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What is an exit interview and why is it so important?

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9 min read
exit interview

An exit interview is a valuable final stage of an employee’s time in your organization. Aside from helping you to ensure an effective offboarding experience, the right exit interview questions and answers can provide you with valuable insights into what you’re doing well, and which aspects of the employee experience you need to improve. And this is vital for creating a solid employer brand that helps you attract top talent to your business. In fact, according to a study by LinkedIn, a strong employer brand has a significant impact on whether qualified candidates decide to join your team or accept a competitor’s offer instead.

In this guide, we are going to share answers to questions including ‘What is an exit interview?’, and ‘What is the purpose of exit interviews?’. We will also share some exit interview tips and best practices to help you design the perfect strategy that enables you to collect all the insights you need to grow your business.

What is an exit interview?

Let’s start with the basics: what is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a conversation that you have with an employee just before they leave your organization. It gives you an opportunity to ask the right questions in order to find out what an employee’s experience was like throughout their employment with you. The aim of this is to enable you to gather valuable insights into your employee experience.

For example, you can find out why an employee has decided to leave, what they liked about working for you, and what they didn’t like. That way, you can collect valuable feedback that can help you improve each stage of the employee lifecycle. This, in turn, will help you improve the overall experience that you offer so that you can retain more employees.

There are a number of ways you can conduct an exit interview. You can conduct a face-to-face or virtual interview or share online surveys and questionnaires. Most organizations find that using a combination of both these strategies provides them with the most insights. That way, you can implement the right strategies to improve employee relations in your company.

Purpose of exit interviews

Conducting a thorough exit interview is an essential part of the offboarding process. Essentially it serves three main purposes.

Firstly, it helps you identify which areas of your company you can improve in order to enhance your employee experience and retain more talent.

Secondly, it can help you create a positive final impression of your company so that employees feel happy when they leave, helping to boost your employer’s reputation.

Thirdly, in some cases, you might find that you are able to address specific issues and encourage employees not to leave.

Obviously, this third point would only apply to employees who have handed in their notice. If you lay off or terminate an employee’s contract, then you will need to take a slightly different approach. For instance, you will need to hold a dismissal meeting and issue a termination letter. This will ensure you fire employees the right way.

Ultimately, the main purpose of exit interviews is to find out as much as you can about the impressions your employees have of you and why they are leaving. And this is especially important with global turnover rates rising so sharply as an effect of The Great Resignation. By collecting as many opinions and suggestions for improvement as possible, you can identify what you need to change in order to retain as many quality employees as possible.

How to conduct an exit interview

Before we look at which exit interview questions and answers will provide you with the most valuable insights for your business, let’s take a look at what you need to do when you conduct your offboarding interview.

First and foremost, you need to make sure you create a defined policy for managing your exit interviews. This means creating clear procedures and designing a template with all the key questions that you need to ask. Make sure you include the exit interview in your offboarding checklist template.

Also make sure you hold exit interviews for all employees who voluntarily leave your company, whether they are leaving on a positive or negative note. Whether you want to hear it or not, negative feedback can provide you with the most valuable insights into what you need to change in order to improve your employee experience.

It’s also a good idea to not make your exit interview too formal so that employees feel comfortable enough to give you honest feedback. You can also help employees feel comfortable by reassuring them that you will maintain the confidentiality of all their answers. Remind them that anything they tell you won’t have a negative impact on whether or not you provide them with a reference for future employers. Also, try not to lead the conversation too much. Make sure you ask the right questions but focus on listening to what an employee has to say. They should be the focus of the interview, not you.

Aside from the above, perhaps the most important aspects that you need to consider when you conduct an exit interview is who conducts it, how you plan it, and what questions you should ask. Let’s take a look at these points in a bit more detail.

Who should conduct the exit interview?

Exit interviews work best when they are conducted by a neutral third party rather than an employee’s direct manager. That is why the human resources department is often responsible for conducting the interview. That way, the employee will feel more comfortable about sharing honest feedback without fear of any repercussions.

You might decide to outsource your exit interviews to a third party in order to make the process even more objective. However, this will obviously come at a cost. It will also be harder for you to ensure that the right questions are asked as you will have less control over the process. Another option is to ask a manager from a different department to conduct the interview. However, this might be risky if the manager is not aware of the roles, duties and expectations of the employee.

Generally speaking, considering all the above, someone from your HR department will usually be the best person to conduct an exit interview. This gives you the right balance of neutrality and control so that you can ask the right questions and so that the employee feels comfortable and can be honest about their experience of you as an employer.

Make sure you plan your exit interview in advance

It’s also important to make sure you plan an exit interview in detail so that you are fully prepared. There are a few things you need to do here.

Firstly, make sure you let the employee in advance that you will be conducting an exit interview with them during their final days at your company. Schedule a specific time for the interview and let them know what to expect from the process. Give them an idea of what you want to discuss and what your main objectives are. That way, they can think about what they want to say and how they want to structure their feedback.

Secondly, make sure you tell employees that the conversation will be open and strictly confidential and that you welcome any negative feedback that they might want to share. That way, the employee will feel more relaxed about the process, and they will be more likely to be open and honest, rather than simply going through the motions. Let them know that this is an opportunity for them to share their opinions and that what they say won’t have any negative repercussions.

Finally, make sure you hold your interview on neutral ground. Using a private meeting room away from an employee’s department is usually best. This will help you create a relaxed setting so that the employee doesn’t feel like they are being interrogated. It will also reassure the employee that they won’t be overheard by the wrong person.

