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Exit Interview Strategy and Tips

November 2, 2011

By: Carletta Clyatt

The best way to understand the reasons behind an employee departure is with an exit interview. Obviously the style of exit interview is different for someone who is being asked to leave, retiring, or dismissed compared to an employee leaving whom the organization would prefer to retain. Some employers limit exit interviews to departing management, supervisory, sales, and technical employees. However, exit interviews should be conducted for every exiting employee, regardless of their level in the organization.

Typically conducted after an employee has voluntarily decided to leave, the exit interview is key to organization improvement since rarely will you receive such frank feedback from an employee. It shows you are willing to act on employee suggestions and is intended to improve the company, not put the employee on the spot. Used in concert with employee satisfaction surveys, exit interviews are a rich source of information for organization development.

Think exit interviews are a waste of time? Think again! When used properly, the information you receive could increase operational efficiency, boost employee morale and create a more profitable company. The obvious short-term benefit is that you decrease the possibility of losing other valuable employees, which can be very expensive.

These interviews also allow you to gain insight into your supervisor's management skills and how effectively he/she runs their department. You might learn of changes your company should consider that could make the position more competitive with your markets compensation, benefits packages, flexible work arrangements, and so forth. Or maybe even some changes that need to be considered in your management team.

The exit interview is the best time to discuss final pay and benefits issues; ensure the return of keys, security cards or company property; and explain policies relating to the departing employee.

Tips for your upcoming exit interview: 

  • The same person should conduct all exit interviews using identical questions. To ensure that responses are not driven by emotion, the employee's immediate supervisor should never conduct the exit interview. 
  • Consider scheduling the interview 24 to 48 hours before the employees last day. If possible, it should be the last thing the employee does before leaving the premises permanently.
  • Begin and end the meeting on a positive note, treat the employee with dignity and respect.
  • Have a witness present for all ‘sensitive’ interviews.
  • Conduct the interview as informally as possible to put the employee at ease and increase your chances of receiving the most valid, helpful responses possible. Explain that you will use the information provided, in aggregate format, to help your organization improve and retain valued employees.
  • Sit beside your departing employee, not across your desk.
  • Ask neutral questions and avoid those that may require the employee to criticize a supervisor or co-worker.

Open-ended questions work best, as they require explanations, not one-word answers. However, interview questions and answers should be well-documented by the employer in order to assist with any future legal case brought about by the employee.

Consider these questions in your next exit interview:

  • What is your primary reason for leaving?
  • Did anything trigger your decision to leave?
  • What would you change about your job?
  • What would you improve to make our workplace better?
  • Did you receive adequate support to do your job?
  • How do you generally feel about this company?
  • Does your new job carry an increase in salary, a higher position or better benefits?
  • Were you happy with the quality of the supervision you received?
  • Did anyone in this company discriminate against you, harass you or cause hostile working conditions?

As you review the responses, watch out for trends:

  • Are you losing valuable employees due to low wages, lack of advancement opportunities or professional growth?
  • Is there a problem with a certain manager?
  • Does your company need to review its policies, market wages or benefits package?
  • Could you offer on-the-job training or supplement your employee's continuing education as long as it is job related?
  • Are there managers or employees who need to be retrained or replaced?

Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email:

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