Interviews, Work Culture

Exit Interview Best Practices: What to Ask and What to Avoid

By on October 28, 2019
When an employee is leaving your company, chances are that you are entirely focused on getting in their replacement. While getting their replacement is a necessity, conducting their exit interview is equally important.
Conducting an exit interview is a valuable practice that 91% of the Fortune 500 companies do. Information gathered at such an interview is actionable because the employee does not have a stake in hiding the facts anymore. This information can be used to improve the company culture, practices & processes.
This is a golden opportunity to discover why employees are leaving you. And to figure out what can lead to increase in employee satisfaction. You can take steps based on this to encourage top performers to stay. As is obvious, organizations with a high turnover rate are at a disadvantage. They end up spending considerable amount of resources getting new employees up to speed.
“The goal of exit interviewing is to learn from the past, so you don’t repeat the mistakes in the future.” -Michael Bergdahl

Benefits of an Exit Interview

These interviews give you insights into the employee experience. Departing employees are more willing to give you honest feedback. They feel free to speak critically about their job experience because they are not risking anything.
As you start discovering some of the complaints that cause employees to leave, you can begin addressing them. You can adjust the management style and make changes that reflect employee’s opinions. As the employee experience improves, so will your retention rate.
Exit interviews can be a great source of ideas for additional workplace training. They can also offer a chance to ask any last-minute questions that will improve the job transition. You can ask the departing employee for tips to make their replacement successful at the job.
Interview at the time of employee exit is a great time to wrap up loose ends. It gives employees the opportunity to return equipment and provide final paperwork and information to the employer.

Best Practices for an Exit Interview

Don’t try to do the exit interviews at the last minute and squeeze them in as your employee has their foot out the door. You want to schedule a time that is convenient for every stakeholder. Let everyone come into this meeting well prepared. If possible, provide a quick agenda to the employee. Even sharing questions with them beforehand is not a bad idea.
Best practices for an exit interview

1. In-Person Exit Interviews

It can be tempting to send off an online survey, but employees won’t share as much information in a survey. It is important to conduct the interview in-person. In-person interviews are more effective because they allow for two-way conversation. Interviewers can gain information from the employee’s body language and ask follow-up questions.

2. One-on-One Interviews

The panel style interview with multiple interviewers can be very intimidating for the employees. They may close up and refrain from answering some of your questions honestly.
Conducting a one-on-one interview is the best way to hold an exit interview. It makes the departing employee feel comfortable enough to open up about their experience.

3. Create a Comfortable Environment

Departing employees may not open up when the environment doesn’t feel comfortable and safe. They need to feel that their feedback will be kept confidential and anonymous. Make sure that you hold the interview in a place that is private, has comfortable seating and few distractions. This could be in a conference room or a private office.

4. Schedule the Meeting for a Convenient Time

The last day of work at a company is not the best time to be holding an exit interview. The employee is focused on wrapping up projects and saying goodbye to friends and co-workers. Schedule the meeting well before the last day. Make it for a time that is both convenient for you and for the employee.

5. Reinforce Confidentiality

The departing employees will not express their biggest concerns with the company if they feel that there will be some retribution. They may still have friends at the company that they don’t want to out. Additionally, they may have co-workers that they are using for referrals and saying something negative about them would hurt any potential referrals that their manager may write.
At the beginning of each meeting, reinforce that the meeting will be confidential and nothing will be shared with anyone. This may help the departing employee feel more comfortable speaking freely.

6. Outline Important Exit Questions To Ask

Going into the interview, you will be far more productive if you have an outline. It will keep the conversation focused and ensure that you ask the most important questions. You’ll want to discover why the employee is leaving, but also what they were unhappy with.

Here are some sample exit interview questions that you may want to ask:

  1. What did you like most about working here?
  2. What did you dislike the most about your position in the company?
  3. How was your relationship with your supervisor?
  4. Were your colleagues enjoyable to work with?
  5. Were you happy with your pay and benefits?
  6. Was there an issue or event that prompted you to look for another job?
  7. Why did you accept the other job offer?
  8. Would you recommend the company to a friend?
  9. How do you feel the company can improve?
  10. What skills should your replacement possess to do the job well?

7. Express Excitement for the Employee

The decision to leave is made and the employee doesn’t want to hear negative things about their new opportunity. It won’t bring them back to work for you. The best thing to do in the interview is to be excited for the employee’s new opportunity.
Departing employees will appreciate your excitement for their new position. It will help preserve positive feelings about the company. This can go a long way in whether they will recommend your company to their friends and family members. The last thing you need is a disgruntled employee giving negative reviews.

Implement Feedback from the Interview

If you have no plan to make changes in your organization, the exit interview will be a waste of time. Make sure that you are examining the feedback from the discussion and looking for ways to improve your company culture.

Things to Avoid In an Exit Interview:

There are a few things that you want to avoid when conducting exit discussions. They will not improve the relationship you have with the departing employee or give you insights to improve your company.
Things to avoid in an exit interview

1. Don’t Force an Interview

There will be some employees that don’t want to interact with you as they are changing jobs. They may want to leave the company and forget about ever working there. Some may not feel comfortable with the interview and if that is the case, they likely won’t give honest feedback.
If employees refuse an exit interview, you can offer them the option to take a survey or fill out a feedback form. This will help you gain the feedback that you are seeking from an interview without conducting one.

2. Don’t Overshare

An exit-interview can turn into a complaint fest from the employee. It can be tempting to commiserate with the employee and share with them that you have similar complaints or that you know others have complained about the same thing. This is dangerous territory. The employee can take to a review site and share that the company neglects to address feedback.
The best practice is to listen to the employee and show concern for their complaints. Make sure you jot them down and tell the employee that you plan to address them.

3. Don’t Get Defensive About Criticism

Some of the complaints that departing employees have may be about your policies and practices. It is easy to get defensive about your own ideas. It is not productive though.
A good technique to keep from getting defensive about the criticism is to write it down. This takes your mind off responding as your fingers are busy. Keep in mind that the criticism is important for your company to succeed. If the criticism is directed at you, it may be wise to take some time to review it.

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