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How to Conduct an Exit Interview

Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
by Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP on March 23, 2021

Exit interviews can provide an employer with valuable insights into their organization. Departing employees are likely to reveal information they otherwise would not readily discuss, such as feedback on management style, operations, workplace environment, or even concerns about misconduct or illegal practices. This candid input can help uncover a company's shortcomings as well as identify what is going well.

The knowledge an employer can gain from a successful exit interview is invaluable, so it's important to be prepared and to take a thoughtful approach. Follow the steps below to make the most of the opportunity.


Step #1. Ask for Participation

Exit interviews are primarily used for employees who have voluntarily resigned their position. Ask the departing employee to participate. Let them know that they may have important information and that you would like their feedback.

Be mindful that employees may be reluctant to agree to an exit interview due to anxiety or fear. They may feel their reputation is on the line or want to avoid possible repercussions for being honest. To ease their worries, you could let them know that it will be an interview, a conversation, not an interrogation. Explain that they may have helpful insights that your organization could use to enhance business practices. Ensure they understand no retaliation will be taken for providing feedback.

It is preferable to do an exit interview in person – for a remote employee you could use video technology so you can see their facial expressions and body language. If an employee did not want to participate you could let some time pass. You could reach out a few weeks after they leave your organization. You could also offer a questionnaire instead to take the pressure off face-to-face interaction.

Step #2. Select an Interviewer

Selecting the right person to conduct the interview is a critical step in the process. The interview can wind up being a missed opportunity if the employee isn't made to feel comfortable or if the right questions aren't asked.

The interviewer should be at least one step removed from the exiting employee. It is best if it’s not the direct supervisor who conducts the meeting. Selecting a more neutral individual reduces pre-conceptions and invites the interviewee to be more candid.

In addition, the individual should be knowledgeable on how to conduct exit interviews. Employees separating from a company may feel strongly and vent. The interviewer should know how to handle the situation in the event an emotional outburst occurs.

Step #3: Prepare in Advance

Preparedness is key to conducting a successful exit interview. Hone-in on ways to create a comfortable environment, and how to pose questions in a non-threatening manner. Your organization should have already prepared a standard outline of questions for each exit interview (if not, there is no time like the present), but also note there may be additional, specific questions or important points to cover with the departing employee.

Review written procedures ahead of time, as well as the employee's job description, benefits information, and other relevant data. The interviewer should be familiar with the employee’s role and who they would have interacted with in the organization.

Step #4: Execute the Interview

When commencing the interview, start by letting the employee know they are free to speak openly. You could address how the data will be reported to management, often anonymously or in aggregate form. Explain the purpose of the exit interview:  to help improve the company.

When it comes time to ask questions, the most important question is why is the employee leaving. Although you may have an idea, directly asking the employee allows them to speak up and they may also open up about hidden motivations on their decision to leave. You can delve into their thought process with follow-up questions, which can help you reach the core of their reasoning.

It's also a good idea to inquire about the interviewee's next career opportunity. You may obtain useful knowledge about other companies from their job hunting. Finding out about their transition is especially important for employees who may have signed non-compete agreements.

Look for input on all aspects of their work experience. Consider asking questions on a range of topics, including job satisfaction, work relationships, and company culture. Questions you may ask during the exit interview include:

  • What did you like most about your job?
  • What did you dislike the most about your job?
  • What prompted you to start looking for another job?
  • What could be done to make our company a better place to work?
  • What changes would you make to your department?
  • What did you think about your supervisor?
  • What are your thoughts on benefits/incentives and pay?
  • What advice would you give to the next person in this role?
  • What does your new job offer that we do not?
  • Would you recommend our company to others?

Interviewers should treat exiting employees with respect. It is essential to listen carefully, ask follow-up questions, and request examples as needed. While the employee answers the questions, be attuned to changes in their inflection, body language, and choice of words. Mannerisms and subtleties can say a lot. Be sure to take good notes and leave nothing to memory.

Step #5: Use the Feedback

A successful exit interview will garner a slew of information. Immediately address any illegal or problematic business practices that were brought to light. Connect with HR and proceed accordingly. The company should take timely and appropriate action so it can show it took the opportunity to resolve issues if there is a later complaint or lawsuit.

Be sure to compile and examine interview data for patterns or trends over time. Identify opportunities related to management practices and employee relations. Based on careful examination of employee feedback, the company should devise an action plan, and implement the changes they see fit.

You don’t have to wait, and shouldn’t wait, till an employee leaves to ask for their feedback. Employee surveys, focus groups, and stay interviews are vehicles to glean important information from your workforce while they are still employed. Listening to employee feedback can assist a company in improving their processes and retaining their valuable employees.

Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tonya is the Labor Compliance Manager at FrankCrum. In this role, she leads the FrankAdvice team of HR consultants and manages the delivery and content of best practice HR information to client owners and managers. When she’s not at work, Tonya enjoys international travel.