Why Exit Interviews Are So Important

Things move quickly once an employee gives notice: The departing employee starts to mentally check out but needs to finish up projects. The manager scurries about making action plans for being short-staffed. And HR both needs to tie up loose ends with the departing employee and start looking for his or her replacement. That's a lot of commotion, but in the midst of this, it's important not to lose sight of the value and importance of conducting exit interviews.


Although one exit interview by itself might not be that useful, a series of exit interviews can yield constructive patterns of feedback. Departing employees are likely to be more candid than the currently employed. Pairing exit interviews with regular staff surveys on corporate culture can help management identify and solve challenges in the recruitment and retention of employees, which can positively affect your company's bottom line. The Center for American Progress estimates that it costs 20 percent of an employee's annual salary to replace him or her. The costs of high turnover add up quickly.

Who Should Conduct the Exit Interview

Ideally, an HR representative should conduct employee exit interviews so departing employees feel freer to share information. The adage "employees leave bosses, not companies" rings true for a reason; according to one Gallup poll, 50 percent of employees quitting their jobs cite their manager as the reason. If there's a problem with a manager's skill set, you're not going to elicit that information if the manager conducts the exit interview. Plus, having HR conduct the interview ensures consistency company-wide when it comes to terminations.

What Questions Should You Ask in an Exit Interview

Craft questions carefully, and keep them consistent whenever employees depart so it's easier to look for patterns. Stick to open-ended questions so you gather more information. Here are a few to consider including:

  • What made you start looking for another job? By asking this, you'll find out whether the employee's termination was preventable. Sometimes it's not. Perhaps the employee's commute or childcare needs changed. There's nothing you can do about that. But if an employee says they started looking for another job because your company isn't matching the market in terms of salary, that's information you can use.
  • How did the position compare with your expectations for it? This question will help you gauge the accuracy of your company's job descriptions. If employees feel like they've experienced a bait-and-switch when it comes to job duties, they'll start looking around.
  • How did the tools and resources available to you match up with your job responsibilities? This question will draw out information about the professional development and support available to staff. Employees who don't feel equipped to do their jobs or feel hamstrung by bureaucracy are difficult to retain.
  • What was your relationship with your manager like? Asking a terminating employee to describe his or her relationship with managers is a back door way to find out if your company's supervisors are up to snuff. You'll learn valuable information about managers' communication skills, expectations for employees and more.
  • What excites you about your new job? The employee might reveal that he or she is getting a big salary bump, or you might find out that the new position offers more responsibility or less travel. Again, this will help you know whether the turnover was preventable.
  • Would you recommend working here to a friend? Why or why not? This question depersonalizes the question of why an employee is leaving a company. An employee responding to this question might look past personality conflicts with a manager and consider issues of compensation and overall corporate culture. If employees say they would recommend the company to a friend, then it's a safe bet the issue was within the employee-manager relationship itself.

What Else Should You Include in an Exit Interview

Exit interviews are your last chance to solicit employee feedback, but they also represent a company's final opportunity to tie up any legal loose ends. HR should prepare an employee separation agreement that explains the nature of the termination and outlines any financial obligations the employer has to the employee (for instance, will the employee be paid for any accrued vacation?). This is also the time to explain how to sign up for COBRA insurance coverage. Finally, HR should collect any keys, building passes, and company credit cards at this time.

Exit interviews are no one's favorite way to spend time—the departing employee is ready to move on, and your to-do list is already a mile long—but the information you glean could prevent the next employee departure.

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