What are exit interviews? As the name implies, they are interviews given to employees as they exit a company about their experiences at the job. Since employees typically have to give two weeks notice before leaving a role (which can vary by organization), HR has a two-week window to capture crucial information about the employee’s role, their work products (laptop, etc.), and any feedback about the department and business they can provide. The goal is to have everything set up well for whoever replaces that employee and to use this opportunity to learn about the realities of the job and any issues that contributed to this turnover. That's useful info to have, right? Unfortunately, this is a tactic that's used less often than you'd think. So next time you have someone hand in their resignation, don't just shrug and wish them well or you might be missing key information that could make your company stronger.
Why don't all employers use exit interviews?
The easiest argument against exit interviews is that they occur too late in the process to get much valuable information. The employee is already basically out the door. Some managers believe that means an employee will just give a skewed view of the company, the complaints of a disgruntled worker stereotype coming quickly to the forefront of their minds. There is also the fear that an exit interview opens the manager up for criticism which is never fun to handle. But not everyone leaves for negative reasons and assuming all interview data will be negatively skewed simply because someone is moving on in their lives isn't fair. Even if they are leaving for a specific negative reason, don't you want to know what it is in case it's impacting other employees you might be in danger of losing too? Hearing feedback can be challenging sometimes but bypassing this step in your talent management program throws away a lot of useful information you may not know about your workers.
Why are exit interview beneficial?
There are benefits to an exit interview if done right, including increased employee retention efforts and identifying future learning objectives. Exit interviews also help highlight turnover trends. If a specific position is a revolving door, then that points to a management issue. If a number of people are leaving for the same reason, maybe some structural change is needed. Numerous SHRM studies over the past five years have shown that many employees want opportunities for growth from a job more than anything else, up to and including salary in many cases. If your HR department is consistently hearing this is a problem for your organization, that information can help you plan how to fix the issue in future. Or, on the flip side, if nothing can or will be changed, that information can inform candidate interviews to better prepare them for the culture and career progression they'll be stepping into.
What types of questions would you ask in an exit interview for prime effectiveness?
Just like candidate interviews, there are many ways to conduct an exit interview. While there are many examples of good questions out there, some great ones to get you started include:
Were you treated fairly by your supervisor and coworkers?
Do you believe your work was recognized and appreciated?
Did we train you properly? Too little? Too much?
Did you see opportunities for promotion within this business?
What was your perception of the work ethic of co-workers?
What about their morale?
How fairly was the workload distributed among you and your coworkers?
What could be done to make this company a better place to work?
What’s your advice to management?
What is the most attractive thing about your next position that influenced your decision to leave?
And now, a new wrinkle: What about entry interviews?
No, we don't mean your hiring interviews. These types of employee interviews happen once someone is already employed, usually as a part of a strong onboarding program. Adam Grant is actually a big proponent of this. From here:
Too often, managers don’t know enough about what work people enjoy. It spills out in exit interviews — a standard practice in every HR department to find out why talented people are leaving and what would have convinced them to stick around. But why wait until they’re on their way out the door? One of us, Adam, has worked with companies in multiple industries to design entry interviews. In the first week on the job, managers sit down with their new hires and ask them about their favorite projects they’ve done, the moments when they’ve felt most energized at work, the times when they’ve found themselves totally immersed in a state of flow, and the passions they have outside their jobs. Armed with that knowledge, managers can build engaging roles from the start.
People can get disengaged from jobs fairly fast. In some industries, a whopping 86 percent of employees can quit within the first six months -- and of those that don’t quit, you can bet a lot are looking for other jobs already. Taking the time to figure out how a new employees works best right at the start of their tenure at a company can actually have a long term impact on the length of time they stay. And really, isn't having a meeting with a new employee in their first week a simple enough thing to do?
The bottom line
You care a lot about your customers, right? If they complain, you respond instantly. Well, just start thinking of employees as internal customers. From first contact -- recruiting, sourcing -- until they choose to exit, you need to respond to their needs and concerns too in order to develop the strong corporate culture and talent management program you can. That means utilizing both entry and exit interviews to understand what drives each individual employee, then looking at the pattern of responses and designing better approaches to work.
Yes, the work must get done and that must be paramount. But these employees are with you 8-12 hours a day sometimes. They deserve to have an experience that matters to them, especially if they’re doing well and getting their projects done.
Exit and entry interviews are ways that help provide the best employee experience you can. And really, when your employees are happy, doesn't everyone win?
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