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  • Employee Management

A guide to making an exit interview worthwhile

Jazmin Lopez
Jazmin Lopez

In this post, we'll go over what precisely an exit interview is, and why you should be conducting them. We'll also discuss how you can make your exit interview worth your company's time so that you know exactly where you're going wrong, and right.

According to Harvard Business Review, three-quarters of companies state that they perform exit interviews with former employees. But how do you make these interviews worthwhile? What are some of the best practices to take? Read on for more.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a series of questions you ask an employee as they leave their job at your company. During the exit interview, you'll ask them to candidly tell you what they liked, and didn't like about working for your company.

If the individual left on their own accord, the exit interview could help you assess why they sought out another employment opportunity. It can also help your company understand what made the other company so much more attractive to your employee that it made them choose to work elsewhere.

Importance of exit interviews

We have already established that exit interviews are incredibly crucial for the growth of your company. But are you up-to-date on all of the benefits?

Firstly, an exit interview can help improve human resources (HR). Through exit interviews, you can determine whether your employee benefits or employee compensation strategies lie amongst the competition. Are your employees commonly leaving because of competitive packages elsewhere? Is another company paying them more to do the same job?

An exit interview can also help you understand how employees view and fit in with the current work environment. Often, employees may discuss a work environment with one another, or with their family and friends. But, they may be timid about bringing it up to their bosses or line managers. As such, if your work environment is toxic, micromanagement or toxic behaviour is allowed, your company may be the last to know.

However, many people end up leaving jobs because of toxic practices or company culture they don't feel they're compatible with. An exit interview can help you suss this out candidly, as your former employee may feel as though they have nothing left to lose by being honest with you.

Thus, you can use exit interviews to improve on your team dynamics, culture and look into any toxic dynamics that have arisen.

Your exit interviews can also learn more about your leadership styles and whether or not they're useful. As we stated above, employees may be nervous about being completely honest with you if there is a problem with leadership or management styles . As such, they may allow these problems to get worse until they eventually seek work elsewhere.

An employee with nothing to lose can thus be honest about issues with you or management within the company. For example, you can find out about issues like micromanagement or lack of support from an exit interview.

An exit interview can lead to helping learn more about the company overall, and constructive criticism can help with efficiency strategies and workflow. You can then implement changes from the interview, particularly after conducting several and seeing a pattern.

Lastly, an exit interview provides your company with the ability to end on good terms with your former employee.

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Exit interview best practices

When conducting an exit interview, you must do a few things to ensure they're the most effective. Holding them at the wrong time, or with the wrong person, can lead to exit interviews that do not give you what you're looking for.

1. Assign the right person to conduct the exit interview

Firstly, you should consider who is conducting the exit interview. Having the former employee's manager or the CEO of the company can both lead to discomfort and the former employee may not be completely honest. They may wish to shield the individual's feelings or want a good reference. As such, a second- or third-line manager is a good bet. Or, you may wish to hire a consultant for a completely neutral perspective.

2. Make exit interviews mandatory

Your exit interviews should be mandatory, unless the termination of the contract is due to gross misconduct . This is especially because you may be seeing very valuable employees go. Those that have added a lot to your company, and are difficult to replace, will offer the feedback your company needs more desperately. But equally, those who you will not have trouble replacing should also have an opportunity to speak about their experience.

3. Include the exit interview on the offboarding process

Conducting them at the right time is also key to ensuring you get the most out of the exit interview. You may wish to include it as part of the employee offboarding process so that it fits in seamlessly during the handover from one employee to another.

4. Schedule the exit interview carefully 

You should also consider conducting them when emotions are no longer fraught. For examples, some employees may quit because of something negative that has happened at work, or an employee may be fired for a myriad of reasons. In both cases, emotions can run high amongst those conducting the interviews and the employee.

You should consider leaving some time after the employee has announced their decision to work elsewhere before conducting the interview.

5. Try to conduct the exit interview in person

Additionally, conducting a survey in person is often much more useful than doing so over the phone. It often yields for much more honest results and allows you to read body language. While sometimes over the phone interviews are necessary, in person should always be the first choice.

6. Prepare your exit interview questions

When giving an exit interview, you should have the questions for the former employee already prepared. When writing up the questions, you should have a goal in mind when it comes to deducing what your company can improve. However, if other questions come up during the interview, let them flow naturally so that you can get all of the information you need. If you find that you can apply the same questions to all employee exits, you can create a template and share it via online HR software or using a document management system .

Some former employees may have been advised not to say some things to you, but both of you must be honest.

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How to conduct an exit interview

While there is no exact right way to conduct an exit interview, you should do so in a way that encourages the employee to speak freely. You should always let your former employee know that what they're saying is important to you and the company. This should be especially emphasised if and when the former employee is telling you something that they may find difficult to discuss.

1. Make the outgoing employee feel valued

Always remind the employee that their work at your company was valued. This helps them feel more open to giving their feedback during the exit interview.

2. Remember it's a conversation

While the name "exit interview" lends itself to an interview process, you should remember that it is a conversation. While we discussed having questioned prepared that would help you achieve your goals, you should also allow things to flow naturally. By doing so, your former employee may reveal things that you were not going to ask about, and thus, you may find they can reveal even more valuable information.

3. Ask open ended questions

Your questions should also be open-ended, thus allowing the former employee to answer as freely as possible.

4. Pay attention to body language

When speaking to the former employee, pay attention to their body language, and use that for asking more questions or knowing when to back off. With your own body language, you should nod when appropriate and sit in a relaxed position. This allows former employees to feel as though you're actually listening to them, not zoning out while they're speaking.

5. Listen carefully

Listen to the former employee very carefully as they speak. This is the time when a former employee may be giving your company incredibly valuable feedback. As such, make sure your head is in the interview and that you're allowing everything they are saying to sink in. You should make sure you're not missing any clues and should ask for clarification for anything you're not sure of.

By listening carefully, you can ask better-clarifying questions, which will lead your company to receive answers that are much more useful. You may even wish to record an exit interview, with the permission of the former employee. Never record an exit interview without letting the former employee know.

Making the exit interview work for both of you


The exit interview should be a time when not only you can learn about your former employee's reasons for leaving, but can also give them a moment to say things they may have been uncomfortable doing so previously. It can also give both of you a time to recognise the ways an employee has contributed to the company, and the way the company has enriched the former employee's life.

Above all, it is a time for constructive feedback.

Are you looking to free up your company's time so that you can do things like conduct better exit interviews? If so, click here to have a look at our HR software. We can help you eliminate some of the busywork that goes along with HR, and put your mind where it belongs: with the work itself. You can try kiwiHR for free by clicking here.

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Exit interview questions
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