How to conduct an exit interview for maximum insights

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How to conduct an exit interview for maximum insights

An exit interview is an important part of your employee management process, and although it may not save a departing employee, it’s a great time to gain insights into your workforce. However, managers often overlook exit interviews for lack of time, or simply because they don’t see the value of it.

Upon first glance, it’s easy to dismiss the value of an exit interview, since that employee is leaving anyway. However, insights gleamed from that interview can help you improve retention for your other existing employees.

An employee who is leaving anyway has little to hold back, so it’s often a chance to get the most raw, honest feedback about management and general business practices. A good manager understands the value of all employee insight and knows that the feedback of a departing employee may help the company optimize its processes and improve the overall work atmosphere.

Here’s how to organize exit interviews to get the most insights.

The undeniable benefits of an exit interview

The main question that you need to answer: why do you need to conduct an exit interview?

The main purpose of an exit interview is to learn about the gaps in the company’s culture and, based on the answers, come up with the ways to resolve those issues. Whether the employee leaves willingly or unwillingly, there are many things you can learn from them about the company, managers, work process and organization.

Here are the key benefits that a well-organized exit interview brings to the company.

Optimization of HR processes

If the employee decides to leave the company, the exit interview is a great chance to really find out why. Maybe it’s a better salary offer or better bonuses. Or maybe the HR specialist of that company acted in such a way that your employee just could not say no?

The exit interview provides valuable insights into the state of HR-related processes in your company. By asking the right questions, you can learn a lot about your competition and see what kind of improvements your company needs.

Don’t forget to ask about the overall experience from their onboarding process and interaction with your HR specialists. You want to learn about every aspect of their onboarding to find areas for improvement.

Lower turnover rate

The insights from the exit interviews should not be treated only as a recommendation for the future – they can become actionable for improving existing processes.

For example, if an employee stresses the non-professional behavior of a certain manager, you can already start collecting feedback about this person and conduct a few meetings with him. In this way, you can prevent other employees from leaving or transferring for the same reason, as you learn about the root of the problem.

Investment in the company’s image

An employee that leaves the company with negative feelings can easily hurt your company’s image, even without wanting to. When asked about the company, the employee will complain rather than praise it. As a result, such behavior can discourage potential candidates from working with you.

A well-conducted exit interview, on the other hand, can fix the situation and help the employee feel respected and valued. You may not necessarily turn the employee into a lifelong brand ambassador, but at least you can prevent unpleasant situations in the future.

Things to consider before conducting the exit interview

It’s not enough to write down a list of questions – you need to prepare for the interview in advance in order to extract the maximum value out of it.

Choosing the interviewer

Quality of the collected data is one of the biggest issues of exit interviews.

If the employee is dissatisfied with the company’s CEO, will he really open up about it during the interview? Most probably, no. All employees want good references and a negative review of the CEO’s managerial methods will most probably get this employee in the HR “blacklist” and ruin his career.

In order to get really valuable data, you need to do the following:

  • make sure the company’s executives understand the importance of the exit interviews and are ready to implement any changes and accept the possible negative reviews
  • choose the right person for the role of the interviewer

Choosing the right interviewer is incredibly important. If the employee is interviewed by an HR specialist and the CEO, the person will probably feel uncomfortable and will answer the questions as expected. So the best choice would be to assign either an HR specialist or a mid-manager to conduct an interview. A mid-manager is a great choice because s/he is usually “closer” to the employees than the company’s executives and will be able to create a sense of trust during the interview.

Choosing the right time for the interview

Another thing to consider is the time period for the interview. You cannot just schedule a meeting on a random day and send an RSVP invitation via Google Calendar.

Because you want the interviewee to feel comfortable and give honest feedback, you need to schedule an appropriate time for the interview. There are two common approaches.

The first is conducting the exit interview while the person is still in the company – with no “mental checkout” yet. In this way, you will interview the employee while the trail is still hot and will increase the probability of getting honest replies.

The second way is to conduct the interview a month or a few weeks after the employee leaves the company. The biggest benefit to this approach is that the employee will be relaxed, “with no strings attached” and thus, will be much more honest about the decision to leave.

Questions to ask during the exit interview

Before getting down to the questions, it is important to remember that the best way to conduct an exit interview is in person. In this way, you will show the employee that you value them and are willing to dedicate your personal time to listening to their opinions.

As for questions to ask, focus on the following points:

  • attitude towards the company
  • attitude towards the manager (executives)
  • ideas for possible improvement
  • what the company can start doing right now
  • opinion on existing processes

Always prepare a list of questions in advance, and avoid asking overly personal questions, like anything about office gossip. Inform the employee about the purpose of the interview before starting it so that employee understands that you value their thoughts.

Things to do after the interview

After conducting the exit interview, dedicate some time to process the answers and see how you can apply them to optimize your existing and future processes.

Exit interviews tend to unveil the root of the problem and help companies identify the pain points that lead to a low retention rate, employees’ dissatisfaction, and related issues. Analyze the feedback and make sure to use it in order to help the company grow and keep your employees happy with their work.


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