How to Conduct an Exit Interview: Gathering Valuable Insights from Departing Employees

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>In This Guide You’ll Learn</h2><p><ul><li>The importance of exit interviews.</li><li>How to conduct them.</li><li>What to ask.</li><li>What to do after the exit interview.</li></ul></p></div>

Exit interviews are an important part of the recruitment process even though they take place when someone is leaving! These meetings are held with departing employees to hear about their experience working for the business. Sometimes the employee may be leaving because they’ve been made redundant. If they’ve resigned, then the interview will explore their reasons for going.

How to Hold an Exit Interview

Do it straightaway

  • Some managers prefer to hold Exit Interviews a month or so after the employee has left when all the reference checks are out of the way. I think it’s much better to hold the Exit Interview on the employee’s last day of employment. If you hold it later, the employee has little reason to turn up and might have forgotten important details.
  • Because it’s their last day they won’t have to worry about saying something that their boss might hold against them, so you should get the unvarnished truth.

Hold it offsite

  • Departing employees will feel more relaxed and be most candid if you hold the conversation outside the workplace. Plus you’re less likely to be interrupted.

Have one person conduct the interview

  • To make things feel less intimidating, it’s best to have just one person carry out the interview.
  • The employee’s manager is often a good person to do it because they should know the most about the job and the employee.
  • If a reason for the employee leaving was a poor relationship with their manager then someone else should do the interview – a more senior person, someone from HR or even a non-executive director or outside HR consultant.

What to Ask in an Exit Interview

Start by making the employee feel comfortable:

  • The employee won’t open up if they feel tense so reassure them that what they say may be treated as confidential (“may” gives you an opt-out in the rare situation that you do need to pass something on). Also mention that you can give them a reference.
  • Show empathy and say that you’re sorry they’re leaving. Tell them that you want them to be honest and say what they’re really feeling.

Now discuss their experience working in your company in chronological order:

  • Before they joined: ask them about what they were expecting when they accepted the job and whether the reality fell short.
  • The job: ask them what they liked and disliked, barriers to them doing their job well and, if they’re not going because of redundancy, any other factors that made them want to leave.
  • The company: ask them how they think the company treats its staff and how it could do better.
  • The customers: ask them how the firm could improve in serving its customers.
  • The competition: ask them in what ways the firm’s competitors are doing things better.
  • Reasons for leaving (if not redundancy): explore their reasons for wanting to leave and how they hope things will be better in their new job.
  • Priorities: ask them what the most important thing is that the company should work to fix.
  • Final thoughts: ask them to share any other views that they might have about the company. Were there times when managers’ behaviour upset or frustrated them? What should managers improve on?

There’s a detailed script for Exit Interviews available in the Guides & Checklists section of the website.

Highlight Restrictive Covenants

  • Restrictive covenants in employment contracts ban employees from competing with former employers for some period after leaving, such as stopping them from working for competitors, disclosing confidential information or trying to get business from their old firm’s customers.
  • Although these restrictions aren’t always easy to enforce, it’s a good idea to remind employees of them during the Exit Interview. Often that alone encourages compliance.

What to Do With the Employee’s Feedback

  • Having held the Exit Interview, you might find yourself relieved that the employee is going!
  • But the interview might reveal uncomfortable truths about your organisation. Don’t ignore these!
  • When someone leaves, other members of staff may be made aware of problems in your organisation and might themselves start looking for other opportunities. For this reason, it’s important that you act on any substantive issues that came up during the interview, particularly those to do with the treatment of staff.

Call the Employee After a Month

  • It’s painful to lose someone good, but there may still be scope for salvaging the situation. New staff sometimes end up regretting their decision to leave their old firm and may feel that the new job hasn’t lived up to their expectations.
  • Call departing employees a month after they leave. Tell them how much their old team is missing them and see if there’s anything that you could do to bring them back.

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>Exit Interviews can give you crucial feedback about your organisation.</li><li>Have one person do the interview, preferably on the employee’s last day and offsite.</li><li>Try to make the employee feel relaxed so that they’ll be open with you.</li><li>Discuss their experience with the firm in chronological order. Explore their reasons for leaving and areas in which they think your organisation could improve.</li><li>At the end of the interview remind the employee of any restrictive covenants.</li><li>Act swiftly on any credible critical feedback that you receive during the interview.</li></ul></p></div>

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment