How do I get the best information out of exit interviews?


When the time comes to shake hands and say goodbye to employees, many companies do just that and nothing more. But according to Francesca Randle, departures are one of the best times to find out exactly what your staff think of your company.

Here, she discusses the value of the exit interview.

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential value of exit interviews as a way of learning how to improve staff retention. Traditionally, organisations undertake exit interviews with staff that are about to leave. These tend to focus on typical HR issues, such as the reasons for moving on and what they liked or did not like about their time as employees.

Gathering the views and opinions of those who have chosen to leave an organisation can provide valuable insights in to employees’ perceptions of the competitiveness of reward packages, access to training and development opportunities, and the effectiveness of individual managers. Following up on any areas of weakness can lead to improvements in job satisfaction and performance across the company and ultimately help to reduce turnover.

More recently, however, the concept of exit interviewing has been revisited and expanded as a knowledge management tool, as a way of capturing knowledge from leavers. Rather than simply capturing human resources information, the interview also aims to capture knowledge about what it takes to do the job.

What are the benefits?

  • Exit interviews are seen by existing employees as a sign of positive culture. They are regarded as caring and compassionate – a sign that the organisation is big enough to expose itself to criticism.
  • Exit interviews accelerate participating managers’ understanding and experience of managing people and organisations. Hearing and handling feedback is a powerful development process.
  • The results and analysis of exit interviews provide directly relevant and useful data that can be used in training needs analysis and training planning processes.
  • Exit interviews provide valuable information as to how to improve the recruitment and induction of new employees and how to improve staff retention.
  • Sometimes an exit interview provides the chance to retain a valuable employee who would otherwise have left. Organisations often accept resignations far too readily without discussion or testing the firmness of feeling. The exit interview provides a final safety net.
  • Exit interviews and a properly organised, positive exit process also greatly improve the chances of successfully obtaining and transferring useful knowledge, contacts, insights, tips and experience from the departing employee to all those needing to know it – especially successors and replacements.
  • The learning curve of new people joining the organisation is shortened as a result of valuable knowledge transfer.

Done correctly, exit interviews can be a win-win situation for both the organisation and the leaver. The organisation gets to retain a portion of the leaver’s knowledge and make it available to others, while the leaver gets to articulate their unique contributions to the organisation and to ‘leave their mark’.

Conducting the exit interview

Traditional exit interviews can be conducted in a variety of ways: face-to-face; over the telephone; using a written questionnaire; or via the Internet using an exit interview management system.

You will need to think carefully about the information you would like to gather before the interview and start your preparations early. While the traditional exit interview will tend to collect mainly human resources information, the primary focus of the knowledge-based interview is on knowledge that would be helpful to the next person who will do the job or to others in the organisation doing similar jobs.

Start planning the handover and exit interview as soon as you know a person is leaving. Identify who in the organisation might benefit from that person’s knowledge and what they will need to know. Then work out a plan to capture the leaver’s knowledge during the time remaining before they leave. This should include both explicit knowledge – knowledge that is already documented, such as in files and e-mails and knowledge that can be easily documented – and tacit knowledge: that is, knowledge that is less easy to capture and that needs to be explained or demonstrated.

When conducting exit interviews, think carefully about who will be the interviewer. Traditional exit interviews are conducted by someone from human resources. However, this need not be the case in the knowledge-focused interview. Often a peer or a relevant subject expert will be most appropriate.

Over and above the obvious interpersonal and interviewing skills needed, you will need to consider issues of trust and honesty, too. For example, if an employee has had a difficult relationship with a manager or colleague, that person might not be best placed to conduct the interview. Whoever you select, make sure they are appropriately skilled and trained. Many companies are now employing specialist organisations to provide exit interviewing from a third party perspective. This can be extremely valuable, utilising someone outside of the business who is impartial and who the leaver can feel totally at ease with.

Read this article for more strategies and approaches to conducting the exit interview. 

In conclusion, conducting well-planned exit interviews can be an invaluable process in gaining key information. However, if the information gained is not actioned or shared, then the process becomes meaningless. Actions resulting from exit interview feedback analysis must be communicated within key areas of the business. In any size or type of organisation, these actions fall in to two categories:

  • Remedial and preventative – for example, improving health and safety issues, stress, harassment, discrimination and so on.
  • Strategic improvement opportunities – for example, improved induction, management or supervisory training, empowerment or team-building initiatives, process improvement, wastage and efficiencies improvements, and customer service initiatives.

For many organisations, exit interviews provide a major untapped source of ‘high yield’ development ideas and opportunities. Just make sure you use them.

Francesca Randle

Francesca Randle

Francesca Randle is director at Cactus Search
Tel: +44 8702 866 904

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 30th Nov 2006 - Last modified: 11th Sep 2019
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