8 Proven Tips to Get The Most Out of Exit Interviews

It’s rarely a good thing to learn that an employee will be leaving your organization. But there’s a silver lining to every situation. You can use the opportunity to gather valuable information from your soon-to-be-former employees. It’s common for departing employees to feel less restricted as to what they can and can not say, and they’ll usually provide you with some honest feedback – if you know how to ask for it.

We encourage companies to capitalize on employee departures by soliciting, recording, and analyzing as much information as possible. They can do this by having a comprehensive offboarding process that includes exit interviews.   

Here’s what we recommend in order to get the most out of exit interviews, and the offboarding process:

1. Use a third party

Some organizations rely entirely on third parties – like consultants or outsourced HR providers – to conduct employee exit interviews for them. Other companies use a third party to assist with specific parts of their offboarding process, like benefits administration or outplacement. There are pros and cons to using a third party to assist with the exit interview process. On the pro side, a third party usually has the ability to solicit more direct, honest feedback than the employer can. Third parties also tend to have an easier time garnering information from employees who are involuntarily terminated (aka fired) since the third party can take a more objective approach to the departure. On the negative side, third parties may not have as much in-depth familiarity with the organization’s people and processes. Therefore they may have a more difficult time addressing a departing employee’s questions or identifying specific opportunities during an exit interview. 

2. Set the tone

An exit interview is only valuable if the two participants trust each other and feel that they can have an honest discussion with one another. The exit interviewer should schedule the meeting, be prompt, and come with an agenda that fits into the allotted time.  The exit interviewer should also come to the meeting with answers to any questions the departing employee has asked in advance of the exit interview. And most importantly, the exit interviewer should attempt to build rapport with the departing employee by telling them why they are conducting the exit interview and how they intend to use the information gleaned from the exit interview. We like it when the exit interviewer tells the departing employee that they conduct exit interviews with every departing employee (so that the departing employee doesn’t feel as though they’re being singled out for an exit interview) and we like it when the exit interviewer tells the departing employee that any information they provide during the interview will be used to make things better for the company and for future employees – and that any information disclosed during the exit interview won’t be used to penalize or punish anyone. These affirmations tend to produce more insightful and honest exit interviews. 

3. Have A Quantitative Component

Consider providing every departing employee with a form that allows them to provide rankings or ratings for various categories.  You can then use the data that you collect to track trends or changes over time.  The more data you collect, the better you’ll be able to identify subtle trends or changes as they relate to how departing employees feel about the organization.  While there are platforms out there that allow you to do this, you can also customize a simple form setup like Google Forms, Jotform, or Survey Monkey.  We’ve developed an exit interview form here and have developed custom forms for companies as well. 

4. Have A Qualitative Component

In addition to the quantitative component of an exit interview, companies should also consider conducting a conversational (qualitative) exit interview to capture subtleties and dig into responses. This is also an opportunity for the company to thank the employee for their hard work, express gratitude for the employee’s tenure with the company, and exchange contact information for future discussions.  If there is only one person managing HR for an organization you can consider rolling an offboarding meeting into your Exit Interview.  The offboarding meeting usually consists of more the more technical items related to an employee’s departure such as final paycheck, return of equipment, and benefits continuation. 

5. Ask Probing Questions

During the exit interview itself, come up with a handful of questions that you ask every employee. We like to see exit interview begin with questions addressing the job itself. For example, you can ask the departing employee what hindered their success in the role, what supported their success in the role, whether the job description is accurate, and what the employee would change about the job for the next person that’s in the role.  Whoever is conducting the exit interview itself should dig into the departing employee’s responses and avoid asking questions that have yes/no answers. Other areas that the exit interviewer can focus on are the departing employee’s department, their coworkers and supervisors, and the organization as a whole. You may want to wrap up the interview by asking what sort of plans the departing employee has going forward.

6. Provide Feedback to the Team

Once the exit interview is complete and the employee has left the organization, find some time to meet with the departing employees’ team members and supervisors. During this meeting you should provide the participants with feedback that is constructive and actionable. It’s your job to be a detective-in-chief during the exit interview, to try and uncover whatever valuable information a departing employee can provide you with.  Once you have that information, it’s then your job to act as diplomat-in-chief when it comes to relaying this information to employees, supervisors, and executives.  Diplomacy and tact is critical when you provide feedback because you don’t want to come off as being accusatory or distrustful of your co-workers and company management.  You also don’t want to inadvertently tarnish a former employees reputation, or impact any relationship that your coworkers have with the former employee.

7. Timing Matters

Just like in life, timing matters when it comes to a company’s offboarding process. You’ll want to figure out if you put your qualitative interview first and before the quantitative. Or you may want to conduct an in person exit interview on the employee’s last day and then send them an exit interview questionnaire/form after their official termination date. Various methods and processes will produce varying levels of responsiveness and honesty.  The goal should always be to try to elicit the most amount of valuable feedback that you can. 

8. Keep the Door Open

Allowing for an open door policy during and after an exit interview is important because you never know what the future might hold. You may find out information from a departing employee that could prove to be extremely valuable for the company.  Or a departing employee may end up working for a competitor, vendor, partner, or client of your company.  It’s a big world out there, so make sure that you treat everyone with respect and kindness – especially during and after their departure.  

It’s important for companies to have some sort of structure to their off boarding and exit interview process.  By following these 8 proven tips you’ll be able set yourself and your organization up for success.  Feel free to reach out to us at Suitless if you have more questions about this article, exit interviews, or the offboarding process in general. 


‘Chicago Approved Exit Sign’ – www.flickr.com/photos/64873675@N00/10264204956t Photo by Matt Schumin is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.”


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