4 Tips for Conducting Exit Interviews

One inescapable fact in today's business climate: Some employees will leave. Some find opportunities for bigger titles and/or more money, while others leave for greater autonomy, better work/life balance or just something new or different.

It's never easy to lose good people and sometimes even losing mediocre employees has the sting of rejection. With that said, use it as an opportunity to conduct an exit interview and listen to what those former employees have to say. Nobody wants to hear criticism, but asking tough questions and, more importantly, listening to the answers with an open mind is the start to shoring up your business's areas of vulnerability.

At this point, both parties have moved on, so you have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain by conducting a formal exit interview. The now former employee hopefully keeps it professional and is transparent in their feedback on their genuine reasons for leaving.

That feedback helps you answer questions like: Should we review our compensation plans? Are our career paths well defined and communicated effectively to the staff? Have we explored alternative work options such as work from home, flex schedules, etc.? Whatever the issues are, have we looked in the mirror and genuinely considered changes that benefits the organization and its employees?

Here are four tips to consider if you decide to conduct regular exit interviews (and I hope you will):

  1. Keep them brief and to the point. Discuss the reasons why the person decided to leave and ask for recommendations or feedback on what would have retained them (if possible).
  2. Remove emotion from the conversation. Everyone has decided to part ways so there is nothing gained by bringing emotion into the conversation -- keep it all business.
  3. Leave the door open. Many times the grass is not greener on the other side and good employees genuinely regret leaving. Leave the door open to revisiting their return. I personally know many very successful people who returned to their previous employer after a short stint away -- more committed and genuinely appreciative (now) of the company -- after having experienced other environments.
  4. Request mutual discretion. No one benefits from bashing the other. Don’t disparage departing employees to your staff and request that they don’t disparage you or your firm with your remaining employees.

Bottom line: Exit interviews can be a somewhat painful discussion. Listening to someone tell you why they decided someone else had a better opportunity is not an easy thing to hear. However, when used as a learning opportunity, you can find areas of improvement that you can implement to reduce the chance of additional departures.

If you have exit interview experiences or feedback, please share with me in the comments section.

Thank you.