Having a valued employee leave is something no business owner looks forward to. But whether you like it or not, moving onto a new opportunity is a natural process, especially today, when the average annual employee turnaround rate is 19%.
But while that can be frustrating, there are ways how you can at least turn it into a learning experience, gaining insights about your company and how you could improve in the future.
And that’s where conducting an exit interview can be so useful.
If used correctly and according to the exit interview best practices, they can become a powerful tool in any company’s arsenal that can have massive implications in its long-term success.
With that in mind, let’s look at what an exit interview is, why they’re worth it, and how to organize exit interviews in a way that will generate the most powerful results for your business.
What is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is a meeting between someone from your company and the employee that is about to leave the company. These interviews can be used in situations when an employee is being fired, as well as when they are leaving on their own.
Usually, an exit interview is structured to allow employees to talk about their experience working at the company and is generally performed by an HR person or someone with a senior position.
There are a set of questions that the interviewer will go through, guiding the conversation to learn insights about the motivations behind leaving or better understand the conditions leading to the firing or termination.
Sometimes, in addition to the questions, employees can also be informed about benefits, contractual agreements, and other obligations between them and the employer.
Are Exit Interviews Worth It?
In many companies, exit interviews are little more than a formality. The interviewer asks the pre-arranged questions, notes the answers, and everyone moves on without taking anything from the conversation.
That’s one of the main reasons why exit interviews get a bad rep. They feel like a waste of time because companies just aren’t sure how to use the information they obtain.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, if you choose the right exit interview questions and have a plan for using that information, these interviews can become one of the biggest difference-makers in how you look at employee satisfaction, employee retention, and attracting top talent.
After all, an exit interview’s primary purpose is to allow the employee to talk about their experiences with your company. Sure, hearing things they didn’t like isn’t the most fun thing you could be doing, and some of the critiques might just be the employee venting their frustration without any real cause.
However, if you take a more systematic approach to exit interviews, you will likely discover that there’s much more to what you can gain.
For instance, you may start noticing trends and common themes in multiple interviews you conduct. Something that might look like a one-off occurrence might actually be a signal of deeper problems within your company that causes people to quit.
And that’s a revelation that could save your company from dire consequences in the future.
Without exit interviews, you would have no way to know that multiple employees were unhappy about an issue, looking at each person leaving as an individual occurrence instead of something that should be addressed on a company level.
At the same time, an exit interview can be a way to look at what you’re doing well and learn how to build on those good practices. You can understand why employees chose your company in the first place and what they loved the most and then use this information to better emphasize the benefits of working for you to future candidates.
Finally, an exit interview helps ensure that you and the employee part ways on good terms.
Today, when top talent is hard to come by, listening to their concerns and ensuring that they are content can help you maintain a stronger connection to former employees, which can help build the reputation of your company culture and increase the likelihood of that employee returning in the future.
In my course, Managing Happiness, I help leaders and managers find the right work-life balance and also understand the underlying principles that make people want to stay with a company.
The fundamental principles of the program are a great foundation for implementing company-wide change that will make your employees more fulfilled and happier in their current position.
What Makes a Good Exit Interview?
It’s clear that exit interviews can come with powerful benefits. But only if you know how to use them correctly.
Let’s look at some of the vital exit interview best practices and goals so that you can actually use the insights that you gain for improving your company culture.
Make It Personal
The best exit interviews are usually conducted one-on-one and in person. Because of the pandemic, the latter might not always be possible, but focusing on making it a personal experience for the interviewee can help provide much more valuable insights.
By talking directly, you’ll have a much better chance of getting the person to open up, and the flow of the conversation will allow them to speak more freely.
If you want the employee to answer the exit interview questions truthfully and with as much detail as necessary, they must feel comfortable, and thus having more than one person is not advisable if you don’t want the interviewee to become more protective about what they can say.
Choose the Right Environment
At the same time, the environment can also play a vital role in how successful the interview can be.
Sometimes, the employee might not be leaving on the best terms, which can impact their state of mind at the time of the interview.
If you want them to maintain a level head and be more objective in their answers, choosing a quiet and neutral environment that will allow them to relax and be more open is essential.
The biggest advantage of exit interviews is learning insights about what you could improve as a company. But for that to happen, the questions need to be consistent and follow a similar structure.
Sure, you should allow the interviewee to deviate and expand on their answers as much as they want, but the general form and the types of questions you ask should remain consistent so that you can compare the main points from different interviews.
What Are the Best Exit Interviews Questions?
Figuring out what questions you should ask during an exit interview can be tricky. And because every organization is unique, there’s no cookie-cutter solution you can copy and use without any adjustments.
However, there are some themes that you should consider including, with a few questions that can help you get the most insights about what your employees care about and how you can do better in the future.
The questions we’ll discuss below are by no means a comprehensive list. But they can be a good starting point that you can build upon as you gain more experience with putting together exit interview questions.
Why are you leaving your position?
The first question is the most straightforward and obvious, but it’s also potentially the most impactful and insightful.
Sometimes, you might already know why the employee is leaving (especially if they are being fired), but hearing their perspective and their thoughts on the situation can still provide new insights and ideas for preventing this from happening again.
Do you think the company supported your career goals?
Today’s employees care about their career path and have clearly established career goals they aspire to reach.
Every time an employee decides to leave, chances are that the position or your company was lacking in some of the essential qualities that they look at as critical for professional growth.
For instance, perhaps your company is lacking in delegation and your employees feel like they don’t have enough autonomy.
Learning about these areas can be instrumental in helping you cater to your current employees better and prevent more people from leaving because of the same reasons.
What do you think management could improve in the future?
As a company, you should pay close attention to the relationships between employees and their superiors.
If you allow bad habits and culture issues to develop, they can be tough to undo, so keeping tabs on how the superior/subordinate relationship functions should always be at the top of your priority list.
Instilling good management practices is an essential part of improving employee retention. Hearing about issues from employees who are leaving can provide valuable insights to make impactful changes.
What did you like the most?
Many exit interview questions are more focused on the negative experiences that the employee might have had.
But it’s equally important to look for positives and ask them to highlight what they liked the most so that you can emphasize these unique benefits your company offers when attracting top talent in the future.
Would you recommend the company to others? And why?
If you want to attract the best talent from other companies, you need to take a proactive approach to improving your company’s reputation.
Word of mouth will always be much more potent than anything you can say yourself, so asking employees about whether they’d recommend you as an employee to their peers can provide many useful insights.
What’s the most important thing you consider when choosing an employer?
Finally, if they’re leaving for a different position, you want to find out what drew them to that particular company.
Even though this is largely subjective, seeing the areas they emphasize or how the other company managed to position itself can help you improve your own positioning and shift the focus to where it can make the biggest difference.
What would make you reconsider leaving?
If you want the employee to stay, you may ask them if there’s anything that would make them reconsider staying.
You might discover that the things the employee felt were lacking can be addressed relatively easily and that it might be worth meeting their requests if that would allow you to retain a valuable employee.
Exit interviews are not the most exciting part of running a company. But when executed correctly, they can have a massive impact on your company’s long-term success.
What do you think about the exit interview’s role in today’s companies? And what questions do you think should be included in the list above? Let me know in the comments!