An exit interview can be an integral part of shaping the processes and culture of your organisation going forward.
Everybody knows that if you want a job, you almost always need to sit through an interview—maybe even more than one. But what not every business chooses to adopt is the idea of doing the same for employees that leave, not just join; and that’s what an exit interview is.
How should managers make use of exit interviews and what’s the point of them?
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is ideally a face-to-face conversation with an employee who’s on their way out of a business. We say ‘ideally’ because while you could get a lot of the same information from a questionnaire, the point of interviews specifically is that you gain a closer look at somebody and can gauge their responses as you go.
A questionnaire of set questions sent to your inbox doesn’t present those opportunities, particularly if the person who filled it in has already left the business.
Exit interviews will generally aim to gauge how the soon-to-be-ex-employee feels about their time working in the organisation, what they felt was good and what they found frustrating or limiting in their role.
You might not choose to give exit interviews questions to every single employee who leaves the business. A long-serving employee who’s spent a lot of time seeing different folk come and go and seen the business change over time has probably got valuable insights and opinions.
However, conducting an interview with a new member who stayed for a few months before jumping for a better salary, or with someone who was laid off to rescue finances, might not be the best source of insight. The former won’t be able to tell you much, and the latter is likely to let you have it.
What is the purpose of an exit interview?
The whole idea behind exit interviews is that you get valuable opinions about what it’s like to work in a given business. They operate a little like the same interviews conducted with prospective candidates, except they’re less focused on the individual themselves and more aimed at the person’s relationship with their role and the wider business.
Exit interviews should yield some honest answers, since the fact that the employee is on their way out means there’s no as much perceived ‘risk’ to giving answers that are more frank or critical. Many managers would no doubt hate the idea that valid concerns might be kept quiet for fear of speaking up, but it’s an understandable reservation.
This is a strong reason for conducting these end-of-role meetings; they give you honest feedback you might otherwise never receive at any other time.
So, why actually conduct exit interviews? What can be done with the information once an exit interview has concluded?
Why are exit interviews important?
As we’ve already established, exit interview questions are good for getting honest answers that you might not gain from employees that still have a job on the line.
But the actual necessity for this information is that it gives you a much deeper perspective of a business. With the answers gained from exit interviews, you can:
Contrast and compare
How does an employee’s enthusiasm for—and first impressions of—the business differ from their opinions upon exit?
There’s only so much a person can know about an organisation from the outside, so of course there will always be certain differences between first and last impressions, but there are nuggets of information that can be taken from the right comparisons.
Exit interviews might show, for example, that some people are drawn to the business by a certain initial idea, only to become disillusioned with this once they’ve spent some time actually working in their role. If they show that promises are going unfulfilled to your workers, that’s something you can focus on improving for future new hires.
The more exit interviews you complete, the richer a base of data you have to structure and sort through.
You can contextualise your responses to certain questions to see how many of your leavers feel that they were micromanaged, or thought the work facilities were good, or wanted more autonomy in their roles.
In this vein, exit interview questions for managers conducting the interviews should ensure they’re not all open, and uses a healthy ratio of closed questions (yes/no or multiple choice answers). Having a good mix of quantitative and qualitative answers allows for the best analysis.
An employee on their way out may show through their interview answers that an event in the past hasn’t quite left them.
This can be quite the opportunity to further your understanding, and perhaps realise where the business’s handling of this past event could have been improved. Managers might have completely forgotten an argument between staff that took place a couple of years ago, but it might have weighed on the people involved ever since.
Understanding ways in which a staff member’s view and context of their workplace can change—even if through something that seems small or insignificant to others—can help make an organisation more inclusive and supportive.
Beyond these chances to get into data and make some statistics, exit interviews are important because they signal that an organisation cares why somebody is leaving. If you leave a role simply because you’ve outgrown it and need something more balanced with your life (or just need more cash) then you may not feel the need to ‘process’ your exit with anybody.
However, if you feel you’ve been driven out of your workplace by poor management, lack of culture, low pay and long hours, or indeed anything else that gave you discomfort, it could at least mean something to see that the management cares. It also gives you a chance to communicate your view of how things have gone, and whether you have any lessons to teach them.
By making exit interviews a structured part of the employee exit process, workplaces can get a 360-degree view of the employee’s entire tenure and identify where they can improve things for other employees, both current and future.
Are exit interviews mandatory?
