How Do You Conduct An Effective Exit Interview?

employee exit interview questions

Employee exit interviews are an incredibly effective tool for helping your business. How? They are one of the most effective means of obtaining honest and open criticism. The question is: How do you ensure you are conducting one constructively?

This article will dive into all of the things you should be mindful of when conducting an employee exit interview. We will cover the ideal format, content, and how best you can prepare. In addition to that, we offer a set of exit interview questions, as well as an exit interview questionnaire, that you can take into your next interview.

Ready to get started? Download our exit interview questionnaire to make your next interview a success.

What Is An Employee Exit Interview?

An employee’s exit interview should be an integral part of the offboarding process that takes place when an employee leaves the company. In an exit interview, the employee is asked why they are leaving, their personal impression of the company, and what suggestions they may have for improvements. Ideally, the discussion is based on a structured exit interview questionnaire – which we dive into later in this article.

Although they are quite routine and happen whenever someone finds a new role, the departure of an employee is one of the less enjoyable parts of being an HR professional. Usually, it means the loss of a well-liked colleague, a lot of paperwork, and a great deal of effort to fill the position again. Frustration, annoyance, and anxiety can all be involved.

However, from an HR perspective, there is a great opportunity here. It is your chance to identify mistakes that have been made and do better with the next employee. The best way to achieve this is with the help of an exit interview.

Why Are Employee Exit Interviews Important?

Admittedly, the temptation of letting an employee leave quickly and quietly is great. This is especially true when emotions are running high and people are angry or disappointed.

That said, exit interviews are extremely important in two respects:

  • Revealing Issues: Employees leaving the company are typically more willing to discuss problems. They no longer need to worry about their criticism impeding their careers. Exit interview questions offer an opportunity to gain deep insights into corporate and leadership culture, thereby identifying potential problems from within.
  • Maintaining Employer Image: Exit interviews are often the last chance for leaving a good impression. An open dialogue shows that a company can accept criticism, admit its mistakes, and demonstrate a willingness to improve. If you can listen carefully to a departing employee and convey your appreciation, they will remember you more positively and maybe even recommend you in the future.

Keep in mind: You should conduct an employee exit interview regardless of whether the employee resigned or was terminated. Even if the employee had no reason to leave, they will likely still be able to come up with some constructive feedback.

If things are ending on bad terms, though, it is best to decide on a case-by-case basis whether an exit interview makes sense. In some cases, it may be smarter to simply let the matter rest. Context is key.

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What Should You Cover During An Exit Interview?

Start by letting the employee know, in advance, the goal of the discussion and what topics you want to cover. This will allow them to prepare themselves matter, and will typically result in a higher quality of answers. Make it clear that you are planning to have a conversation that is:

  • Open
  • Completely confidential
  • Based on their personal opinion

When Should You Schedule An Exit Interview?

The best time for an exit interview is during the employee’s last few days at the company. Now that notice has already been given, and with a new role potentially coming up, you will have the best chance for a reasonable, reflective, and objective discussion. Any job reference should already have been written by this point, so the employee does not have to worry about the impact on their evaluation.

Where Should An Employee Exit Interview Occur?

Meet on neutral ground. For example, in a separate meeting room. A one-on-one conversation with a colleague from the HR department should create a good atmosphere in which the employee can open up without feeling like they are being ‘interrogated.’ Use an exit interview questionnaire to guide the discussion so that you can be sure to cover all the topics that you feel are relevant. Take notes on the employee’s answers.

Should An Employee Fill Out An Exit Interview Questionnaire Themselves?

Definitely not. An employee is not very likely to want to put down in writing some of their opinions, which will cloud your ability to gain real insights from them. You can find out so much more in an informal conversation, guided by a questionnaire, rather than over-formalizing the process.

Do your best to explore the employee’s thoughts and motivations. Then, ask them appropriate supplementary questions. However, don’t push them too far or exert undue pressure. If an employee doesn’t want to comment on a topic, respect that right. Follow the general rule for feedback sessions and do not comment on or judge the statements they make.

What Are Common Mistakes Made During An Employee Exit Interview?

As is the case with everything in life, there are some common mistakes that we need to avoid during an exit interview. For the most part, this is to avoid turning this productive session into a box-ticking exercise.

