How to Conduct Productive Exit Interviews for Employees

exit interviews

Exit interviews for employees are an extremely vital and an invaluable tool to increase retention and understand how companies can improve. However, research has shown that fewer than a third of companies follow up on exit interviews with an action. Exit interviews can help employees gain a competitive edge and improve retention by showing employees that there opinions matter.

Why is it Important to Carry Out Exit Interviews for Employees?

Firstly, companies with higher turn overs perform worse than those with less turn over. This is especially true where companies with less turn over retain top employees. This is why it is of utmost importance to understand why employees depart from companies. Furthermore, skilled employees drive success. Therefore companies should keep note of why they leave or stay and listen to suggestions of improvement.

What Common Mistakes are Made When Conducting Exit Interviews for Employees?

One common mistake made when conducting exit interviews for employees is producing bad data. Poor data may result from employees being hesitant to speak out honestly in fear of creating conflict. Disgruntled employees may not feel motivated to converse with management in a lengthy manner and may check out mentally weeks before an interview takes place. Where exit interview data is poor, companies are blind of where to improve.

In addition, a lack of consensus on the best practices when carrying out exit interviews can also be a hindrance. Research into the best practices with regards to exit interviews are vague and leave many questions. Such questions may include when to carry out an exit interview and who should conduct them. In addition, the mode in which the interview takes place, whether it be over the phone or face to face, can be an important factor.

In order to understand how to solve these issues we should first look at the main goals of exit interviews.

Exit Interview Goals

Firstly, EI’s (exit interviews) should look beyond mere salaries and raises as reasons to exit. Yes, these may be an important factor, but other HR related issues may also be a factor. For example, employees may take issue with inefficient management, or have personal issues with other employees. Employers should also consider the work culture and job design and employee motivations.

Secondly, EI’s should obtain valuable insights into the companies’ leadership. This may help effective managers to receive praise and reward for their efforts. Where management is ineffective, enforcing action soon after can be a catalyst to long term benefit.

Thirdly, exit interviews for employees can be valuable in that they help companies be more aware of any competition. Other companies that employees leave for may provide a range of benefits including; higher wages, more time off and more advancement opportunities.

Additionally, employees may not remember to include all the valuable information you can receive from them during the interview. One way to combat this, is to provide “finish the sentence” type questions in written questionnaires. For example, one might ask “I wish the company paid more attention too….?”.

Finally, one of the most important goals for any exit interview is to treat the interviewee with respect. Employers should show gratitude towards employees and encourage them to be ambassadors for the company, able to recommend it as a good place to work and to do business with.

Want to boost employee retention? Read this article to found out how to do it.

Exit Interviews for employees – Tips and Tricks

Involve Management

One issue with the operation of exit interviews in many companies is the absence of appropriate line leaders. Often HR will conduct an interview and relay the information to leaders. However, this can lessen the perceived importance of the interview. Furthermore, to make the best use of the interviews, committee’s should review these on a recurring basis.

Furthermore, research from Harvard Business Review, shows that interviews conducted by lower management, such as second and third line managers, produce the most feedback. This is because these managers are in a position not too much higher than the employees. However, the use of an external HR consultant can be useful in providing a less biased perspective which can help produce more useful data. They may also be able to assist by providing their expertise in how exit interviews should be planned and operated.


The timing of the exit interview is crucial in pursuit to obtain the best data. Some argue that you should carry out exit interviews for employees halfway between the announcement to leave and the departure. Within this time frame, immediate emotions from employees should die down. To conduct an interview past this point risks the possibility of the employee mentally checking out from the position and not wanting to cooperate fully with the procedure.

Some companies may opt to carry out the interviews post departure. For high potential employees, this can be a more relaxed way of getting honest data as there has been considerable time since the departure.

Frequency of interviews

To obtain rich feedback from exit interviews, employers may wish to conduct several interviews. Some suggest that employers should conduct one interview prior to departure and another post departure. This is a good way to gain honest responses and allow the interviewee some time to reflect on their employment. A recent study shows that 59% of former employees who receive questionnaires by mail give unique feedback, different from prior interviews.

Methods and Structure

Face to face exit interviews for employees are common as they provide a more personal touch to the interview and indicate a level of respect for the employees. However, phone call interviews are also beneficial in that they allow for greater honesty as it can be hard to be critical towards people and companies in person. If a company chooses to carry out several interviews then taking on different forms for each can help produce more consistent data.

The difference between structured and unstructured meetings both produce their own benefits and drawbacks. For instance, unstructured interviews can help allow for more unpredictable insights yet they can be difficult to record effectively, especially when trying to compare them to other exit interview data. Thus the benefit of structured interviews is that they can help companies spot consistent patterns. However, unlike unstructured interviews, these can often neglect potential data that may come about from topics not covered. A solution here for employers is to conduct interviews with a mix of structured and unstructured elements.

Interviewer Tips

Interviews should carry out interviews in a friendly and open manner. They should be patient, allowing disgruntled employees to vent without interruption. The key here is to create a safe atmosphere that encourages discussion as this will help produce the most data. The implementation of open ended questions allows employees to answer more in depth about their time with the company and perhaps suggest more specific improvements that can be made.

Usage of EI Data

As a company consolidates EI data, they must make sure to respect the sensitivity and privacy of those who have provided the data. This is increasingly important where criticisms arise from upper management. Companies should reflect on exit interview data on a consistent basis, for example, on an annual basis. Those tasked with analysing the data, should present any resulting action that should be taken.

For more information regarding conducting exit interviews or for further HR support, contact us.