10 Steps for Conducting an Effective Exit Interview

Date: December 16, 2009

An employee exit interview is never an attempt to reverse an individual's resignation. An appropriate exit interview is undertaken to reduce future turnover by learning what might be causing good people to resign.

The most frequently encountered reasons given by workers for leaving their employment include:

  • Lack of recognition; feeling unappreciated or never having one's contributions recognized.
  • Poor quality of supervision; unhappiness with how one is treated by "the boss."
  • Personality conflicts; stressful differences with coworkers and supervisors.
  • Lack of opportunity; the perception of little or no opportunity for promotion and growth.
  • Money, either the desire for more income or unhappiness with perceived inequities.

Follow these steps to conduct effective exit interviews:

  1. Focus on good employees who resign. Not all turnover is undesirable. We may not especially care why troublesome employees quit, but we should be strongly interested in why valued employees quit.
  2. Have every interview conducted by someone other than the employee's immediate supervisor (a human resources interviewer, if available). The supervisor's relationship with the employee can influence an employee's decision to either remain or depart.
  3. Explain the purpose of the exit interview to the departing employee. The essential purpose is to determine whether there are problems that should be addressed to help prevent further losses of valued employees.
  4. Explain the confidential nature of the process. Assure the employee that no one beyond the interviewer will be able to attribute specific comments to the individual.
  5. Keep the process simple. An exit interview should be relatively brief and focused on specific areas (a few recommended questions are listed below).
  6. Make the interview one-on-one, conducted in private. "Ganging up" on a departing employee with multiple interviewers is intimidating and can limit the person's willingness to respond honestly.
  7. Be sensitive to potential differences between persons leaving for other employment and those resigning for "personal reasons." The straightest answers come from those who admit they're going to work elsewhere; those who cite only "personal reasons" are often reluctant to reveal their true reasons for fear of repercussions (poor references, etc.).
  8. Encourage the departing employee to summarize his or her employment experience before addressing specific questions. This usually provides answers to some questions before they are asked.
  9. Assure the individual employee that all information provided will be used anonymously and that no permanent record will be retained. Once the information is assessed and tabulated, the interview document or notes should be discarded.
  10. Assess and tabulate exit interview information. When patterns emerge from accumulated information, consider what can realistically be done to prevent future loss of good employees.

Samples and Examples of Common Exit Interview Questions

  • How do you feel you were treated by your supervisor and your coworkers?
  • How well do you believe your work was recognized and appreciated?
  • Do you feel you were given adequate training and assistance in learning your job?
  • Can you see opportunities for transfer or promotion within this business?
  • How would you describe the morale of your fellow employees?
  • How fairly was the workload distributed among you and your coworkers?
  • What could be done to make this company a better place to work?

Rarely will an exit interview tell you everything you'd like to know, but it can be a constructive start on learning why good employees leave.

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