How to Conduct an Exit Interview the Right Way

Kate Conroy
July 26, 2022

Exit interviews; often viewed as a complete waste of time, they can actually provide valuable insight to guide your company’s strategy and ongoing employee relations when done correctly and consistently.

Departures can be highly emotional for both the departing employee and the team they are leaving behind. Managers are stressed because one of their resources is leaving and the employee may be leaving because they are upset about something happening within the organization. This emotional element can lead to both the departing employee and the manager not making the most of the exit interview. However, an effective exit interview is a unique opportunity to maximize the ROI on your employee before they head out the door.

What is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is typically conducted in the case of a voluntary termination. It takes place between the time when the employee has given their notice that they are leaving the company and their last day.

What is the Purpose of an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is an opportunity to collect candid feedback from a departing employee. An exit interview is unique in that the departing employee has less risk in providing direct and (potentially negative) feedback. 

This feedback, although it may be difficult to hear, can help employers turn around bad situations that they were not aware of. It can identify reasons for attrition and help form strategies around employee retention. 

Exit interviews can also reinforce the strengths of the organization and let you know what you are doing well. Overall, the exit interview is key in maintaining and reinforcing your employer brand and company culture. It shows that the company values the employee perspective through the day an employee leaves an organization.

Steps to Conducting a Valuable Exit Interview

Conducting an effective exit interview can be tricky; it’s easy for an exit interview to go off track! Potential points of failure can include: 

  • The employee doesn’t feel comfortable enough to provide feedback
  • The person conducting the interview isn’t asking the right questions
  • The feedback gets documented and stored in the employee file, but no further action is taken
  • Feedback from the interview is provided to remaining team members in a non-productive way

However, with an effective exit interview process in place, these points of failure can be avoided and exit interviews become a tool to drive organization strategy and company culture.

Pre-Exit Interview

Once you have received notice that an employee is leaving, it’s important to jump into action immediately to make the most of their remaining days with your company. The first step is to understand the timeline of the employee’s exit. Typically employees will give two weeks notice, but this isn’t always the case. If your employee is an at will employee, they don’t have to provide any notice and could quit on the spot. Confirm the timeline of the employee’s exit and schedule the interview in advance. The interview should take place during the last couple of days of the employment.

Prepare the exit interview questions in advance. Ideally, every exit interview will have the same structure, however if you are creating your offboarding process for the first time or reinventing a process that isn’t effective, take some time to reflect and think about the purpose of each exit interview question: 

  • What do you hope to gain from the question? Start from your end goal of the knowledge you hope to gain and craft your questions to get you there. Otherwise, the data you gather may be pointless.
  • Is the information actionable? It is frustrating to provide feedback when it isn’t going to drive change. Focus on gathering information that you can realistically use and the employee will be more likely to engage in the exit interview conversation. 
  • Is the question leading? Does the way the question is phrased imply the answer you are “looking” for? Avoid asking leading questions, so that your data isn’t influenced by the way you’ve phrased the question.
  • Are the questions open-ended? Yes or no questions can provide value, but they limit the feedback you are able to receive from the candidate. If you find yourself asking a closed-ended question, consider a follow up that re-opens the conversation. For example, would you recommend us as an employer to a friend? Why?
  • Take the departing employee’s perspective and frame your questions in a way that they’ll want to give you feedback. Start with questions that are a bit easier to answer, before asking for more direct feedback. 

Make sure the person conducting the interview is a neutral party. It’s important to remember exits can be highly emotional. The person conducting the interview should not have a stake in the feedback the employee provides. This means the exit interview should not be conducted by the employee’s manager. Instead, this role is best kept to a human resources professional. At Red Clover, we have the benefit of being an external HR partner, which is ideal for these conversations. When working with clients, the Red Clover consultant conducts the exit interview to ensure that we are getting the most candid feedback from a departing employee. 

Finally, make sure the exit interviewer is prepared for a variety of responses. Exits can be fraught with emotion and unpredictable, and the way this is displayed can vary based on the individual and their circumstances. You might have an employee be very sad to leave their workplace and tell you that leaving is one of the hardest decisions they’ve made. An employee may be upset and use the interview to air years of grievances, or an employee might shut down or even refuse to attend the interview. Be prepared for the unexpected and don’t take a departing employee’s emotional response to their transition personally.

During the Exit Interview

The exit interview itself should be conducted face to face if that is possible within the working environment. If your work environment is remote, then conduct the interview over a video or phone call, determined by what you think will make the employee feel most comfortable.

When conducting the interview you’ll want to explore their feedback on the following:

  • What was the reason behind their decision to leave or look for a new job? This provides valuable insight into what is driving or calling people away.
  • What is their new role? Many employees may be hesitant to share this information, especially if they do not feel they are parting on the best of terms. But if they are willing to share it provides great insight into what employees find as the next step in their career. 
  • Feedback for their manager? Again, this question should be carefully phrased in a neutral manner, so as to not create a leading question.
  • Would they recommend your company as a place to work? Why or why not? This will indicate your strengths as an employer or your areas of improvement.
  • Did they feel like they had the resources they needed to be successful in the role? If they weren’t set up for success in the role, then they probably didn’t perform at their best. Knowing the gaps that need to be filled will help you develop more successful employees in the future.
  • What knowledge, skills and abilities do we need to look for when we hire a replacement?
  • Provide an opportunity for open feedback. This one might seem risky, but whatever problems or risks they might reveal are there whether you know it or not. It’s better to know and tackle them.

Conduct the interview in a casual, professional, and friendly manner. Conclude by thanking the employee for their service to the company and the time they took to provide this feedback to you. Wish them luck in their future endeavors.

Post Exit Interview

After the interview is complete, take some time to evaluate and reflect on the information that you have gathered. Are there any red flags that surfaced about the work environment that require immediate or urgent action? Have there been trends across recent employee turnover that need consideration? 

Look at the specific actionable feedback provided and develop a plan of how to take the action required. Individual feedback should be evaluated cautiously and with respect to the tone of the conversation. Turn direct feedback into constructive feedback before delivering it to others.

Do You Need Help Conducting Exit Interviews?

Exit interviews are most effective when they are conducted by a resource who does not have a stake in the employee’s feedback. Red Clover has your back! As HR Consultants we have the benefit of being able to fill this unique position. Additionally, as strategic HR experts, we can design an offboarding process and exit interview process that truly maximizes the final days you have with your employees and drives your business forward. Contact Us to learn more.

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