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Yes, There Is a Right Way To Do Exit Interviews

Apr 22, 2014
Deb Muller


Interview usually means the start of something. In journalism, it’s the start of the story and in HR it is usually the beginning of (hopefully) a job. But sometimes, interviews are the beginning of the end. That is the case when it comes to exit interviews, one of business’ most missed opportunities.

Exit interviews are the dusty, forgotten part of HR, which makes very little sense. After all, exit interviews cannot only mitigate risk for the employer and alleviate lingering issues for the employee, it can create a solid foundation from which all parties can learn.

It’s a shame that this crucial part of the talent management cycle has been relegated to the back burner because it’s just like the other interviews we’ve discussed, there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct exit interviews. And none of the right ways of conducting exit interviews include a box… or a security guard.

Step #1: Reframe the interview as a conversation.

No one likes a formal interview, but having a conversation coveys an entirely different tone. While conversations can help even more when employees are still employed at the company, it can put everyone in the room (let’s keep the observation crew to a minimum please) at ease to feel like it’s more back and forth, than a one-way documentation session.

Step #2: Build trust by not making your own assumptions.

You may have heard one reason the employee in question is leaving but that may not be the entire truth. Keep an open mind when discussing the employee’s reasons for leaving. As an HR pro, you may not know what resides in that employee’s mind. Skip this step and you risk not getting all the learning from your exit interviews…and alienating departing employees further.

Step #3: Get the data for your company’s sake.

Most companies like to point out how valuable the data is from a reporting perspective and from a risk management standpoint (both of which are true) but focus instead on understanding how this data can actually impact your employee relations strategy and pay attention to that. If you are not accurately capturing the data received in the exit interview… then it’s pointless.

Step #4: Ask the right questions.

Different exit interviews exist for a reason, and the same questions may not exactly be right for all circumstances. Work with your executives, hiring managers and the rest of your talent management team to determine what questions are the best for you to ask. Great lists can be found here. Keep in mind that in some situations an online form can do an even better job of capturing information during the exit interview, as it encourages additional sharing. In some regards, employees may be more honest typing out their grievances rather than in a face-to-face situation.

Step #5: Recognize it might not be pretty.

And plan accordingly. Capturing the data means nothing if your process is in shambles. Exit interviews deserve as much, if not more, prep work than regular interviews and the data and learnings captured from them can be invaluable. Keep in mind when scheduling exit interviews, that if at all possible, you should have your questions ready at least 48 hours in advance and proofed by both legal and compliance where applicable. Seem impossible? Try our Post-Hire and Exit Interview Modules to make sure you and your team are always prepared.

Step #6: Move the date up a bit.

Yes, exit interviews are necessary but they are also potentially preventable with the right tools. As many disgruntled employees have pointed out, if an organization cared about issues that arise during exit interviews, during the employee tenure, there would be less exit interviews and more stay interviews!

Taking these six steps in creating a better exit interview process will get you on the right road to having a more solid foundation from which all employees can learn. Learn more about what you can do to be prepared for the exit interview process here.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.