It’s interesting, and perhaps somewhat ironic, that your experience with a company starts and ends with an interview. Of course during the initial interview process its clear that you should be working hard to impress the employer, but during the exit interview it can be argued that your employer should be aiming to impress you.
After all, this is the final impression the organization may ever make on its employees, which will impact how the professional speaks of the company to his or her family, friends, and future colleagues. With that, here’s exactly how to handle the exit interview, whether it’s in person, remote, or using a print-out template.
What is an exit interview?
At the surface level, an exit interview is an opportunity to better understand why an employee is choosing to leave the company. The exit interview, which is important for risk management at an organization, is a process in which an HR professional meets with a departing employee to get more information on why they are leaving and how their experience was at the company.
Departing employees are a wealth of information, so after they hand in their letter of resignation, it’s important for companies to harness all of that data before the employee leaves the company, and the exit interview is likely the final opportunity to do that. It’s also an important time when the HR professional can emphasize any obligations that the employee may have regarding return of company equipment or use of confidential trade secrets or other private employer information.
“Ultimately employees are going to move on…it’s a natural progression for their own personal growth as well as business growth,” said Jennifer Beezer, Director of Human Resources for FOREO North America, and new member of the FORBES Human Resources Council. “I think an exit discussion is really the last impression that that employee will have of any organization, so it’s an important milestone in their career.”
Regardless of an employee’s decision to move on in their career, having a positive exit process can also ensure the potential for the individual to return to the company one day, in addition to helping with future referrals and protecting against any risk.
“If the employer’s brand is of any value, which I would hope that it is, having that positive transition will significantly impact not only the employee that’s departing, but how they speak about the company to future friends, families, referrals,” Beezer said. “If they leave on a positive note, because perhaps they think the grass might be greener somewhere else, maybe down the road they’ll realize that they want to come back and having that positive transition allows for them the opportunity to potentially do that.”
If the organization is on the smaller side, and does not have a Human Resources professional, it may have the owner, manager, or senior level executive choose to conduct the interview.
Exit interview questions
As a Human Resources leader at FOREO, Beezer says that she try to establish good rapport with all employees in advance to the exit interview, which means that she usually already knows the reasons why a person is leaving the organization ahead of this discussion.
“Sometimes they do take you by surprise and those specific instances are the ones that I’m most interested in having these sorts of conversations,” Beezer said.
Regardless of whether you knew the employee was planning to leave or not, exit interview discussions are extremely helpful in learning valuable information about your employees and the overall organization. Specific questions help employer’s learn information they may otherwise never know.
Examples of exit interview questions are below:
- Did you investigate any other options that would have enabled you to stay with the company?
- What does your new job offer that this job with our company does not?
- What did you like most about working with our organization?
- What, if anything, did you like least about working with our organization?
- Were you happy with the benefits and perks you received?
- Do you think the salary you received was fair for the position you held?
- Would you recommend this company to a friend as a place to work?
- How frequently did you get performance feedback?
- What were your feelings about the performance feedback process?
- How would you rate your supervisor on how well he or she provided regular feedback?
- How would you rate your supervisor on how well he or she provided recognition and encouragement?
- How would you rate your supervisor on how well he or she resolved complaints?
- How would you rate your supervisor on how well he or she listened to suggestions?
- How would you rate your supervisor on how well he or she demonstrated fair and equal treatment?
- How did you feel about cooperation within your department?
- How did you feel about cooperation between departments?
- How did you feel about general communication in the company?
- How did you feel about training opportunities offered at the company?
- How did you feel about growth opportunities within the company?
- Is there anything else that I should have asked you?
Exit interview questions to avoid asking
There are some exit interview questions that human resource professionals should avoid asking departing employees. According to Beezer, professionals should avoid asking about personal opinions of their managers and the organization, and stick to their professional opinions instead.
“I try to ask more general questions about what could we have done differently, essentially, and not name names, per se,” Beezer said.
Advice for the human resource professional conducting the exit interview
Ideally, a Human Resources professional would conduct the exit interview, as opposed to an employee’s direct manager or company executive.
Here are Beezer’s top six tips for a Human Resources manager who is conducting an exit interview:
- Establish proper timing.
As soon as Beezer finds out that somebody announced their 2 week notice, she reaches out right away and schedules a time to speak. In regards to when to schedule this conversation, Beezer recommends conducting the exit interview on the professional’s last day of work. Scheduling it on their last day will provide them with the opportunity to meet with their supervisors and colleagues to do any workload transition that is necessary.
- Explain the process.
“When I sit down with them I explain the process…that I’m going to be going through these forms and benefits, your final wages…just to make it really clear because sometimes it’s an emotionally charged discussion,” Beezer said. “Sometimes they’re sad, they’re happy, they’re angry, and you never know what the emotion is going to be.
Explaing the process can clear up any anxieties that the person has about the process. The entire conversation usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how much the particular employee wants to say.
