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What Is an Exit Interview?

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Posted by: David Garcia April 02, 2024

Employment comes and goes. While it may have been a case of 40-year careers with the same organization not too long ago, times have changed, and we now see more movement than ever. Departures from employment can come about because of negative reasons, but often, an employee simply wishes to spread their wings and try something new.

Another modern take on employment is an exit interview, which gives the employer and employee the chance to sit down and share insights and feedback about the experience. This may seem like a needless addition or even an awkward goodbye to some, but when done correctly, an exit interview can provide a chance to leave on good terms and help foster positive change within an organization. 

What Is an Exit Interview?

Are Exit Interviews Mandatory?

Exit interviews are becoming increasingly common in today’s employment sector. However, while many companies have adopted them as a way to gain insights into their work environment, culture, and processes, they are not mandated by law and are entirely optional for the departing employee. 

That being said, refusing an exit interview can leave a bad taste, so if an ex-employee wants to leave on good terms, sitting down for a quick interview to go over the good, the bad, and the ugly is probably a good idea. You never know what will happen in the future, and parting ways with a friendly handshake is always better than on a sour note.

Are Exit Interviews Confidential?

Whether an exit interview is confidential will depend on the organization, but the employer should address this clearly before the interview begins and, ideally, sometime before that. These types of interviews are typically carried out under the premise of privacy, with the understanding that the information gathered will be used constructively to improve the business. However, anybody attending an exit interview should first be 100% clear about how the information will be used.

What Are the Benefits of an Exit Interview?

For those leaving a company, the idea of sitting down with a member of HR and going through their experiences might be akin to scrapping your fingers down a chalkboard. If things have not gone well, either because of your own actions or the company’s business handling, the last thing you want to do is have an exit interview. However, when carried out well, they can benefit both the employer and the departing employee. 

To begin with, an exit interview allows both parties to tie up any loose ends. Things like equipment returns, ID hand-in, non-compete clauses, or intellectual property agreements might need to be completed or signed, and the interview allows both the employer and employee to wrap things up neatly. The last thing you want to do is to have to contact an ex-employee after they’ve left the company because you forgot something.

Some employers have little understanding of how things operate at ground level within their organization, and an exit interview gives them an excellent opportunity to speak with a soon-to-be ex-employee who feels free to talk openly and frankly. This can lead to important feedback on organizational culture, employee morale, operational efficiencies, and management problems, hopefully revealing areas for improvement. It’s worth noting that information from departing employees sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – for obvious reasons – but getting a departing snapshot of the company can still be invaluable.

For employees, exit interviews allow them to voice their experience without fear of repercussion. We all know how good it feels to get something off your chest, so if you’re leaving because of a particularly bad problem within the company, expressing that concern can help depart on a constructive note. 

The final benefit involves both employer and employee and helps to leave on amicable terms. As much as 28% of new hires are termed boomerang hires, which means employees returning to their old jobs, and this is much easier when the initial break is amicable.

How To Conduct a Peer Interview

Conducting an exit interview needs to be done well because it can provide a nervous atmosphere for departing employees. They should be formal but also relaxed, structured yet flexible, allowing for both standardized questions and free-flowing dialogue. The idea is to create an environment where open and honest communication can flow both ways. Here are some of the main points to consider when conducting an exit interview:

  • Clearly communicate the purpose of the exit interview when scheduling it
  • The employee’s direct manager should refrain from carrying out the interview. A member of HR is best, as it will put them more at ease 
  • Conduct the interview away from their regular work environment. They might not feel like speaking openly if they think their manager could walk in at any moment
  • Be clear about how you will use the information. If it’s going to remain confidential, make that clear; if not, also state that openly
  • From the beginning, encourage openness and put the employee at ease. You want them to feel like they can speak to you without fear of repercussions 
  • Outline questions beforehand and explain how the company aims to use their answers to improve operations and culture 
  • Express support for their new opportunity and wish them well on their new journey 
  • If the company has been happy with their performance and they are welcome back in the future, make this clear to them at the end of the interview
  • Implement feedback to improve other employees’ experiences

When Should Exit Interviews Be Conducted?

Exit interviews should be conducted as close to the employee’s departure date as possible. The final day is generally the best time to gain the clearest and freshest insight into a departing employee’s experience with the company. It especially makes sense if they need to return items such as swipecards, IDs, etc.

We recommend sending a copy of the questions that will come up in the interview at least a week in advance. This can give the employees peace of mind that they know what to expect but also allows them to construct some thoughts, which is always better than blindsiding them on the interview day. Many employees feel nervous about the idea of an exit interview, so putting them at ease is in everybody’s best interests and will almost certainly get the best possible feedback.

What To Expect in an Exit Interview

Questions to Expect

Exit interviews typically cover various topics, from the employee’s reasons for leaving to their suggestions for organizational improvement. The interviewer will likely want to know about job satisfaction, workplace relationships, management styles, and growth opportunities. 

Here are some of the most likely questions:

  1. What are your reasons for leaving the company?
  2. What inspired you to look for another position?
  3. How did the company help you do your job well, and how could it have done more?
  4. Do you have any recommendations for the onboarding process?
  5. How do you feel about your former colleagues and managers?
  6. Did you feel appreciated by your team and/or managers?
  7. What were the best and worst parts of working in this position?
  8. What was the most challenging part of working in this position?
  9. What could we have done to keep you at the company?
  10. Would you consider returning to the company in the future or under different circumstances? 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Honest Should You Be in an Exit Interview?

Being honest in an exit interview is important, but don’t forget professionalism. Sharing constructive feedback can lead to positive changes, but it shouldn’t degenerate into mud-slinging. Always remain respectful and consider the potential impact of your words.

Can You Decline an Exit Interview?

Yes, employees can decline an exit interview, as they are purely voluntary. If an employee feels uncomfortable with the idea, a company cannot force them to participate but can seek feedback through alternative methods if necessary.

What Should You Avoid Saying in an Exit Interview?

We encourage openness during an exit interview while avoiding personal attacks, unconstructive criticism, or comments that could burn bridges. Even when experiences are negative, try to provide constructive and professional feedback that the company can use to improve. 

Final Thoughts

An exit interview can easily feel like a moment of dread for an employee who probably wants to move on, but they needn’t be the horror show many expect. When conducted well and in a respectable, professional manner, an exit interview allows both the employer and employee to provide and receive constructive feedback on their performance and experience. Rather than seeing this as a painful ordeal, see it as a way to encourage growth, reflection, and continuous improvement.

For businesses looking to deepen their understanding of employee experiences and enhance their operational practices, partnering with an experienced background check solution like ScoutLogic can provide invaluable support. Our expertise in background screening and comprehensive search services offers a solid foundation from which to build a group of employees.

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