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7 Tips for Conducting Practical Exit Interviews

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Why do you interview job candidates before you hire them?

The answer should be obvious here: You want to learn more about who they are as a professional in terms of their work style, skills and qualifications to name a few.

What's less obvious is the answer to the question of why you should interview an employee who's on his or her way out. While exit interviews are fairly common, it's not always apparent as to why exactly you should be conducting them.

What is an exit interview and why should you have one with every departing employee?

Entrepreneur defined an exit interview as a "voluntary, verbal interview" between a departing employee and an HR rep, or in some cases, upper management. This meeting takes place within a few days of the employee's last day.

"Conducting an exit interview has great practical value for your business."

The purpose of the exit interview is to get workers' honest feedback on several aspects of their work life during their tenure. How did they feel they were treated by management and their colleagues? What are their thoughts on various work processes? How would they rate their overall satisfaction?

Getting your now-former employee's input at this time is critical because they often have the most candid insights. They are generally less afraid of repercussions on their way out and will generally be more honest and frank about what could be better about the company than if they were planning on sticking around.

Conducting an exit interview has great practical value for your business because you can improve your company using the insights you can glean from them, making you more likely to attract and retain top-shelf talent going forward. Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of an exit interview.

1. Reassure the interviewee that they won't face any repercussions for being honest

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, before the interview begins, you should make sure the interviewee understands that he or she won't face any blowback for giving candid feedback. The whole point of the interview is to get unvarnished opinions about the work experience at your company.

This is difficult to achieve if the employee is worried about damaging his or her chances at getting a good recommendation later on. Make it know that honest feedback is important and valuable to you and won't be used against your former workers.

2. Give the employee a list of questions that will be asked during the interview

Giving the questions to the interviewee ahead of time allows for advance preparation. Rather than having to come up with answers to your questions on the spot, he or she will have time to think about what they want to express. This will facilitate a true discussion and make it feel less like an interrogation.

3. Ask open-ended questions

The University of South Carolina Human Resources Division recommended asking only open-ended questions. Ask "what, how, when and why" questions to get the interviewee to go into depth about what it was like to work in the company. This will also allow you avoid only getting yes or no answers, which provide little insight.

The university also recommended avoiding questions about specific coworkers or managers. Even in a completely confidential interview, exiting employees may be reluctant to talk about specific people for a number of reasons.

An exit interview should always be a one-on-one, confidential meeting so the departing employee can feel comfortable in giving honest feedback.
4. Pay attention to nonverbal cues

Perhaps the strongest reason for conducting these interviews in person is that you can pick up on nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language. If during a certain point during the conversation, the employee becomes visibly tensed or starts to frown, you may be hitting on a point of contention that could be worth exploring further.

You want to learn as much as possible and keeping an eye on how the interviewee acts can help you get a complete picture of what's really on his or her mind, even if what they're saying seems harmless.

5. Take extensive notes

"If multiple employees lodge the same complaints as one another, it may be time to institute some changes in your workplace."

There isn't a point in doing exit interviews if you're not going to use them for anything. Take notes on everything that you deem worth remembering for the future. This will include the answers to your questions as well as the tone of voice and body language the interviewee used when speaking.

6. Look at the results, but take note of the sample size

A departing worker may have staunch complaints about a certain part of your business, but that's not necessarily a reason to take dramatic action right away. However, if multiple employees lodge the same complaints as one another, it may be time to institute some changes in your workplace.

7. Share the results with relevant stakeholders

After a few interviews, you'll have a good idea of what your team's pain points are. Share this with management and HR so everyone can be aware of potential issues and help find ways to make improvements based off what you know about the true nature of your workplace.