Exit Interviews 101

Exit Interviews 101

Employee resignation is inevitable in any business. As hiring accelerates in the Silicon Valley and across the San Francisco Bay Area, resignations are increasing as well. Voluntary departure may result in short-term disruption to your operations and strategy execution, but it also presents an opportunity to gain valuable insight into your organization via the exit interview.

Who Should Conduct Exit Interviews?

The most appropriate person in your company to conduct the interview is a human resource professional. Typically, an HR person is trained and experienced in speaking confidentially about delicate topics, and he or she is able to remain neutral when discussing situations that may make others uncomfortable. If your business does not have a dedicated HR person, the manager or senior executive in charge of hiring may be appropriate. Should you prefer to outsource the exit interview function, numerous firms exist to provide this service in a variety of modalities: via an online survey, through automated voice response, or live person-to-person on the phone. Providers of background screening services often offer exit interviewing as an adjunct service to their core business.

It is generally not advisable for the departing employee’s direct supervisor to conduct the exit interview. That person is too close to the employee to maintain neutral in the conversation. Additionally, should the employees wish to provide negative feedback, they may be uncomfortable doing so directly to their boss.

Are Exit Interviews Used Only for Resignations?

It’s extremely unusual to conduct an exit interview in the case of a layoff or termination. Participation in exit interviews is typically voluntary, and a person who has been fired or laid off is unlikely to be in a state of mind to provide objective feedback.

What are Good Topics to Cover?

The primary focus of an exit interview is to understand the employee’s reason for leaving, so begin with that. Has he or she found a better opportunity elsewhere? If so, what about that position was preferable to the current one (compensation, role, benefits, opportunities for growth, etc.)? Conversely, is there something so negative about the current situation that the person is compelled to leave?

Additional topics include feedback about the role itself, the employee’s direct supervisor, and the company as a whole. What were the employee’s biggest challenges and pain points with respect to their daily duties, their teammates, management, and the company culture? If they could change anything about the environment or their position, what would that be? Don’t focus only on the negative--what things are working well within the organization?

The next topic may be uncomfortable to discuss, but it is extremely important. “Are you aware of any fraudulent, illegal or inappropriate activity going on in the organization, and are you willing to discuss that?” It is far better to learn of non-compliance or violations in a closed, internal setting than to deal with them when an employee or customer files an official complaint or lawsuit!

In Conclusion

Exit interviews provide employees with an opportunity to contribute to the future of the organization. It is their opportunity to “have a voice” and share their experiences in a manner that may improve conditions for current and future workers. Not all employees will agree to participate, and they may not answer every question in detail. Regardless, the information learned exit interviews are of high value to companies of all sizes.


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