Here are some of the most common mistakes:

  • Confusing it with other conversations: Clearly separate the exit interview from other elements of the offboarding process. Exit interviews are not part of the dismissal meeting, which should be kept as ‘quick and painless’ as possible and be held in the presence of a witness. They are also not part of the handover process with colleagues and supervisors. As soon as the exit interview gets mixed up with other discussions or objectives, it loses its confidential, open character (the same thing that makes it helpful for HR).
  • Supervisors being involved: Direct or indirect supervisors do not belong in exit interviews. A final discussion with a boss is anything but an exit interview, even if that is how it is described. The best-case scenario here would be a bit of small talk; the worst, a settling of scores. Exit interviews only work with a neutral counterpart, ideally someone from HR, or else the feedback you get will be anything but honest.
  • Confidentiality being violated: Evaluate the findings in the HR department. Supervisors or management should only receive anonymized, summarized information. In smaller companies, where it is rare for an employee to leave, results may be difficult to anonymize, so it might seem logical to email meeting notes. Avoid this at all costs! If it were to happen, the anger of the ex-employee would probably be the lesser of two evils; if it becomes known that confidential criticism from exit interviews is being circulated, none of your employees will ever honestly voice their opinions again.

An Exit Interview Questionnaire You Can Use Today

So, which questions should you ask during an employee exit interview? This structured exit interview questionnaire will help you to address all the important topics and obtain relevant results that you can then meaningfully evaluate.

If you are well prepared, you will be able to go into the conversation confidently, avoid heated discussions, or superficial verbal sparring. In short, everything will work out perfectly.

These are twelve exit interview sample questions you can use for your company:

  1. Why have you decided to leave? (Assuming the employee is leaving the company voluntarily.)
  2. What would have had to change for you to stay?
  3. Have you voiced your criticisms in the past? How do you feel that was handled?
  4. How did you find the onboarding process?
  5. What was the relationship with the management/your supervisor? What would you have liked to be
  6. different?
  7. How did you find the atmosphere in the team?
  8. Under what circumstances would __ have suited your career plans better/could you have imagined moving up through the ranks at__?
  9. To what extent does the reason for you leaving us go back to your original interview? For example, do you feel false promises were made or that you were given an inaccurate description of the position?
  10. Would you recommend that a friend apply for a position here, or not? Why?
  11. How would you describe our corporate culture? Is there anything about it you would have preferred to be different?
  12. What advice would you be willing to offer to help us improve employee retention?
  13. In your eyes, what should we be mindful of in recruiting your replacement?

Notice the wide range of topics covered in these exit interview questions? That’s because an exit interview should not simply focus on the employee’s exit. You should take this opportunity to gain insights into all areas relevant to employee satisfaction. These will then influence retention (and hopefully improve it, too).

Looking for more questions? Download our free questionnaire today for even more.

Dissatisfaction with HR is unlikely to be the reason why someone is leaving. But, exit interviews can bring to light valuable insights that are also relevant to your job.

Perhaps the ex-employee will provide you with the crucial piece of information to make the position in question much more attractive. Or they might tell you what information was lacking during the interview process.

Should You Use The Same Questionnaire Every Time?

Definitely. By using the same exit interview questionnaire in all of your interviews, you can systematically evaluate and analyze the results. That is why it helps to be thoroughly prepared beforehand.

If the same criticisms, based on the same questions, come up repeatedly, that would serve as an immediate signal that something is wrong. In addition to that, it helps to check to see if any of the initiatives you have taken are then reflected in feedback from future ex-employees.

In general, ensuring the consistency of these processes means having an effective offboarding process, more generally. That is why an HR software, like Personio, is so important, as it can help:

  • Store questionnaires.
  • Keep a record of findings.
  • Make sure that every step is carried out, every time.

Learn more about Personio, and our all-in-one HR software solution, by clicking this link right now.

Make The Most Of An Employee’s Departure

Departing employees are as much a part of everyday life as new ones. Businesses and people change, and a bit of change does everyone good.

Nevertheless, it is rarely an enjoyable experience when someone leaves. Structured exit interviews can help you to make the best of the situation.

You gain important insights on how to better retain your employees, and you get to part company with your employee on the best possible terms. Everybody wins, and for that reason, employee exit interviews are a must for every HR department.

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Exit Interview Questionnaire

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