Another great option is to share an exit survey with the departing employee in advance. This gives them time to think about what they want to say. It also gives you a solid foundation to start your conversation when you meet in person.

Exit interview questions and answers

The best exit interview questions and answers cover every touchpoint in the employee journey. They should help you determine why an employee is leaving, which areas of your employee experience are positive, and which aspects you need to improve. The aim is to collect as much valuable feedback as possible so that you can continuously improve your employee experience. Your questions should also be structured in a way that encourages employees to be honest and open about their opinions of you as an employer, without fear of recrimination.

Make sure you plan your exit interview questions in advance so that you cover all key areas during your meeting. Designing a standard exit interview template is a great strategy here, especially if multiple people in your department will be conducting exit interviews. That way, everyone is aligned, and all interviewers know what questions they need to ask.

Here are a few exit interview questions that you should be asking:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • What did you enjoy the most about working here? What didn’t you enjoy?
  • Is there anything we could have done differently to improve your experience whilst working here?
  • Have we provided a nurturing working environment where you have been able to perform to the best of your abilities? Have we provided you with the training and resources you needed to do your job?
  • Did the onboarding experience help you integrate quickly into the working culture and environment? Were you provided with all the information you needed? Did you receive the right level of communication?
  • How do you feel about your manager? Did they provide you with the right level of support, motivation and leadership?
  • Do you have any suggestions about how we can improve the employee experience?

How to conclude an exit interview

Once you’ve finished asking all your exit interview questions, ask the employee if they have any questions for you. Also ask them if they have any other feedback they would like to share. You’d be surprised how many times exit interviewers forget to cover important questions. Ending with an open discussion can help you identify something you may have missed.

Once you’ve finished your interview, make sure you analyze all your feedback and implement measures to address any suggestions for improvements that an employee may have offered. Share any opportunities for improvement with the relevant managers and escalate them to more senior management where appropriate.

You should also conduct regular audits of all your exit interview notes to see if there are any patterns. For example, if lots of employees are complaining about poor management styles, then it is probably an idea to offer leadership training to your department heads. If employees frequently suggest that they are leaving because a job didn’t meet their expectations, then you may need to work on improving your job descriptions or hiring practices so that you find a better fit for each role.

Whatever feedback you collect, make sure you use it to your advantage and implement as many measures as possible in order to continuously improve the way you relate to your employees.

Why are exit interviews beneficial?

Although you are not legally required to conduct exit interviews when employees leave your workforce, they can provide you with a number of clear benefits.

Let’s review these advantages:

  • The feedback you collect can help you improve your employee experience and build a solid employer brand and reputation. This boosts your retention levels and helps you attract top talent to your business.
  • Interviews can give you a unique subjective perspective on how well you are performing as an organization, and how happy your employees are. And all this has a direct impact on employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.
  • Feedback can also help you improve your overall business strategies, especially those relating to recruitment, training, and employee development.
  • They can help you leave a positive lasting impression on employees who leave your organization. This leaves the door open for them to potentially return in the future. It also helps to promote your overall reputation as an employer.
  • If you consistently receive the same suggestions for improvement, it could reveal a potentially fundamental issue with your structure, leadership style, or organizational culture, which you can then address.

Common exit interviewing mistakes

There are a number of mistakes that companies often when they conduct their exit interviews. Make sure you avoid these common errors when you design your exit interview strategy.

Specifically, make sure you don’t:

  • Confuse the exit interview with other conversations you might have before someone leaves your company. This includes informal chats or dismissal meetings. Make sure you have a clearly structured and defined exit process.
  • Involve departmental managers in the interview. Employees need to feel they are in a safe space where they can be open and honest about their time at your organization. Also, make sure you are clear about the confidential nature of the interview and maintain anonymity when you share feedback with other areas of the company.
  • Ask targeted questions about specific people or issues. Keep things general.
  • Neglect to take seriously any feedback relating to harassment or discrimination. Make sure you follow standard investigation procedures if these issues are raised in an interview.
  • Forget that the employee is the main focus of these interviews. Although you should follow an established template of interview questions, let the employee guide the conversation as much as possible.
  • Say anything that might be construed as slander or office gossip. Keep things professional at all times.

Exit interview tips

Finally, here are a few exit interview best practices to help you design an effective strategy and gather as many valuable insights as possible.

Make sure you:

  • Create a formal policy for your exit interviews.
  • Only conduct exit interviews for employees who have voluntarily handed in their resignation. You should have separate procedures for layoffs and dismissals.
  • Conduct interviews with all resigning employees, not just key performers or long-timers.
  • Explain to employees that although interviews are not mandatory, they are strongly encouraged for the benefit of both parties. If nothing else, it gives them an opportunity to vent any frustrations and share feedback they may have previously been nervous about disclosing.
  • Stress the confidentiality of the discussion so that employees understand that they can be honest with their feedback.
  • Investigate any reports of criminal behavior, sexual harassment, or claims of discrimination.
  • Select an interviewer with experience and a full understanding of the process. They also need to have good communication and listening skills so that the interview is effective.
  • Design templates with all the exit interview questions that you need to ask.
  • Analyze all your feedback and implement measures to improve your employee experience.

Finally, don’t just wait until the exit interview to ask employees how they feel about working for you. Share regular employee satisfaction surveys and hold regular one-to-ones. That way, you can work on improving relations before an employee makes the decision to leave your organization.

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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