The best way to conduct an exit interview


Conducting an exit interview can be a daunting task, especially when losing a good employee. But it needs to be more than just a box-ticking exercise.

Exit interviews can sometimes leave managers wondering if they could have done anything to prevent it.  We asked a number of senior managers for their advice.

Questions to ask

1. How could we have enabled you to reach your full potential?

This is a great question to ask in exit interviews, as it allows the employee to provide positive ways in which you can develop their replacement, while at the same time providing the employee with an opportunity to discuss the perceived limitations of their role.

They may feel that inadequate training was provided, or that they were too stretched in their role; but it’s equally likely that they felt that they could have improved given the opportunity to showcase their skills, or a new challenge – and if this is why they’re leaving, you may have lost some real talent.

2. Were there any expectations you had when you joined the company that were not met?

This question can quite subtly highlight the incongruities between how your company appears to a job-seeker trying to get in and to an employee on their way out. It’s an opportunity for them to gently give you a few hints on how to retain their successors, and – again – a chance to assess your recruitment process.

Francesca-Randle

Francesca Randle

If the employee is leaving purely because the role didn’t meet their expectations, it’s time to assess the way the role is “sold” to potential candidates, either by your in-house recruitment team or the agency you’re working with. Doing so will enable you to employ people who really want to work in a company just like yours, and will reduce your turnover in the long run.

Francesca Randle, Company Director, Cactus Search (www.cactussearch.co.uk)

3. What is your main reason for leaving?

While this may appear an obvious question to ask, by focusing on the ‘primary’ reason for an employee’s decision to leave rather than asking an open-ended question that could open the way for any number of smaller moans and dislikes about their role or the organisation, managers can identify patterns to be investigated and improvements that could be made.

This will enable managers to see if there is anything they or the company could have done to prevent the person from choosing to look for another job.

4. What were your main frustrations about the role?

It is rare that an individual will feel frustrations that will be unique to them, and this will often be a scenario where employees feel they have nothing to lose and can speak freely. Provided exit interviews are held with voluntary leavers this can often highlight generic issues that remaining employees may be frustrated by and would like to see changed. Minor frustrations often snowball into huge annoyances and job satisfaction and overall retention rates can often be improved by making small adjustments that don’t impact substantially on the budget.

5. What did you most enjoy about the job?

Duncan Powell

Duncan Powell

Exit interviews are not all doom and gloom. Lots of people leave roles for life-changing events such as a change in family circumstance, relocation, returning to education or travelling, for example. What personal development and training did they find most useful? Is there anything they would change about the company? What do they think are the company’s strong points from an employee’s perspective? The response to this question will highlight positive things that should not be taken for granted and should be emphasised and developed.

6. Would you recommend working here to a family member/friend and why?

Just as we care about how our customers and clients view us as a business we should be equally concerned and tuned in to how our staff view us. To attract the best future employees your current and previous employees’ opinions are vital – all it takes is a handful of people to say they wouldn’t recommend a company as an employer for candidates to be put off.

Duncan Powell, Managing Director of Yolk Recruitment

Tips on how to conduct an exit interview

Consider the environment

Whatever the circumstances it is also worth considering that the environment and by whom and how the questions are asked in an exit interview are as important as the questions themselves.

Would online interviews work better?

Online exit interviews are increasingly seen as the best and most accurate way to gain honest unbiased opinions. Employees often still feel under pressure, nervous about references and afraid of confrontation if the exit interview is carried out face to face, particularly if it is being conducted by somebody who has contributed to their reason for leaving or main frustrations, .

Duncan Powell, Managing Director of Yolk Recruitment

Think about the correct language to use

Sandeep-Aggarwal

Sandeep Aggarwal

The word ‘why’ is useful if the original answer is vague or superficial. Questions beginning with ‘what’ and ‘how’ are better for getting people to think and convey their views properly and honestly. Pick the questions that are most relevant to the leaving circumstances, the interviewee and the contact centre situation.

Sandeep Aggarwal, Vice President at Intelenet Global Services

Be sure about what you want to find out

Some employees will be very honest about their reason for leaving and any contributing factors but most will actually refrain from being too open because they don’t want to ruin their future relationship.

Exit interviews should ask employees why they are leaving but also cover a variety of other areas to gather enough information in order to address any underlying issues that might have contributed to the employee handing in their notice.

Many employers will include questions in the interview about their employment-related contract in terms of satisfaction with regard to pay and benefits. But then there are also softer issues concerning organisational culture, career progression, internal communication and management style.

Ensure feedback remains confidential

Lesley Trapasso

Lesley Trapasso

In order to get accurate information from the exit interview it’s best to carry it out soon after an employee hands in their notice. Some organisations opt to use external providers to conduct exit interviews as this can help employers capture more accurate data about why people are leaving, because individuals tend to be open about the real issues when there is complete confidentiality.

Whether you choose to use an external organisation or carry it out yourself, making sure they know that anything they say will remain confidential will ensure they are more open and honest in their feedback. If you are carrying it out within the company it is important to ensure the person interviewing is not a manager who has responsibility for the individual or who will be involved in future reference writing.

Use the information that you gather from exit interviews

Once you have carried out the interview, don’t just leave it there. This information is vital in helping you improve employment practices so that you can retain existing staff and ensure you are successful in attracting talent.

People don’t always hand in their notice at the same time so it is important to record the information you gather from each exit interview effectively. Doing so will enable you to identify any trends and real issues over time. This will also help you identify how any changes or new employment practices you have made have affected retention rates. For example, you may have introduced new flexible working practices and as a result fewer people are leaving due to working hours/flexibility.

Lesley Trapasso, National Business Manager at Hays Contact Centres 


What do you ask at exit interviews, and is the feedback useful?  Have your say in an email to Call Centre Helper

Published On: 20th Apr 2011 - Last modified: 6th Jul 2018
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