How to Conduct an Exit Interview

Employees leave organisations for a variety of reasons—a desire to pursue other careers, offers too good to refuse, imposed retrenchments, or dissatisfaction with their current positions. Exit interviews should be conducted just before an employee leaves. The meetings not only provide valuable information that can benefit the business but also attempt to end the relationship harmoniously.

1          Develop and implement an exit procedure.
Exit interviews are a valuable management practice that should occur for every employee leaving your company. The interviews offer a fleeting opportunity to gather information about your company that might otherwise be difficult to obtain, and provide a parting employee with the chance to be far more frank than he or she might normally be. It provides an excellent mechanism for taking a good hard look at the workplace.

Make sure that all employees know the importance you place on such interviews. Assign the responsibility to one person — a manager or their nominee.

2          Plan for the interview.
An exit interview is more than an informal chit-chat. It allows an employee the opportunity to explain reasons for resigning or to reflect on the period of employment. The interview procedure should focus on a detailed list of questions designed to get the information you consider relevant to business improvement. General headings might include 'leadership', 'my management', 'training', 'unfulfilled expectations', 'policies', 'morale', 'customer service', grievances and 'salary'. The employee responses will provide valuable data for use in improving operational effectiveness.

3          Schedule the interview.
You want an open discussion, so the timing and the venue will be most important. For a senior employee, for example, you or your nominee may decide to conduct the meeting over lunch. During the last week is a good time for that meeting. Tell the departing employee that you intend to take notes so that you will consider and perhaps act on relevant comments. The number of times a similar item is recorded during other exit interviews indicates a direction for your follow-up actions.

4          Assure confidentiality.
When people are leaving the company they are likely to be open about issues that may have affected their decision. Assure them that anything they have to say will be held in strict confidence.

5          Find out about the former employee's new job.
This topic will not only get the person talking but also provide useful information about reasons for leaving. You will gain valuable information about what is so attractive elsewhere as well as what is so unattractive about your business and what it has failed to offer.

6          Ask, ask, ask.
If there is something you want to know, ask. The exit interview allows you to be as probing as you like. That's why you should try to ask open-ended questions (those that do not encourage straight 'yes' or 'no' answers), and remember that examples help to communicate meaning, so ask, 'Can you give an example of that?'

7          Check feedback on outplacement services.
If you are paying for outplacement, ask for a summary of the value of assistance given thus far. The employee's satisfaction with the service will also provide a useful assessment of the service being offered by the contracted firm. Outplacement services can be made available to exiting staff (voluntarily or involuntarily) by professionals who are keen to support and assist individuals with future employment skills. Outplacement services are often offered as part of redundancies.

8          Settle money and security matters.
Be prepared to outline all the necessary arrangements regarding back pay, entitlements, references, and security matters. Be on the side of generosity if there are any doubts about any issues. If you are not the person to settle those matters, make sure the right person is available immediately after your meeting.

9          Offer to act as referee—but...
Guard against providing a reference carte blanche. Instead, offer to act as a referee by asking that you be contacted with specific details of any position being sought; you are communicating to the employee that you want to provide a reference of substance. You are also indicating that any 'general' reference the employee requests may be inappropriate: you'd prefer to link the person's qualities and experience to a specific position. Remember, you also have your reputation to consider and should not want to provide inappropriate information to any new employer. You can opt to provide a verbal reference when required.

 10          End the interview positively.
Employees leaving your company can provide a source of positive advertising, so ensure the departing employee does so with the message your company hopes to communicate in public. Wish the employee well in any new career choices and make every attempt to part on a friendly basis.

Employees who leave your company usually have deeper reasons for leaving than the one they give. Smart questioning will often reveal the real reasons.

Recommendations
  • Prefer oral interviews to written surveys.
  • Think carefully about the questions you want to ask before the interview.
  • Work up to the tough stuff. Save the hardest questions to the end.
  • Good questions would include: 'Why are you leaving', 'Under what conditions would you have stayed?', 'What did you like most (least) about your position?', and 'If you had a magic wand, what you would change?'
  • Use an interviewer who listens well and is open-minded. The last thing you need is an argument with a parting employee.
  • Try to find out if there were things the departing employee would suggest to improve conditions, production, morale or operations.
  • It's more important to listen than to write copiously. Take a few notes and provide the written detail later.
  • Make use of the information gathered. If you do not use this new information, why do an interview?
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This document does not constitute human resource or legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should contact the HR Help Desk or seek professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content. © Wentworth Advantage Pty Ltd 2017