7 tips for handling exit interviews

Harness the benefits of exit interviews by incorporating these ideas into your process.

Exit interviews are conducted to gather information from departing employees to help the company improve working conditions, retain existing employees and identify problem areas within the organisation. With the competition for talent high, so is the cost of lost talent. Thus, employers can't afford to assume exiting workers' motivations. One of the great aspects of exit interviews is that the departing employee often feels less concerned about the ramifications of 'treading on toes' and hence is typically willing to provide extremely open and honest feedback about their reasons for leaving and their thoughts about what the company could do to improve. When used properly, the information you receive could increase operational efficiency, boost employee morale and create a more profitable company. However, while exit interviews clearly have their place and are a vital tactic for any organisation serious about retaining their staff, there are many pitfalls to avoid.

Here are seven things to consider regarding the way you conduct exit interviews.

1 Consider online surveys. One of the main arguments against exit interviews is that, because the departing employee would not want to burn bridges, they will not give honest feedback, painting a rosier picture of what they think of the organisation than they would if they were being completely honest. This is a major reason to consider doing exit interviews via an online survey.

2 Don’t try to convince people to stay. Never, ever use an exit interview to try to get a resigning employee to reconsider their decision and stay. Once an employee submits a resignation, they're lost  emotionally and mentally if not physically. No matter how much it hurts, accept the fact, cut your losses, find out what you can and leave it at that.

3 Remember each case is unique. Treat each exit interview separately. There are no standard questions. Ask questions specific to the resigning employee, their job and their experience in your business. You set the tone. You'll get the quality of information you deserve. 

4 Prepare and be precise. Prepare all questions in advance. If issues arise that require further questioning, follow them up. Don't rely on your memory. Write down what resigning employees actually say instead of interpreting their answers as this can lead to misinterpretation. Also, avoid broad, imprecise questions like "Why are you leaving?" or "What's making you leave?"  If you want facts start your questions with "how", "what", "when", "which" and "where"... even "who”.

5 Beware interviewer bias. Just as it can impact the process of hiring interviewer subjectivity can be a problem for evaluating exiting employees. If an interviewer has a preconception about the exiting individual, he or, she may subconsciously direct the interview in such a way as to confirm views already held. This is why it is always better to ensure the exit interview is conducted by someone that the departing employee is comfortable with.

6 Look for objectivity. Try to balance the positive with the negative. As much as it will help to find out what the resining employee did not like about the organisation, find out what they did appreciate. This helps you to evaluate the objectivity of a person’s responses. This way you can tell the difference between an employee with an axe to grind our someone who genuinely believes in the process. 

7 Apply the feedback you get. Employees will not complete their exit interviews if they believe that the feedback they provide will not be read or will be promptly ignored. It is important to let employees know that you value their input.