How to Conduct an Effective Exit Interview

Two People Talking in an Office

Eric Audras / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images 

An exit interview is a meeting with a terminating employee that is generally conducted by a human resources staff member. The exit interview provides your organization with the opportunity to obtain frank and honest feedback from the employee who is leaving your employment.

Managers and supervisors are also encouraged to conduct exit interviews. When trust exists, the exit interview feedback is useful for organizational improvement and development.

The exit interview is an integral component of your employment ending process because the information you obtain can make major improvements in your organization. In some organizations, the exit interview is conducted as a part of the employment termination meeting in addition to the rest of the steps on the employment termination checklist.

Ask Questions, and Pay Close Attention

You will want to listen carefully to what you are told in an exit interview and make sure that you ask a lot of questions. This will help ensure that you are hearing what the employee is saying and what he or she is not saying. Both are important. It is easy to make a leap of faith and assume that you understand what the employee is describing, but the employee's words may not accurately convey the employee's true feelings.

During an exit interview, being attuned to the employee's subtle differences in meaning is crucial to the usefulness of the information you receive. It's also best to write down what the employee says because you don't want to trust your memory.

Understanding the Positive Aspects of Employment 

By understanding the positive aspects of employment with your organization, it will be easier to retain critical employees and improve workplace productivity.

Because you are allowed to ask almost any question in an exit interview, it's a good time to inquire about compensation and benefits at competing companies. You may discover you top the list. You could also ask the person that is leaving for any positive information they want to share about managers, the organizational mission, the vision of the company, and if your organization excels at communication.

Creating a Comfortable Environment 

The key to conducting an effective exit interview is to create an environment in which the exiting employee is comfortable providing honest feedback. The organizational culture that fosters useful exit interview feedback is one in which employees are comfortable sharing ideas openly are encouraged to criticize processes, and methods and are never punished for sharing their thoughts.

Distill Employee Anxiety

You need to assure the employee who is leaving that the feedback he or she provides will be combined with other employee feedback and presented to management in an aggregated format. This helps distill any anxiety on the part of the employee that there will be reprisals for less than positive feedback.

Employees are concerned about their reputations, and they worry about how the exit interview data will be used. They want to be assured that if they run into their manager or coworkers in the future, their information has been kept private.

How you quit your job can affect your future. So employees worry about burning bridges and leaving the employer with a less than favorable impression if they speak too honestly at an exit interview. Your goal is to create an environment in which the employee trusts that their feedback is used in an aggregated format with the goal of improving the organization.

Ask the Most Important Question

Finally, make sure that every exit interview contains the most critical question that you need to ask the employee. You want to know what caused the employee to start looking for a new job in the first place.

Yes, marvelous opportunities do fall into a person's lap, and job offers to move up the managerial ladder occur on occasion, as well. However, for your average employee who is leaving, you want to know why the employee was open to a new job and why he or she was looking in the first place.