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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Exit Interview

What Is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is a discussion that allows a departing employee and their organization to exchange information, usually on that employee’s last day of work. Typically the exit interview is an opportunity for the employee to explain their reasons for leaving and provide feedback about their experience working for the organization. 

This exchange could happen in a face-to-face interview between the employee and a manager or HR, or it could simply be a survey which the employee fills out and turns in. For the most effective communication, we recommend the first option.

Note: An exit interview is not required by law and some employers choose not to conduct them. An employer can’t require an exiting employee to complete an exit interview unless they signed an employment contract that specifically states otherwise.

Benefits of Effective Exit Interviews

When done well, exit interviews can be a great tool for organizations to collect open and honest feedback that will ultimately help improve their employees’ experience moving forward. 

Other benefits of an effective employee exit interview include:

  • Amicable Parting: Considering 15 percent of employees have returned to work for a former employer after leaving (a practice called boomeranging), making sure employees depart on a positive note is important. A well-conducted exit interview can help guarantee that.

  • Orderly Departure: An employee exit interview can help you set up an orderly departure by wrapping up any lingering obligations like equipment returns, non-compete clauses, intellectual property agreements and more.

  • Comfortable Q&A: Employees may have a few questions that they’d like to ask for clarity and closure, and an exit interview can be the perfect setting for those.

  • Private Communication: Some departing employees may have lingering frustrations and complaints they’d like to express. If you don’t give them a chance to do it in an exit interview, they may air their grievances publicly instead. Not only can this damage your company’s brand, but it could also mean your organization is missing out on vital feedback before it’s too late.

When Should Exit Interviews Be Conducted?

An exit interview should be scheduled a week in advance and conducted on the last day of employment. 

When scheduling, it can be helpful to include a survey or list of questions that will be asked during the interview. This gives the employee a chance to gather their thoughts, prepare what they want to say and feel more comfortable speaking up. Plus, it provides the interviewer with a preview of the employee’s feedback so the conversation can be better guided and more productive.

Unfortunately, several things can be revealed in interviews that, if known earlier, could have been addressed and resolved well before the employee decided to leave. Having open and regular communication between the employee and HR throughout employment is critical for retainment.

How to Conduct an Effective Exit Interview

To make the most of an exit interview, you need to establish the right expectations, keep an open mind and be prepared. Each interview will be different because each employee leaves for their own reasons and under their own circumstances, but you should try to apply the same practices and principles to each one. 

Try some of these exit interview tips for the best results:

  • Communicate the purpose when scheduling the meeting.

  • Ask someone other than the employee’s direct manager to conduct the interview.

  • Encourage openness by reinforcing confidentiality.

  • Outline appropriate and useful questions beforehand.

  • Express excitement and support for their new opportunity.

  • Implement feedback to improve other employees’ experiences.

What Questions Should I Ask In an Exit Interview?

There are a great number of exit interview questions you could ask, but it's best to narrow them down by choosing those that will help HR improve the work environment and retain employees. Also, asking for specific examples in feedback can be very helpful to other employees and the company as a whole.

We recommend HR professionals choose no more than 10 of the following questions to maintain the right focus :

  • Why are you leaving the company?

  • What does the new company/position offer that we don’t?

  • What could we have done to retain you?

  • Would you ever consider returning to our company?

  • Were you comfortable talking with your manager about any concerns you had?

  • What could your manager have done better?

  • Were you given helpful feedback and clear objectives?

  • What was the best part of your job? The worst?

  • What do you wish was different about this job?

  • How can we improve our training and development program?

  • How would you describe (and how do you feel about) our company culture?

  • Did you feel valued here?

  • How can we improve employee morale?

  • Would you refer a friend to our company?

  • What qualities should we look for in your replacement?

What Does HR Do With Exit Interviews?

Retention strategy is one of the main focuses of HR—the most pressing reason being that losing an employee is incredibly expensive for a business. It’s nearly 33 percent of an employee’s annual salary (and possibly much higher). 

Through exit interviews, Human Resources can lower employee turnover and its associated costs. They can do this by using the feedback gathered in the interview to learn from a leaving employee’s experiences. 

HR carefully reviews every bit of information shared and uses it to improve current and future employee experiences. They first redact all personal data and then perform a quarterly or annual analysis to find trends (e.g., if a certain company policy negatively impacted a group of employees or a lack of trust in a certain manager).

Some revelations require HR to pursue internal investigations or report a potential crime to law enforcement.