Whether they’re mandatory for an employee to go through with a specific organisation depends on the rules of the organisation itself, but there’s currently no law that states workplaces have to conduct exit interviews.
A business is completely at liberty to decide whether or not it wants to offer the interviews and how frequently it gives them. It may decide that it’s only worth conducting exit interviews with more senior employees, or with people who have worked with the business for at least a year.
Different organisations will get different results from interviewing employees who are on their way out, so it’s best to think about what you want to get from the process and who you need to speak to in order to get those results.
You may elect to make your exit interviews optional for every employee, so as not to make anybody feel pressured to give feedback or critique that they aren’t comfortable with delivering.
Are exit interviews confidential?
Exit interviews should absolutely be confidential. Just because the employee is leaving, doesn’t mean that their answers can freely be shared amongst their ex-colleagues. If the person leaving the business has taken time to air any grievances or issues in their interview, these could leave hurt feelings behind.
People who feel they were misrepresented without a chance to defend themselves are left feeling hurt, and likely want a chance to set the record straight. This could cause them to hunt their ex-colleague down on Facebook or through an alumni management software to get their own version of events out, which can spiral out in messy ways.
While managers may want to act on the information gained from an exit interview, it would definitely be best to keep it as confidential as many other HR processes. To this end, it would be best to limit the number of people involved in the actual interview and keep it to managers who can be trusted to maintain confidentiality wherever possible.
How does an exit interview work?
An exit interview doesn’t need to follow a rigid structure and any workplace is free to set it up however they want, whether it’s a formal meeting held in the workplace itself or a chat over coffee after the employee has handed in their name tag.
Generally, it should have pre-planned questions with some room for on-the-fly tangents—much like a standard job interview—and give plenty of room for the employee to speak their mind.
The interview should ideally be planned for close to the employee’s last date but with room to reschedule. Despite winding down your role, the last day at work can be one of your busiest ever.
Work to hand over to others, processes to teach to the people who will be taking them on moving forward, and plenty of final tasks to resolve all make your last day or two in the workplace a poor time to try and cram in an exit interview. Speak to the employee and get a feel for where they might have good time to fit it in.
As the employee gives their answers to the questions, it’s ideal to record these. This might be some general notes, or it could be a more thorough minute-taking with somebody else present. It depends on how formal you want the process to be.
Ideally, the exit interview should conclude having been worth everyone’s time and with something learned by the management that can be taken forward.
How to conduct an exit interview
Have a set time and place in which the interview will take place. Punctuality is important to show that the interview is being taken seriously and, as mentioned above, so as not to run over other important tasks taking up the employee’s time.
Have questions, or at least topics to cover, written down for reference. This will keep the interview on track and productive, which can also help if the employee starts getting deep into past experiences and the interview begins to wander.
You may want to consider letting the employee choose who conducts the interview, or give them the choice of bringing a colleague in with them for support.
When asking questions, give the employee room to speak and time to think things through. To help with this, you might want to give them a copy of the questions beforehand so that they can plan them through and draft some ideas.
Who should conduct an exit interview?
It would be ideal to allow somebody senior and/or experienced to lead the exit interview. Conducting an interview is not an easy task, especially for people who don’t have much experience in the process.
If you’re giving the employee a choice of who conducts the interview, it would be best to keep the scope of choice limited to people who can each handle the process competently, rather than giving them free choice of absolutely anyone in the business.
Questions to ask employees during exit interviews
There are lots of things you might want to ask your employees in exit interviews, so concentrating your questions to be focused and cover a range of topics—without being downright exhausting—is essential.
Some potential exit interview questions for managers might include:
- Do you feel that [business] has met your expectations during your time here? Why/why not?
- Do you feel that your role has evolved while you’ve held it, and have these changes been positive?
- Do you feel that you had all the necessary training and support to perform your role well?
- Have you always had any concerns and questions listened to and taken seriously?
- What would be your advice to management who want to improve the culture for future employees?
These are just some ways you can get to the heart of how an employee looks back on their time in a role. Soundboard questions in a group to whittle them down to the best they can be and make them nice and concise. One may also ask these questions during stay interviews, if felt necessary to do so.
How can Aluminati help with exit interviews?
Having a scalable solution for group working, mentoring, networking, and more is an invaluable tool for your organisation.
Taking insights from exit interviews can feed back into your community platform and empower your ability to enable employee growth, guide their careers, and much more.
To learn more about Aluminate and its power for your community, contact us today.