The Value of Exit Interviews

When putting the ideas for this article together, we first admitted that we do not conduct exit interviews ourselves. In being honest with each other, we realize that we fall into the same trap that other companies do. How would we improve something we do by using an exit interview process? Would we ask questions because we “think” it is the right thing to do? Or, is the reason we’ve never done it just status quo? We reflected that when someone is fired, we really do not want to go back and relive and rehash everything. When someone leaves, we are too busy trying to find a replacement. As HR industry experts, when we looked at the topic of exit interviews, there are varying opinions as to their value. So what’s the best way to conduct them both from the employee and employer perspective?

The Employee Side

If you are the employee that is leaving – either voluntarily or not – an exit interview truly is not the time to be “honest” to a fault. There is always a polite way to tell the truth. This is not the time for over sharing. Avoiding burned bridges is key, because through the Internet, we are all connected more than ever. You may wind up working for the company again if you are leaving on favorable terms. And if you are not, moving forward while maintaining the best possible relationships will help your career in the long-run. Words to remember include respectful, constructive, positive, and objective. Ideas on how to improve the company – without slamming anyone personally – are safe topics.

The Employer Side

The value of an exit interview can be realized through people, policies and procedures and may yield positive business results. Our philosophy would be to treat it like a disciplinary action by focusing on the action not the person. Having a neutral third-party independent contractor conduct exit interviews is a great way to maintain data integrity, keep it a true process, and neutralize emotions. Questions should be consistent for each employee leaving the company. Asking productive questions that can make the most impact makes sense, for example, “What is a company process that you would change and how would you improve it?” This is not an invitation for open-ended questions where the exiting employee feels free to write a narrative of their life.

An exit interview is the first step to a job interview – for the replacement person and the next position for the employee that is leaving. Ensuring that progression happens positively is the real goal. 

Written by Jim Annis, president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Peterson, Tom Miller, and Nissa Jimenez, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.