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Exit interview: What is it and the questions to expect
Should you host an exit interview for a departing employee? The way an employee ends their employment is just as important as how they start, so let's show you how to host an exit interview, the three mistakes you absolutely need to avoid and twelve sample questions you can ask to guide the conversation in the right direction.Run a structured and seamless offboarding with the help of our checklist.
- 1What is an exit interview?
- 2What are the benefits of exit interviews?
- 3What should an exit interview cover?
- 4Three common mistakes made during exit interviews
- 5Exit interview questionnaire: 12 questions to try
- 6Should you use the same exit interview questions each time?
- 7Bake exit interviews into your offboarding programme
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a final interview with a departing employee. It is designed to gain a sense for what an organisation can improve upon to retain its top talent. An exit interview is an essential part of the overall onboarding and offboarding process.
An exit interview will often be hosted by a line manager or HR representative. In any event, a great exit interview is designed to improve company performance, retain talent and also make advocates out of departing employees (for referral purposes).
What happens during an exit interview?
During an exit interview, an employee may be asked some of the following:
Why they are leaving
Their impressions of the company
Changes in culture or management styles
Potential areas for improvement
Ideally, the conversation is conducted in a structured fashion (based on a questionnaire). Doing it this way ensures a level of consistency, where an HR team can glean further insights based on larger samples of answers to standard questions.
Does your company need to host exit interviews?
Exit interviews are not legally required, but they are strategically helpful. For HR, exit interviews serve as a great opportunity to:
Take the temperature of your organisation
Build and maintain a strong employer brand
Find new ways to increase retention rates
Let's talk a bit more about the benefits...
What are the benefits of exit interviews?
Admittedly, there is a certain temptation to let an employee leave quietly. This is especially true when emotions are running high and people are angry or disappointed.
But, your organisation should fight that urge. Why? Because exit interviews are extremely important in two respects:
Revealing Structural/Cultural Issues
Employees leaving the company are typically more willing to discuss the problems they see. 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 A Strong Employer Brand
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.
Should exit interviews occur in all cases?
You should conduct employee exit interviews 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 that your team can use.
Don’t Forget: 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 always key.
What should an exit interview cover?
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:
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. This should also occur after a job reference has been given, so as to avoid biased answers.
Where should an exit interview occur?
An exit interview should occur on ‘neutral ground,’ like in a separate meeting room. A one-on-one conversation with a colleague from the HR department should create a positive atmosphere where an employee can open up without feeling like they are being ‘interrogated.’ Use a 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 a 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-formalising 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.
Three common mistakes made during exit interviews
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:
|Mistake||Why It Matters|
|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).|
|Involving supervisors||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.|
|Violating confidentiality||Evaluate the findings in the HR department. Supervisors or management should only receive anonymised, summarised information. In smaller companies, where it is rare for an employee to leave, results may be difficult to anonymise, 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.|
Exit interview questionnaire: 12 questions to try
What 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:
Exit Interview Question
Why have you decided to leave?
If voluntary, this can offer key reasoning into why an employee is leaving.
What would have had to change for you to stay?
Even if you can't do anything about it now, this may help with future staff retention.
Have you voiced your criticisms in the past and how do you feel that was handled?
Did an employee not feel heard or did processes get in the way of them feeling heard? This can help find out.
How did you find the onboarding process?
This question can help find out if you are setting up for employees for success from day one.
Can you describe your relationship with your manager or supervisor?
Determine if key relationships or if areas of leadership need to be addressed or improved.
How did you find the atmosphere in the team?
Is culture getting in the way of keeping staff around? Find out if your culture requires upkeep.
Did your interview for the role set the right expectations?
This can help uncover any deficiencies in your sourcing or hiring practices and if they need to be improved.
Did you feel like an appropriate career path was developed for you?
Is an employee leaving based on performance issues? Could you have helped plan for an employee's development a bit better or faster.
Would you recommend us as a place to work to a friend?
How strong is your employer brand that ex-employees would be willing to refer people to you?
How would you describe our corporate culture?
This can help identify whether you need to sit back down and define, optimise or find new ways to live your company values or corporate culture.
What advice would you be willing to offer to help us improve employee retention?
Ask an employee directly what might help, so that you can hear it directly from the source.
In your eyes, what should we be mindful of in recruiting your replacement?
Gain insight into the key things this role might need or where the role itself might be improved.
Best Practice: Notice the wide range of topics covered in these exit interview questions? An exit interview should not simply focus on the employee leaving. You should take this opportunity to gain insights into all areas relevant to the employee lifecycle. These will then influence retention (and hopefully improve it, too).
Should you use the same exit interview questions each time?
Definitely. By using the same questionnaire in all of your interviews, you can systematically evaluate and analyse 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:
Keep a record of findings.
Make sure that every step is carried out, every time.
Bake exit interviews into your offboarding programme
Employees leaving can often be out of your team's control. But, how you offboard them is entirely within your remit. While structured exit interviews are great to include, you need to ensure the entire process runs smoothly.
Personio's all-in-one HR software can help ensure that you run offboarding as smoothly as you run onboarding. Learn more about how our onboarding software works today, or speak with an expert to get all of your top questions answered.
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