Onboarding 4 min

How to Make the Most of Exit Interviews

October 8, 2019

Most HR professionals are wired to attract talent rather than excavate insights from people who want to call it quits—the rationale being, why bother with someone who is as good as gone?

But if you aren’t running exit interviews with employees who chose to leave your organization, you might be doing yourself a disservice. That’s because there’s an $8.5 trillion shortage of great talent, which makes it everything but easy to find new high-quality hires.

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There’s more: replacing a departing employee costs between 20-21 percent of their salary because you’ll be forced to start the costly recruitment, hiring, and onboarding dance all over again.

So instead of chasing new talent, it’s best to get insights into the reasons for your employees’ resignation (i.e., run a solid exit interview), and flatline your employee turnover rate.

Explain the “Why”

Here’s the bitter truth: most departing employees are skeptical of exit interviews. That’s because all too often companies conduct them to either play blame games or try to get the employees to stay with the company.

The good news? You can flip things around if you set the record straight right from the start.

First, assure the employees who opted to leave that you want to understand their motivations to seek alternative employment. Then emphasize the fact that you want to make positive changes and improve your company culture thanks to their honesty and constructive feedback.

Once employees that want to resign know the reasons for an interview, they’ll be more willing to come forward and share their thoughts.

Use Timing to Your Advantage

Most companies run exit interviews during the last week of a departing employee’s stay. But by that time, the person has usually mentally checked out and is long disengaged. They are poised to bid co-workers adieu and hit the road for greener pastures.

There are two solutions. First, you could run an interview halfway between when a departing employee told you they want to resign and their actual leaving. The employee’s initial rush of emotions will run dry by then, and they’ll be engaged enough to share honest feedback.

Another option is to conduct an exit interview one month after the employee left the organization. There’s a good chance the person will unplug by then and get a better perspective on the situation, which, in the end, will enable you to have a more honest discussion.

Get the Right Person to Run an Exit Interview

You probably know that most employees don’t quit their job, they quit their manager. So, if an exit interview is run by the direct manager of a departing employee, chances are it’ll have the same impact on the manager’s performance as a fly has on a windshield.

It’s better to put an HR representative or a second-line manager in the driver’s seat and let them run the interview. Because both HR professionals and second-line managers are in the buffer zone (e.g., they are one step removed from the departing employee), it’ll allow them to elicit more honest feedback. What’s more, they will have the power to introduce changes based on the employees’ suggestions.

Ask the Right Questions for Maximum Impact

While exit interviews are usually emotionally intense for everyone involved, you need to put your feelings aside and become the Swiss Army knife of data extraction. To help you get the most from your exit interviews, here is a list of 14 questions grouped into several categories:

Role-Specific Questions

  • Did you receive quality training in the workplace? In your opinion, how effective was it on a scale of 1-10?
  • Did the role meet your expectations?
  • Were you recognized enough for your accomplishments by your direct manager and/or your peers?
  • Did you have clear goals within the role and did you know what was expected of you?
  • What did you like about your work? Was it rewarding, challenging, or too easy?
  • What made you accept your current job?

Reasons for Leaving

  • Why did you decide to leave the company? Can you name the top three reasons?
  • How did your direct manager and peers treat you?
  • In general, what do you think about working at our company?
  • Is there anything our company could have done to prevent you from leaving?

Suggested Changes

  • What can be improved in your particular department and/or the company as a whole? Can you name the top three to five things?
  • What do you like the least about the work environment?
  • What can we do better to improve things in the future?
  • Would you like to add anything? Perhaps you’d like to share something we didn’t talk about?

What Do You Think?

There you have it—four tips on how to run an exit interview. Taking the time and effort to do offboarding right for your departing employees can lead to many benefits down the road. For more info on the offboarding process as a whole, check out this guide from BambooHR.

About the Author

Max Woolf is a writer at Zety. He’s passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries. You can hit him up on LinkedIn.

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