Exit Interview Best Practices: Tips & Questions

entrevue de départ
Catherine Maheux-Rochette
May 19 2021

Effective exit interviews are crucial to the success of any organization. Not only do they allow you to gather valuable insight about the employee experience, when conducted properly, they help reduce employee turnover by helping you understand why current employees are leaving. What’s more, it’s an opportunity to leave employees with a positive impression of your company culture.

Two things, then.

To get the most out of your exit interview process, it’s important to make it a positive experience for the employee and to ask the right exit interview questions, the right way.

Why Conduct an Exit Interview?

As mentioned earlier, the benefits of exit interviews, for employers—and even for departing and future employees!—are numerous. We spoke with Stéphanie Guérin-Tremblay and Émilie Charbonneau, Human Resources Consultants at Go RH. According to them, this is a crucial moment in the life cycle of an employee; a moment during which, if you do it right, they will feel comfortable sharing constructive feedback on the entire company with you. “The departing employee has, in a way, nothing left to lose. They’re not afraid to tell share candid responses.”

Think Profitability

Exit interviews don’t take much time, so they don’t cost the employer much for the amount of relevant information they can provide. In fact, Stephanie tells us that she has rarely seen these types of meetings last more than an hour. “It’s a small investment for a huge return! “she assures us.

Understand Why Employees Leave

Of course, exit interviews allow you to ask employees why they are leaving. It may be a matter of salary—which is less often the case than one might think, according to Émilie—, the possibility of career development, a lack of leadership on the part of the manager, or a conflict with colleagues. Whatever the employee’s reasons, you benefit from finding out what they are. This will allow you, when and where possible, to address some of the issues raised and avoid additional departures.

Assess Employee Experience

Exit interviews share a common goal with engagement surveys: take the pulse of the organization, and then improve HR practices based on the results. Unfortunately, by the time you get to the exit interview stage, it’s often too late… for the employee you’re talking to. However, if you ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers the employee gives you—active listening is the key to a positive employee experience—it is possible to get a good picture of their experience with you during the exit interview.

Pinpoint your Strengths

An exit interview can also be a great opportunity to ask the departing employee what they liked about you. While it’s important to note your weaknesses and areas for improvement, it’s also crucial to be aware of what you’re doing well… to ensure you continue to do the right things (effectiveness), in the right way (efficiency)!

Stay on Good Terms

Keep in mind that your employees are your best ambassadors. Even if the employment relationship is over, chances are your (ex-) employees will still be talking about you to people around them. If their departure is stormy, that’s what they will remember about their experience with you. It is therefore crucial, says Stephanie, to take advantage of the exit interview to thank the employee for his or her work and to ensure that you make the experience a pleasant one. Staying on good terms with your former employees will also contribute to your employer brand and may even make it easier to recruit.

Exit Interviews: Best Practices to Get Meaningful Responses

As you’ve seen, exit interviews can be very helpful in highlighting workplace issues that you can address later. Now, how do you get departing employees to give you honest feedback? It all starts with your attitude. Be sure that employees notice how much you care about what they have to say. Plus, you need to ask effective exit interview questions!

1. Be Transparent About the Purpose of the Interview

First, be honest with the employee about the nature of your meeting. For Émilie, “it’s less an exit interview than a time to talk about their experience as an employee, and that’s how I bring it up. Employees usually appreciate it.” She also advises reminding the employee that their participation helps the organization, obviously, but also—and more importantly!—their colleagues. Explain that they add tremendous value to the company and that by answering your questions, they are helping to improve the employee experience. Thank them for sharing their personal issues and experience with you. “It’s going to help me help the employer grow,” says Émilie. It’s crucial that the employee understands the value of their contribution and doesn’t see the interview as just a task to be completed before they leave.

2. Choose the Right Person to Conduct the Interview

The person conducting the interview must be credible and trustworthy or the employee will not contribute, or not as much as you would like. In the best of all possible worlds, an HR professional would be in charge of exit interviews. If this is not possible, still avoid having the interview conducted by the immediate supervisor, as it is important that there be some level of objectivity in the exchange. “Our role is to help the employer improve its practices, and this is what I tell employees during the exit interviews,” says Stephanie. Émilie likes to remind employees that she doesn’t give a ‘verbatim report’ to the employer. “I come in and get the juice that the employee gives me and create strategies to get the employer to become better.” The person conducting the exit interview needs to position themselves as an ally in the organization, a team player who cares about employee well-being and a healthy corporate culture.

3. Remember: Exit Interviews are Voluntary.

If the departure is voluntary, the meeting that precedes—or follows—it is also voluntary. When you ask a departing employee to participate in such a meeting, make it clear that they have a choice. The less pressure employees feel to do something, the more likely they are to cooperate.

4. Favor Face-to-Face Interviews

Conducting exit interviews in person is preferred, as talking to employees face-to-face allows you to “dig in” and get much more information from them. “I’ve done both, in-person interviews and when that wasn’t possible, I had employees fill out a questionnaire… It’s like night and day. I’d say that I get at least three to four times more information from the in-person interviews,” says Émilie. She advises that if the employee can’t come in person, you should offer phone interviews. The key, according to her, is to have a honest conversation.

However, Stephanie reminds us, it is better to have some information than none at all. If the employee is unable to participate in the interview, either in person or on the phone, offer them the option of completing online surveys. “It can also be very interesting to benchmark the data collected,” she adds.

Download our free exit interview template now!

5. Avoid Justifications at All Costs

Stephanie advises keeping in mind the primary goal of the meeting: to get as much information as possible about the departing employee’s experience. You want to know how they felt and what made them feel that way. Your role is to ask questions and listen to what the employee has to say. This is not the time to justify what went wrong or to try to convince the employee to stay. You are there to listen in order to improve. Listen actively, show you understand. “When you start justifying, you close doors,” warns Emilie.

6. Establish an Internal Procedure

Make sure you have a guideline and some consistency in your practices. Your exit interviews should all be conducted in a similar manner. Addressing the same topics can help you raise recurring management issues. Obviously, interviews may vary depending on the position or department of the employee you are interviewing, but it is recommended that you have a basic outline and build your interviews in such a way as to survey employees at all levels (working conditions, relationship with employees, relationship with the manager, organizational climate, etc.).

See Folks HR in action!

Did you know that Folks HR's Offboarding Management module allows you to define the action plan to be taken when a departure occurs and assign them to the people responsible, then keep track of the reasons for departure to target trends?

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Common Exit Interview Questions

Here are some exit interview question examples. Of course, your interviews with employees won’t be limited to these, but it’s a good start.

  1. What led you to make the decision to look for a new opportunity?
  2. What convinced you to take this new job?
  3. What will you miss about our company culture?
  4. If I put you in charge of the department tomorrow morning, what would be your priority?
  5. Finally, are there any other topics that haven’t been covered that you’d like to discuss with me?

The exit interview is a critical step in the offboarding process—one that you must pay particular attention to if you want the departing employee to remain an ambassador for your organization. Take this opportunity to thank them for their time and hard work with your organization, and don’t forget to wish them luck in their new challenge!

Here are examples of farewell emails you should send to your departing employees!

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