How to run an exit interview that doesn’t feel forced

Your employee says they’re leaving the company for a new job, and you know what you have to do: an exit interview. But don’t all amicable ones feel the same?

Managers, here’s how to run exit interviews that stand out.

Don’t ask about something when you can’t actually make it happen

Liz Kelly, founder of employee communications and engagement consultancy Brilliant Ink, writes in The Muse about how one of her employees left her job, and although she “didn’t really get a chance to say a proper goodbye” because of meetings, or get to do an exit interview, she details what she would have said to her in hindsight. She also explores what she wouldn’t ask, based on her own experience:

“Here’s a final exit interview question I don’t recommend: During a wrap-up interview, I once had a former boss ask me if there was anything she could do to change my mind. I enjoyed the job but was incredibly underpaid, so I felt a faint glimmer when she asked me this question. I told her a nominal raise would do the trick. Unfortunately, she promptly replied that it wasn’t possible. The lesson: Don’t offer something you can’t deliver. There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up — only to have them doused with ice water.”

Make the employee feel like they can truly share their experiences

Susan M. Heathfield, an HR expert, writes about this in The Balance.

The exit interview questions you ask are key to obtaining actionable information. Start your exit interview with light discussion to help your departing employee feel comfortable answering your questions. Assure the employee that no negative consequences will result from honest discussion during the exit interview.”

Whether or not the employee decides to really open up or not, it’s still a good idea to give them the opportunity to do so in a positive way.

Ask about issues they’ve come across

Referencing a specific OfficeTeam survey, a Robert Half blog post includes questions to ask departing employees in an exit interview. One of them gets to the root about company problems.

“Do you have any concerns about the company you’d like to share? With more than one in five HR managers saying information gleaned in exit interviews led to changes in corporate culture, responses to this question may lead to department — or companywide improvements you can make.”

Actually do something with the information you learn

David Javitch PhD, founder and president of Javitch Associates, a leadership specialist, author and organizational psychologist, writes in Entrepreneur about this process.

He writes that exit interviews might not always be productive in certain situations, but that implementing what you learned can make positive change.

“So what can you do to encourage more effective exit interviews? First, you need to demonstrate to your employees that the information you gather in an exit interview is being shared appropriately. This means that the exit interview process has had a positive impact on an existing situation, that something the departing employee complained about was actually addressed by you.”