- Listen more than you speak.
“I tend to try and listen more than I speak because they’re going to tell you what they want to tell you regardless of what questions you ask,” Beezer said. “Listen more than you talk because you’re trying to get that information and harness that that knowledge database download from them, so if you’re doing all of the talking or you constantly interrupt them, that’s going to make that process more difficult.”
- Have it in writing.
Have it in writing is super important so that there is concrete evidence of things agreed upon and matters discussed. Beezer recommends having them sign to acknowledge that they received all of the information on their final wages and so forth, and then provide them with a copy as well.
- Make it as positive as possible.
The exit interview is likely the last formal impression that this person will have with the company, so you want to make it as positive as possible. Beezer recommends expressing gratitude for their efforts at the company and for speaking openly with you.
“Having somebody openly and candidly talk to you about issues within the organization, potentially, if that’s what it is, can sometimes be very uncomfortable,” Beezer said. “So just let them know that it will be treated as confidentially as it can be, and that you really appreciate them being so open and honest.”
- Act on it.
A primary reason for going through the exit interview process is to hear an honest account of what it was like to be an employee at your specific organization. This information is priceless, but it is also worthless if the human resource professional does nothing with it. If you value your brand and want to retain key staff, then you must act on constructive criticisms that are exposed during the exit interview process.
“If you’re going to do an exit interview, you have to be prepared to act on it because otherwise it ruins the credibility of the person conducting the interview and it really ruins the credibility of the entire organization,” Beezer said.
Advice for the employee during the exit interview
“My golden advice for anybody going through this process is that when you share information about your employer, even while you’re going through your exit interview with them, is to keep it professional,” Beezer said.
Though you are no longer an employee at that company, for now, you never know who other people know or are connected to professionally, and it’s never a good idea to burn bridges in your career.
“I like to phrase it as, if you wouldn’t be comfortable saying what you’re going to tell that person on the five o’clock news with your name associated to that, then don’t say it because you know ultimately what you say will become permanent in your personnel file,” Beezer said.
While this is not the ideal case, Beezer also reccomends that the employee speak to an attorney before they say anything to their company if they think that it could be a situation in which an exit interview warrants any sort of escalation.
“Ultimately what they say when they leave is speaking to their credibility too and could be damaging just as much to them as it would be to the company,” Beezer said.
While generally the HR professional is the one asking questions during the exit interview process, the departing employee should also make sure that he or she has proper answers to a few questions.
Employees should make sure they fully all the details regarding their final compensation, including any potential for bonus or commission payouts. Employees should address any questions or concerns about vesting, health benefits, vacation payouts, and any other benefit issues they may have.
“There are some employers that don’t share a lot of this information,” Beezer said. “So it’s a really good practice for employees to inquire about that so they know where they stand when they leave the company.”
How to do an exit interviews while working remotely
The idea situation for an exit interview is to conduct this conversation face to face, but with many people still working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, that isn’t possible for all professionals.
“With more and more people working remotely, [remote exit interviews] have already been something that we’ve had to get used to doing, but especially working from home during COVID-19, there were more exit interviews that had to be conducted remotely,” Beezer said.
Generally, the remote exit interview process is the same as if it were taking place in the office. You still want to make sure to set up a time to speak with the person and exchange any important documents with them.
A key aspect to a successful remote exit interview is to do it via a video call rather than a normal audio call.
It’s really crucial to see that employee’s facial expressions and their body language,” Beezer said. “As a person that reads people, that’s really a tell-all sign of how things may go, or after that discussion how things may play out.
When it comes to the content of the discussion, Beezer notes that the questions she asks do not change much from the ones she would typically ask during an in-person meeting.
“In terms of the overall process and the context of questions that I ask, those tend to stay pretty consistent,” Beezer said.
That being said, Beezer noted that some of the questions that departing employees have been asking during these discussions have definitely changed as of late. For example, there is a lot more emphasis around health benefits and questions around severance due to the high rate of unemployment in the nation right now.
Exit interview template
“In the discussion itself, some employees are more willing to open up and be candid when they’re having that final discussion with you, whereas other employees don’t like to say anything,” Beezer said. “So I offer them that opportunity to actually take a questionnaire home with them and return it to me.”
Beezer recommends letting the employee take home the exit interview form, sleep on it, and allow them at least a week to return it to you.
“That allows them kind of the opportunity to collect their thoughts and then provide a little bit more constructive and thoughtful feedback,” Beezer said.
For those who wish to do a written exit interview as opposed to an in-person one, you can use the following exit interview template to create a survey that works for your company.
Reason for Termination:
What is your primary for leaving this role and organization?
Would you consider returning to the company in the future? Why or why not?
What were your feelings about the performance feedback process?
What did you like about the company culture? What, if anything would you change?
What did you like about communication within the organization? What, if anything would you change about the way the company communicates?
Do you have anything else to share?
Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.