Exit Interview

Mary Gormandy White
businesswomen shaking hands

An exit interview is an interview with an employee who is leaving your company, either just before the worker leaves or shortly after his or her last day at work. Exit interviews can be conducted in person or via an electronic or paper and pencil questionnaire. While exit interviews are not required, it is not unusual for organizations to conduct them with employees who voluntarily resign as a matter of policy.

Reasons to Conduct Exit Interviews

Leah Ciappenelli, HR Director for SHIFT Communications, is a fan of exit interviews. She states, "I view the exit interview as a forum for the employee. It is critical to the relationship with the exiting employee to conduct an exit interview." She reminds, "It is not a tragedy when an employee resigns. If a manager or the organization gets angry and takes it personally when an employee leaves, they run risk of damaging what could be an important relationship." Taking the time to have a conversation with departing employees demonstrates respect, and can help maintain a positive relationship. Ciappenelli points out, "Treating a departing employee with respect is the right thing to do."

That's not the only reason to conduct these types of interviews. Ciappenelli points out, "Employers can learn a lot about the person's motivation to leave. On occasion, an employee will pursue a new endeavor and years down the line return to the company. Even if they never return, departing employees can serve as ambassadors for your firm, which can then yield candidates and new business referrals."

It's not realistic, of course, to expect that you'll always get 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' in an exit interview, which is one of the reasons some companies don't bother with them. Ciappenelli realizes this happens, but still sees value in the process. She states, "It is naïve to think employees will be 100% candid. However, departing employees' input - both praise and criticism - is valuable to improving the organization."

What to Discuss in an Exit Interview

Leah Ciappenelli, SHIFT Communications
Leah Ciappenelli, SHIFT Communications

Ciappenelli advises against overly structured exit interviews, asserting, "Checking the box on a prescribed list of questions can stifle the conversation." She recommends using the following general format.

Procedures and Benefits

The exit interview should not come across like an interrogation, or a request to help the company avoid losing other employees. Begin by discussing information that the employee needs to leave to make his or her transition out of the company go as smoothly as possible.

Ciappenelli explains here approach, stating, "First, I review what I call the 'nuts and bolts,' meaning all of the procedural details related to leaving the organization. Inform the employee about their final paycheck, any unused vacation accrual that will be paid out, how to transfer their 401(k), info about COBRA, etc." She adds that at her company, "All employees receive a letter with helpful links and information that they will need when handling COBRA, 401k, etc."

Questions About Leaving

After going over details about benefits, Ciappenelli states that she typically asks questions along the lines of:

  • Where are you headed next?
  • What will you be doing in your next position?
  • What made you decide to leave?

Questions About the Employee Experience

After the details are covered, Ciappenelli moves on to more qualitative questions. She asks the individual things like:

  • What observations about your experience working here would you like to share?
  • Are there any concerns you'd like to share?
  • Will you share with me a bit of informaiton about the best and worst times you experienced while working here?
  • What changes they would like to see if you were to return to the organization down the road?

Moving Forward

Before concluding the interview, Ciappenelli takes an additional step to preserve the relationship and keep the lines of communication open. She explains, "We also invite them to join our SHIFT alumni group on LinkedIn, which was started by a former employee who wanted to maintain his connections with other agency alums."

While not every company has a LinkedIn group for former employees, it is definitely a good idea to end the conversation on a positive, future-focused note. Thank the employee for providing feedback, and for the time spent working with the company. Provide best wishes for success in the next phase of his or her career (or education, or life in general - depending on the reasons for leaving).

Using Information Gained From Exit Interviews

Information gleaned from exit interviews can be beneficial only if company decision-makers pay attention to it and act upon the valuable feedback provided by employees who are leaving. Ciappenelli states, "I channel both positive and critical feedback to executive leadership and to the exiting employee's manager when I believe it will help advance the organization."

Diplomacy is key. Ciappenelli asserts, "As the gatekeeper of what is sometimes sensitive information, it is important to know how to share the information diplomatically. Aggregating employees' exit feedback when there are obvious themes is a less threatening way to present the information. Instead of running to the manager and saying, 'Employee X thinks you are incompetent,' it is more effective to approach a manager and say, 'Of the team members who left recently, I learned that it may benefit you to check in more on their work, or communicate better about company news.'"

Ciappenelli emphasizes, "It is important to synthesize the critical feedback and use it to improve the company." Of course, not all feedback is negative. She states, "In many cases, it is encouraging to revel in the things that exiting employees loved about the organization."

Exit Interview