How to Conduct an Exit Interview

By Laura Dowling, SPHR on Jun 02, 2023
6 min read 1 Comment

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Having an employee leave your company is never “easy” even if the departure of an employee isn’t regrettable from a business standpoint.  The employee was a contributor to your business’ operations, whether it be positive or negative, and there is, in most cases, something that can be learned from the partnership.

When an employment relationship doesn’t work out and the decision to cut ties has been made, there can still be a silver lining.

Offboarding (in particular, exit interviews) presents an incredible opportunity for an employer to glean valuable insights about the employee experience, the culture of the company and the challenges of the departing employee’s role or department. 

In this post, I’ll cover the pros and cons of conducting an exit interview, share a step-by-step guide for running exit interviews on your own and provide a set of example exit interview questions that your company can work from to get started. 

10 Steps for Successful Offboarding

The Pros and Cons of Conducting an Exit Interview 

In general, exit interviews are an extremely valuable opportunity for a company to receive constructive feedback and identify recurring pain points within their organization, as well as things employees really like about the company. That said, departures can be uncomfortable, and exit interviews need to be approached with sensitivity to various types of departures.  Consistency should be maintained by asking the same questions to all departing employees.   

Advantages of Conducting Exit Interviews: 

  • Exiting Employees May Be More Candid Than Current Employees

Employees who have made the decision to leave the company are often more candid with negative criticism than those who are still employed with you. For this reason, exit interviews can help you understand why employee turnover is happening and which items you may be able to act on to curb it. 

You may uncover frequent themes, “problem” employees or overlapping negative behaviors, as well as other valuable insights that you can use to help develop strategies for boosting employee retention going forward. 

  • Can Help With Your Company’s Reputation

Having an exit interview as a final touch point helps the departing employee feel heard, seen and cared for, which can do wonders for your business’ reputation. An exit interview in which the employee is listened to and feels genuinely heard may be all it takes to keep the departure from resulting in a negative Glassdoor (or similar job website) review. 

announcing employee departures at your business

Disadvantages of Conducting Exit Interviews: 

  • Low Participation Rates 

Exit interviews notoriously have low participation rates, especially if sent electronically.  Employees need to understand the process and know that their confidentiality will be maintained. 

  • Exit Interviews Alone Are Not Enough to Solve the Problem

If upper management isn't interested in making changes and resolving issues, gathering the information doesn't really have an advantage. 

  • Employees May Be Hesitant to Open Up 

Some employees may be hesitant to open up for fear that they will burn a bridge or tarnish their reputation resulting in you not getting the real reasons they are leaving.  A way to combat this is outsourcing exit interviews or again, ensuring that the employee understands the process and that confidentiality will be upheld.   

RELATED: Why Exit Interviews are Worth It >>

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Conduct an Exit Interview 

1. Decide Who Will Conduct the Interview 

At small businesses, exit interviews are often conducted by members of the HR department, if the company has one. However, in smaller organizations where HR resources may be limited or non-existent, exit interviews may be conducted by the employee's immediate supervisor, a manager or even the business owner. 

In some cases, companies may also outsource exit interviews to third-party consultants or HR service providers. The person responsible for conducting the exit interview will depend on the company's structure, resources, and policies.

2. Establish a Process and Set Interview Questions 

Exit interviews can be uncomfortable, but a standard list of questions can help. It is recommended that exit interviews be performed face-to-face when possible, as employees will typically provide more information face-to-face and the conversations are more productive. 

A standard list of questions will ensure that your business gets the answers it wants to dive into, and not just a bevy of un-constructive complaints. If the interviewer uses a standard list of questions, both parties should be able to stay on track. 

3. Listen More Than You Speak 

During the face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) exit interview, make sure to listen to the employee more than you speak. Both parties should remember that the decision to end the employer-employee relationship has already been made and that this is a time for making the employee feel respected and heard, as they provide constructive feedback to the employer.  

RELATED: The True Cost of Firing an Employee >>

4. Conclude in a Positive Manner 

Every effort should be made to conclude the exit interview on a high note. To accomplish this, you might ask a question along the lines of “What did you enjoy the most about your role,” or “What do you think our company is doing right?” At the end of the interview, assure the departing employee that their feedback is confidential, highly appreciated and that the company is grateful for their service. 

5. Gather Your Key Takeaways 

Once you’ve concluded the interview, you’re ready to comb through the feedback you’ve received for insights. Compare your feedback to what you’ve heard from other employees: are there recurrent issues with certain team members, clues about hostile work environments or tales of seemingly impossible benchmarks for advancement? 

You can use the feedback you receive to probe into possible compliance or employee relations issues, hopefully stopping a problem before it gets worse. You can also use the feedback to set goals for improvement and advance your employee retention strategies, ultimately boosting employee engagement and saving your company on recruiting costs long-term. 

Make sure to also share with management the positives that came out of the conversation to motivate them to keep those things going.   

baby boomers retiring

What to Ask in an Exit Interview 

Knowing where to start when conducting an exit interview can be tricky, especially if your company doesn’t already have an exit interview process in place. Before the interview, gather a list of key items you’d like feedback on. Remember to be consistent and ask all employees the same questions.  

To begin, here is a set of example questions you can consider for your interview: 

  • I understand there may be many factors at play, but why are you ultimately choosing to leave the company? 
  • Were there specific colleagues, such as managers or coworkers, that you found difficult to interact with? 
  • What would have made you stay? Are there ideas you wish you could have implemented during your time with us? 
  • What advice might you have for someone who takes on your duties or fills your role? 
  • What do you think our company is doing right? Or What did you like most about our company?  
  • Is there anything additional you want to add? This allows the employee to completely be seen and heard and raise any concerns that may not have been covered in the questions.    

RELATED:Know Before They Go: How to Ease the Pain of Employee Departures >>

Axcet HR Solutions: Your Partner in Retention and Employee Relations 

At Axcet HR Solutions, we work with lean organizations that are focused on growing and scaling their core business. We understand your mission and are here to take care of the details.

When it comes to employee relations, retention, compliance and more, the human resources and employee relations experts at Axcet HR Solutions have you covered. Exit interviews are just the beginning of what we can help you with at Axcet. To find out how we can help your small business, reach out to our experts today.

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Written by Laura Dowling, SPHR

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