Whether used to enhance retention efforts, or to part amicably with employees, exit interviews are one way employers can get information about their organizations. Done right, exit interviews can help employers:
Employers should first ask themselves, "What are the key purpose and goals of our exit interview process?" Answers may range from “show employees we value their input” to “test our theory about recruitment and retention problems.” The point is to identify the desired outcome and design an exit interview process to achieve that outcome. With the purpose and goals in mind, employers should answer the following questions.
At a minimum you should capture and document information. While casual exit interviews can yield useful information, structured processes provide:
Formal exit interview processes are typically documented in a policy that details:
Over the last few years, the use of third-party vendors to conduct exit interviews has increased sharply. Vendors are professionals, and employees may be more candid with independent interviewers. However, you may have valid reasons for keeping the exit interview process in-house. In this case, someone who is outside of the employee’s line of authority is a good choice, such as a human resource professional, a neutral manager, or a mentor of the employee.
To get the most out of your exit interviews, choose interviewers who are:
All voluntarily separating employees should be offered an exit interview. Depending on your purpose and goals, you may also consider interviewing employees who are transferring between departments or locations, retiring, or ending a nonpermanent job.
Involuntarily separated employees present unique challenges. By offering an interview, you open communication and could discover issues such as discrimination. However, the responses may skew your data if combined with responses from voluntarily separated employees.
Many organizations conduct the exit interview a day or two before the employee’s separation, but others interview employees a few weeks after they leave. Ask yourself:
Based on your size and resources, you may use a survey in addition to or instead of a face-to-face or telephone interview. When using surveys, consider:
What you ask in the interview should directly relate to your original purpose and goals. Each question should seek information that has a specific use. Common topics include:
Whenever possible, employees should leave your organization on a positive note. If they feel valued and respected, they are less likely to speak negatively about you as an employer, and may consider re-employment in the future. When closing the interview, consider:
How you compile and report information is as important as how you gather it. To get the greatest benefit:
Exit interviews are valuable tools, but only if well executed and used strategically. Taking the time to figure out the purpose, goals, and approach improves the usefulness of the information gathered.
Original: September 4, 2008
Last update: February 17, 2010