Five Tips to Make the Most of Exit Interviews

Exit interviews don’t need to be a formality allowing disgruntled employees to voice their complaints. If used correctly, talent managers can use this opportunity to learn why the employee has quit and determine whether changes need to be made so other workers don’t follow suit.

Savvy employees understand the risk of burning bridges, so they’re often hesitant to share their true feelings about the reasons behind their departure. However, by incorporating these strategies, it’s more likely for talent managers to get more candid feedback.

Wait a while. It’s common to try holding an exit interview before the employee leaves the company, but employers should consider holding off for a short time. The final days on the job can be emotional for an employee, given the stress of finishing up projects and anticipation about a new job. For this reason, organizations may not get the most objective responses to questions during this transition period.

Instead, employers can request permission to speak with the departing employee after a few weeks, by which point he or she may have a fresh perspective on certain situations after joining another organization. For instance, employees may find that what they thought were excessive workloads at the company are in fact standard in the industry and did not constitute grounds for leaving.

Use a neutral interviewer. It’s best that someone other than the employee’s direct manager conduct the exit interview. Companies are more likely to get open, honest input from an individual if he or she hasn’t worked directly with the person prying for information. This is particularly true if the issue prompting a professional’s job change was a problem with company leadership. Some organizations even hire third parties to handle exit interviews in hopes that it will encourage a more forthright discussion.

Offer a reason to be candid. Employees who’ve left should be reminded that the exit interview is designed to learn more about concerns that may be affecting all staff. By giving thoughtful responses, these individuals may help their former colleagues. Chances are they bonded with at least one co-worker while at the company, so this type of encouragement may prompt them to open up.

Be creative with questioning. It is best to avoid broad questions such as, “Why did you quit?” because they’re likely to lead to generic responses. Instead, employers can pose more targeted questions to yield better responses:
• What prompted your job search?
• What does your new employer offer that we did not?
• What was the best part of your job here? The worst?
• How does our compensation plan compare to what’s offered at your new company?
• What advice would you give to the person filling your position?
• How would you describe the management style in your old department?
• Under what conditions, if any, would you consider returning to the company?

Sharing these questions with the employee prior to the meeting could be beneficial as it gives employees a chance to think about their responses. This also can help the discussion feel less like an interrogation.

Take action. Talent managers need to make sure the information shared is taken seriously. There’s no point in conducting exit interviews if they’re done only as a formality. Companies should be open to making changes as a result of the feedback, particularly if the same problems are heard from several people. For instance, it may be learned that the lack of salary increases in recent years has become a major retention issue, meaning it’s time to make appropriate adjustments.

Positive changes can result if employers use exit interviews as learning experiences and rethink the way their workplace operates. As competition for skilled talent grows and retaining employees becomes a greater priority, leaders can build greater job satisfaction and ensure that their top team members want to remain at their company.

Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled administrative and office support professionals. He can be reached at