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Exit interview best practices

How to Conduct an Effective Exit Interview

We know how important hiring interviews are, but have you considered the impact of a proper exit interview strategy? If you aren’t already conducting these useful interviews, it’s time to consider how they can fit into your HR plan. Learn the benefits of conducting them and how to do them effectively in our guide to exit interview best practices.

What is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is also known as a termination or separation interview. It is done with an employee who is no longer with the company or who will be leaving soon — and should typically be conducted by the HR team, rather than the employee’s boss. Exit interviews can happen on an employee’s last day, or even just her last few weeks with the company. While it’s not always feasible to do an exit interview (especially in the case of an employee who no-shows and doesn’t return to work), most workers leave under conditions where it’s possible to do this.

What is the Purpose of an Exit Interview?

The constructive feedback you get from an employee as they leave your workplace can alert you to problems in your company culture, training, or management practices. Even if they leave under good conditions such as moving for a new job or choosing to retire, you can learn a lot from this final interaction. You can use those insights to find, hire, and retain future talent.

What are the Benefits of Conducting Exit Interviews?

If done well, the exit interview process provides valuable benefits, including:

  • Enhanced recruiting through better hires, training, and benefits packages. Learning why an employee is leaving for another opportunity tells you what today’s workers are looking for.
  • Less turnover and lower turnover-related expenses. Knowing the reason an employee leaves will help you address the issues that led to their dissatisfaction. In the case of a termination, you can address hiring and skill gaps to see how your next hire could be a better fit. This saves on cost per hire as well.
  • Fewer expensive legal issues. This final meeting gives you the ability to go over employment agreements and reinforce non-compete, non-disclosure, and privacy rules. It can also tip you off to any harassment or personnel incidents that could become legal issues.
  • Closure. Even if the separation isn’t amicable, a final exit interview could help the employer and employee come to an understanding of their time together and walk away feeling positive about the experience.

The interview isn’t a guarantee that all of these benefits will happen, but it greatly increases the chances.

How to Conduct Exit Interviews

It’s important to give exit interviews the same level of professionalism and care as other types of interviews. Remember that it may be your final interaction with an employee and your last chance to give a good impression. Follow these tips to maintain your reputation in the marketplace, even in the case of terminations:

  • Make the environment a relaxing one. It can be difficult for a departing employee to be honest if they feel uncomfortable. Conduct it in an area away from other workers and maintain privacy.
  • Always conduct exit interviews in person. Phone interviews or paper questionnaires aren’t as effective and won’t give you the same level of honesty and directness. Plus, a face-to-face interview provides you with other clues to gauge their responses, such as their body language or tone of voice.
  • Thank them for their time. They are offering you a valuable perspective and should be shown gratitude and patience.

If an employee seems resistant to an exit interview, remind them that it will help improve things for other workers. Sometimes, this is a motivator for employees who still have friends at the workplace.

Exit Interview Best Practices and Tips

Here are some additional tips that you can use to get even more out of your exit interview process.

  • Let the employee talk. Don’t try to defend your actions or the policies of the company. This is your time to hear them out and get honest feedback. If they perceive that they aren’t completely free to talk, they may not tell you everything you need to know.
  • Maintain impartiality. Don’t try to be too friendly or show favoritism to the employee. Also, never apologize for grievances. Address any serious concerns in an appropriate manner with the HR department and legal teams.
  • Keep it light. You never want to appear that you are forcing the employee to do the exit interview. Even if an interview is part of an agreement to receive their final check, they only have to share what they want. Don’t be pushy.
  • Be consistent. Use the same questions in all interviews. This provides the most useful data for you to consider in making any needed changes to your processes. Follow up with questions when necessary for clarification, but don’t deviate too far from the script. 

Who Should Conduct Exit Interviews?

If you have a large enough human resources team, have one member handle all of the exit interviews. This provides consistency to the process and keeps things from becoming personal. Even if you don’t have enough staff members to do this, avoid having the direct supervisor or manager of the interviewed employee do the questioning. It would be awkward and could even be perceived as threatening.

Exit Interview Questions Examples

By using the same questions with each exit interview, you can create consistency in the data you gather. Top questions include:

  1. What caused you to leave? If you’re being hired by another company, what do they offer that we don’t? Try to get constructive areas of improvement from the employee. If the employee starts to turn overly negative, try to steer the conversation back to specific examples.
  2. What do you like most about working here? Look for answers that go beyond what the employee did in her day-to-day. Learn what she liked about her job, team, leadership, the company culture, and the benefits — for starters.
  3. What would you like to see changed about your job or the company overall? Again, try to get constructive answers and specific advice for how the company can improve.
  4. Did you have good relationships with anyone at the company? Don’t just look for the who, look for the why. Ask the employee why they found each particular relationship so helpful. Did they learn something? Benefit from a mentor/mentee relationship? Have the chance to teach someone else what they’d learned?
  5. How would you describe the culture of the workplace and the overall work environment? Look for values that your company embodies in these answers. For example, your company culture could have values like hard work and empathy.
  6. What do you think a replacement needs to do well in this position? Look skills the employee recommends the replacement has, but also look for the values and collaboration style. The employee’s advice will help the replacement excel both in her role and on her team.

What To Do After the Exit Interviews?

Since an exit interview is only as good as the data you get from it, be sure that you have a consistent way to record the answers. That way, you can combine the data in a usable form. Look for patterns among your employees, and see if there are red flags or hiring process improvements you need to address right away. As you get more interview data, compare it to previous data, and see that your efforts are going in the right direction.

At Comeet, we help our clients improve the way they perform interviews with smarter, automated processes. Learn more about what we can do for you in our interviewing hub.

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Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith is a content strategy consultant working with high-growth businesses on their brand messaging, content strategy, and content creation. A digital nomad, she's exploring the world's cultures and cuisines as she works.

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