How to Conduct an Exit Interview

A manager asks legal interview questions.

There are many good reasons to create an exit interview process. They can facilitate smoother departures and mitigate liability, but the primary reason is that they can improve recruitment and retention.

With all the good reasons to include this critical step in the offboarding process, it’s no surprise that a majority of employers either survey or meet with employees before their official departure. What is surprising, however, is how few employees agree to take part in exit interviews and how few employers adhere to HR best practices, such as having more than one manager present or using standard questions to allow for data analysis.

Implementing a more effective process can improve parting employees’ perception of their employers, increasing the odds that top performers will someday return to the fold, and decreasing the likelihood that they will speak negatively about their tenure.

What Is an Exit Interview?

It’s an interview conducted with employees who are nearing the end of their tenure and it’s an essential component of the offboarding process. These interviews typically fulfill two important functions:

  1. They allow the departing employee to speak freely about elements of their role and your workplace that they enjoyed and those that they think could use improvement.
  2. They allow HR managers to go over a departing employee’s rights and obligations.

It is best to split these functions into two separate interviews. If your departing employee gives you two weeks’ notice, try to schedule the feedback interview for the first week and the meeting to go over the employee’s rights and obligations during the second week.

What You Need to Accomplish in Exit Interviews

Failing to take offboarding seriously enough can result in lost opportunities to improve efficiency, hiring practices, and company culture.

Your exit interview process should review the following employee benefits and responsibilities:

  • Official departure date
  • Return of work-related equipment
  • Continuation of health coverage (COBRA), if applicable
  • Pay for unused paid time off (PTO), such as earned vacation time
  • Non-compete clauses, confidentiality, and other employment agreements the employee is expected to adhere to post-employment
  • How the departing employee would like their departure announcement worded

These procedures can be part of a review of rights and procedures meeting. You should set up a separate meeting to allow exiting employees to share their thoughts on their role, managers, and workplace. This information-gathering meeting can take place in person, via video chat, or by phone.

To differentiate these two functions, you may want to use different wording to refer to them. For example, you might call the highly formatted meeting designed to review paperwork, rights, obligations, and other aspects of the separation package a “separation meeting,” and refer to the informational meeting as an “exit interview.”

Best Practices

Adhering to the following procedures can help you make the most of the data you gather:

  • Devise a standard set of questions that you ask at every exit interview, or better yet, pair a conversational exit interview with an anonymous survey to obtain trackable data.
  • Track data you gather from exit interviews. Look for areas of commonality. This data can help you determine which shortcomings in your workplace culture, hiring processes, and management strategy should have the highest priority.
  • If a departing employee has given two weeks’ notice (or more), try to schedule their exit interview for the first week.
  • Begin interviews by making sure participants know they can choose not to answer any questions they are uncomfortable answering.
  • Have at least two people present—one to lead the discussion and one to take notes. If your organization is large enough, it will likely be helpful to have both interviewers from a separate department, preferably HR with a manager from the same department taking the lead. (It’s best not to have a direct manager in the meeting so people can give honest feedback about their manager and day-to-day work.)
  • Don’t take criticism personally. Try to see everything that is said as an opportunity to look further into those aspects of your workplace and make improvements.
  • Ask if you can follow up in a few weeks or even a couple of months in case the employee thinks of other aspects of their experience that they think might help you to improve the workplace.

Offboarding As a Result of Layoffs or Termination

All employees should be invited to take part in your exit interview or survey process, even those who are leaving due to layoffs or being fired for cause, though for these employees you may need to amend the parameters.

Rather than assuring confidentiality, for example, you’ll want to make it clear that you will be keeping the interview notes on file. This will allow you to attest to which questions were asked and how they were answered if your outgoing employee decides to sue you for wrongful termination.

Be ready to cut an exit interview short if it becomes overheated or if the exiting employee mentions the possibility of legal action.

Exit Procedures for Employees Leaving on Good Terms

It can be bittersweet when valued employees choose to leave, whether it’s to pursue another opportunity, change careers, continue their education, or retire. These transitions can be especially hard when they occur at a small company or in a close-knit team. So before you jump into scheduling an exit interview, try to set up a stay interview, where you attempt to find out if there are any conditions under which your valued employee might be prepared to continue in your employ.

If you can’t convince your departing employee to stay, there is a bright side: Top performers tend to be highly motivated to provide you with thorough and helpful information during an exit interview. You just need to ask the right questions.

For example, don’t just ask why they are leaving. Highly professional workers will be reluctant to burn bridges and are likely to hedge their answer to this question. Instead, ask what prompted them to start looking for a new opportunity outside your workplace or what they are most excited about in their new role. This will be more likely to provoke an honest answer that will reveal aspects of your organization that are coming up short.

Above all, emphasize that data gained from the interview will be used to improve the company culture for their remaining coworkers and team members.

Use Data Gathered from Your Exit Interviews to Optimize Your Job Posts

Once you’ve used your exit interview data to optimize your job descriptions and improve your recruiting strategies, it’s time to extend your reach with a job post from Monster today.