The Importance, Function and Methods of Successful Exit Interviews

Written By: Shane Cotner

One of your main goals as an employer should be to attract and retain the highest quality employees that you can.

However, it is inevitable that employees will depart, either by choice or otherwise. When that happens, it can be tempting to focus on restarting the hiring process to replace the departing worker as soon as possible, but it would be a mistake to do so. Conducting purposeful exit interviews should be just as important.

Why are exit interviews important?

An exit interview conducted with respect on both sides has the potential to provide valuable insight on everything from your workers’ day-to-day experiences, to how well management is embodying your goals. In other words, exit interviews provide a deep look into how well your company is performing from the inside. Armed with the information gleaned from successful exit interviews, your company has the power to create an environment that attracts and retains top talent, which will improve your bottom line. 

How can successful exit interviews help my business?

Departing workers are generally more willing to speak more honestly than current employees; they aren’t worried about retaliation from supervisors and may have even been holding onto opinions that they were too cautious to share with management. This means that they are uniquely situated to provide constructive criticism. If the exit interview is guided to reveal helpful information, a departing worker can even become a brand ambassador by leaving on the best terms possible and spread the word among the talent pool that your company is a great place to work.

How to conduct a successful exit interview

To generate the most positive outcome for both the departing employee and your company, careful consideration should go into every aspect of the exit interview. Although each company can and should develop its own system to get the most information, here are some tips to help you get started:

Conduct exit interviews in person and one-on-one 

Some companies conduct exit interviews via online or written surveys, or over phone, email, or chat. And while the removed nature of these methods can make the process a little less nerve-wracking for the departing worker, it is best to conduct exit interviews in person, in a one-on-one format between the former employee and an HR representative who was not their supervisor.

In-person interviews are the most effective because they allow for a two-way conversation, making it easier for you to get the information you need. In a one-on-one setting, the interviewer can read the departing worker’s body language and ask questions that will get the most direct and honest answer.

Create a comfortable atmosphere

The foundation of a successful exit interview is to create conditions what will allow for open and honest conversation. This goes beyond conducting interviews in a clean office with a closed door; it must also include the reassurance that everything the departing worker says will be kept confidential and anonymous. The interviewer should encourage the former employee to freely state their honest feelings and opinions.

Share the purpose of the exit interview

At the beginning of the interview, let the former employee know that they are being invited to offer their feedback and help make constructive changes to the company’s culture and operations; make them feel like their opinions are still valued.

Be consistent

In addition to asking former employees to share their feelings, opinions and feedback, have a set of predetermined questions that you ask at every exit interview. This will allow you to easily compare answers and identify trends before they get out of hand and have a negative effect on your current employees.

Developing a strategic exit interview program will provide valuable insight on your business, and more important, allow you to systematically learn from the people who keep your business running and growing. It’s never a good feeling when a quality worker finds a better opportunity elsewhere, but by finding out why they began looking in the first place, you can learn more about how to retain your top talent. Done well, exit interviews will leave former employees feeling appreciated, heard, and encouraged on their next step, while your interviewer will find themselves with valuable ideas on how to improve the vacant role and how to improve the experience for the next hire.

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