mistakes to avoid (Dos and don'ts)
Best practices and mistakes to avoid (Dos and Don'ts)
Exit interview best practices include the following:
- Stay neutral
- Ask the leaver if they're interested in participating (while exit interviews are mandatory in the organization, they are entirely voluntary for departing employees).
- Offer the employee various ways to offer feedback. Like Wendy suggested, "consider multiple approaches." You can consider getting feedback via writing, phone calls, or 1:1 meetings (physical or virtual).
- Let them know why you're conducting an exit interview.
- Let them know they don't have to answer every question.
- Ask the employee to complete a written survey.
- Send the interview questions to the employee before the meeting. You want them to be comfortable answering your questions and not be caught off-guard.
- Record and store the feedback confidentially. Also, promise the employees confidentiality before starting the meeting.
- Share the feedback with necessary stakeholders.
- Listen to understand and empathize, and not counter or interrupt.
- Use the feedback to determine areas of improvement in the business.
- End the meeting/things on a personal, positive note.
- Involve supervisors or managers.
- Violate confidentiality. Supervisors should only receive summarized, anonymized conclusions/feedback.
- Ask targeted or pointed questions, like "why didn't you like working here?".
Jasmine reiterates that the intent of the meeting should be to get feedback and honor the employee's time with your organization, irrespective of the duration of their employment.
"The last thing they need is to be made to feel uncomfortable for making the decision to leave. After all, they took a chance on you and your organization, believed in your mission, and worked hard (hopefully) – and that should be celebrated," she advised.
- Ask them to reconsider and stay. Your purpose is to learn about their POVs.
- Get too personal or ask questions like, "Do you think there's someone who should be leaving instead o you?"
- Waste your employee's time.
- Address them rudely or behave coldly.
- Address office gossip. Even if the departing employee engages in office gossip, do not engage. It's okay to let them know that they can share their feelings. However, you do not and cannot share any opinion regarding the issue.
- Don't share your personal opinions. Encourage them throughout the meeting to speak their minds and see the process as a safe space to be open with you.
👀 When should an exit interview feedback not be kept confidential?
There are certain conditions where the feedback given by a departing employee shouldn't remain confidential. The reason for "violating this confidentiality" should be explained to the employee and you must not do this without their permission.
Instances when an exit interview feedback shouldn't be kept confidential include:
- Reports of harassment.
- Allegations of embezzlement.
- Reports of discrimination.
- In the cases where disciplinary actions or investigations are required.
- Situations, actions, or activities that indicate a violation of company law or policy.
➡️ Wrapping Up
An exit interview is an avenue for improving businesses and retaining employees. The action points created from employee feedback should be implemented to enhance employee engagement and build a positive employer brand. Examples of action points you can create are:
- Increasing employees' salaries
- Investing in effective learning and development programs
- Disciplinary action/Investigation
- Improving company culture
- Introducing remote or hybrid work conditions
- Improving the onboarding process
- Introducing attractive employee benefits and perks.
At Zavvy, we enable forward-thinking companies to deliver outstanding employee experiences. This starts with preboarding and continues with feedback along the employee life cycle.
Learn more about our solutions for employee development or people enablement and boost your organization's engagement and retention rates.