From “Welcome Aboard” to “All the Best”: An Insider’s Guide to Effective Exit Interviews

An Insider’s Guide to Effective Exit Interviews

The key to unlocking your company’s potential lies in your departing employees’ hands.

As soon as an employee hands in their two weeks’ notice, a new hiring process begins. While you’re knee-deep in crafting job ads, sizing up potential candidates and pinpointing that next all-star addition to your team, have you ever thought about what’s the very last contribution the departing employee can make? Probably not. The answer is: sitting in on exit interviews.

Don’t take exit interviews the wrong way; they’re not some corporate ploy companies use to squeeze every last drop from their employees prior to their departure. In simpler terms, an exit interview is a meeting between an employee who’s leaving the company and a representative from the human resources (HR) department. If done properly, an exit interview can shed light on the whys and wherefores of staff departures, reveal internal challenges, improve employee retention and guide businesses to improve the workplace culture for current and future team members.

If the above has lit your light bulb about the weight exit interviews hold, and it just so happens that you’ve been handed two weeks’ notice lately, this guide to HR best practices on effective exit interviews is for you.

Before an exit interview, be sure to—

Schedule the interview at the right time

As most employees provide two weeks’ notice, exit interviews should be penciled in around a week prior to their departure to ensure they are still engaged and willing to share their experiences in both their position and with the company at large.

That said, some companies prefer conducting exit interviews after the employees have left the company, aiming for a more casual, relaxed conversation. This gives the employees more space to answer questions with zero stress about landing in hot water or inviting any downers because of their words.

Prepare in advance

Every employee’s experience is unique, so even if you think you can conduct an exit interview in your sleep, it’s still important to plan ahead for each one individually. From selecting an interviewer and drafting interview questions to becoming familiar with the employee’s role and responsibilities and finding a conducive environment for the meeting, every step counts in the quest for an effective exit interview.

Leave bosses out of the meeting

Whether the departing employee has a good boss or not, leaving higher-ups out of the exit interview is a must. Since employees’ true thoughts might not be music to the higher-ups’ ears, having a direct supervisor sit in on the interview can lead departing employees to bite their tongues.

That’s why picking the right interviewer is a crucial step. Instead of having the direct supervisor be the interviewer, it’s better to have an HR representative conduct one-to-one meetings behind closed doors. This way, the employees can reveal their experience with no holds barred.

During the interview, remember to—

Explain the interview process

Before getting the conversation flowing, explain to the employees the purpose and goal of the interview as well as how the collected information will be used. If you have a written survey ready for the employees to pen down their thoughts either at the beginning or toward the end of the meeting, give them a heads-up about it. The bottom line is to make things as crystal clear for the employees as possible, so they won’t be caught off guard by any arrangements they’re unprepared for. Also, underline and assure the employees that what’s discussed in the room will only stay in the room.

Ask the right questions

While you may not want the meeting to appear scripted, you should take the time to put pen to paper and brainstorm some interview questions you’ll ask. This will pave the way for a conversation that’s enlightening enough to grease the wheels of your company. Be mindful, though, that these questions should be brief and constructive without veering into personal (i.e., targeting specific individuals) or negative territory, or you risk turning the conversation into gossip and office drama.

Here are some effective interview questions to consider asking:

  • Why did you decide to leave our company?
  • How was your overall experience working here?
  • What did you appreciate most about our company?
  • How can we improve as a company?
  • Did you think you received adequate support in your role?
  • Is there anything you wish to change about your role (e.g., onboarding process, employee benefits, training and development, career advancement, work-life balance)?

In short, don’t beat around the bush. Be selective and only shoot for questions that will contribute to your company’s long-term growth and success.

Be respectful and professional

Much like other kinds of face-to-face business communication, exit interviews are an occasion that deserves your respect and professionalism. By listening actively and attentively while documenting employees’ insights, you can make them feel valued and that their words matter.

When more than one leaving employee points the finger at the same issue, it may be a red flag, indicating that there’s something wrong with your company that you’ve been blind to, whether it’s a managerial or organizational challenge.

Even if you disagree with any points the employee makes, refrain from being dismissive, defensive or judgmental. This can lead to the conversation ending on a negative note while tarnishing your workplace persona and even the company’s image.

After the interview, don’t forget to—

Ask if you can share the responses with management

While you’ve promised that every word shared in the interview is under lock and key, you don’t want valuable advice that can help improve your company to wind up in the trash. That’s why you should ask employees if you can share their responses with management before giving the final handshake.

Since all the questions you ask should be objective and constructive instead of personal, sharing the responses with supervisors or other higher-ups should never make anyone feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back or tarnish others’ image.

Get ready to implement the feedback from the interview

If your employees green-light the circulation of their thoughts, it’s time for you to go back to your notes, ponder how to put those insights to work and give your business a much-needed boost.

Consider putting constructive pieces of feedback on the agenda and sharing them at the next board meeting, as that’s when your company’s bright minds gather and put together plans for the present and future. With solid feedback-driven plans in place, you can rest assured that your company will shape up step by step.

Follow up timely

Once you’ve rolled out new initiatives sparked by feedback from former employees, don’t shy away from sharing the updates with them. Even though they’re no longer on your team, it’s a golden opportunity to prove that your company did take what’s said in the exit interview to heart, enhancing the company’s reputation.

Waving goodbye to anyone on your team is always a bitter pill. However, on the bright side, this could be the time to bring in new blood and breathe new life into your company. With luck, this could be a new chapter in your business.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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