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What is an Employee Exit Interview?

An employee exit interview is a conversation that usually takes place between a departing employee and a member of the HR department after the employee has resigned from their post. Think of the exit interview as a good opportunity for your organization to generate positive changes that will help to reduce unwanted employee turnover in the long run. Employees can use the exit interview to share honest feedback as to why they are choosing to leave the organization and how the company can improve on such things as employee experience, company policies, employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and improvements to the work environment for future employees.

What are the Benefits of an Exit Interview?

Turnover is an inevitable part of doing business. While not all turnover may be bad, unwanted turnover or losing people in critical roles can be disruptive and costly. When we consider the cost of replacing an employee can average 21% of their salary and then factor in the costs of recruiting new talent, training, and development, loss of productivity, as well as a poor employer brand, we’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars of loss. That is why it is so important for businesses to conduct thoughtful and consistent exit interviews. People quit jobs for several reasons: stagnant career development, salary, and benefits, company culture, overall job satisfaction, or management issues. Sitting down with an individual who is seemingly no longer invested in the company may seem like a waste of time. However, did you know that over seventy percent of individuals use word-of-mouth referrals from current employees as an indicator of possible future employment with an organization? Suppose you want to improve retention and build a better team and workplace culture. In that case, the exit interview process shows that your company values its employees’ insights and demonstrates your willingness to improve.

Overall Goals

Whether you are hosting exit interviewing as a part of your SOP for offboarding employees or are still considering it, one of the primary goals for any company is to retain its valued employees. If people are leaving your business at a high rate, it’s important to understand why. Let’s review some valuable information that can be uncovered when we invite honest feedback from departing employees and dive deeper into other goals to focus on for an effective exit interview program.

Uncover issues relating to HR.

While more money and better benefits may be a factor for many individuals who quit their jobs, for many others, other contributing factors play a more significant role in their decision to move on to a new employer. Here are just a few examples:

  • Wanting to work remotely
  • Lack of flexible work schedule
  • Feelings of burnout
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Lack of career growth
  • Corporate culture
  • Poor relationship with management
  • Lack of engagement
  • Feeling unhappy at work
  • Poor mental health

When handled appropriately, exiting employees may be more willing to share candid feedback and help identify potential organizational problems.

Understand employees’ perceptions of the work itself.

This is directly related to how the employee envisions their overall experience with the company, from how they feel about the role’s responsibilities to the team dynamic, working conditions, and workplace culture. Managers can better understand how to motivate their direct reports, improve efficiencies, and foster a more positive company culture.

Gain insight into managers’ leadership styles and effectiveness.

It has been said that employees don’t quit their jobs. They quit managers. A recent Gallop Poll of over one million U.S. workers suggests that a bad manager was the number one reason for leaving their job. It may be challenging to spot management issues, but you’ll likely find some constructive feedback to provide managers, whether good or bad, from an exit interview.

Learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) at competing organizations.

As mentioned previously, compensation is one of the common reasons that employees leave. Exit interviews can help you determine where you stand amongst your competitors with PTO, compensation packages, and career growth and advancement opportunities. If the information suggests a significant difference, revisiting your compensation strategy may be warranted.

Foster innovation by soliciting ideas for improving the organization.

The exit interview is an excellent opportunity to reach out far beyond the standard questions about employee experience and solicit feedback about company operating systems, competition, and marketing strategies, as well as company strategy.

Create lifelong advocates for the organization.

Your willingness to sit down and have a meaningful discussion about an individual’s experience with your organization allows that person to feel heard and valued. Be sure to treat your departing employees with respect and gratitude. When you are genuine and come from a place of curiosity rather than defensiveness and ego, you can make brand ambassadors out of former employees. How you conduct yourself during the exit interview could encourage them to recommend your product or service and refer other employees or potential customers to you. Consider the exit interview your last chance to leave a good impression. You might even keep them as a customer!

How to conduct an effective exit interview

Interview all exiting employees

Some organizations host exit interviews only for professional or executive employees, while others meet with everyone regardless of whether they are leaving voluntarily or were terminated. If the relationship ended on bad terms, it might be best to use your discretion on a case-by-case basis. But best practices suggest performing exit interviews for all departing employees, as you will most likely receive some valuable insight that your team can use.

Be timely

The best time to conduct the initial exit interview is up for debate. Some experts suggest the most productive timeframe is halfway between the notice and the employee’s departure. Unfortunately, most exit interviews are conducted during the last weeks with the company when they are emotionally disengaged. Another option is to wait until after the employee leaves the company and is recharged and more relaxed. They may be more willing to provide honest answers at this point. How long the interview should last also varies, but being prepared with a short, concise, and consistent set of questions that engages the interviewee in conversation will go a long way to making the interview run smoothly and efficiently.

Be transparent

Requesting an unplanned and unstructured meeting with a departing employee may yield different results. By letting employees know in advance that you would like to meet with them and why, what you would like to discuss, and your goals for the discussion, you have a much better chance of them arriving ready to actively participate in an honest conversation that provides you with helpful information. Be fully transparent. Reassure them of your desire for a respectful and open discussion that is entirely confidential and judgment-free. Remind them they can decline to answer any questions they may feel uncomfortable answering and ask if you can share responses with management or fellow employees.

Keep it casual

Keep the conversation casual and in a neutral setting where the employee does not feel they are being interrogated. Avoid inviting direct or indirect supervisors to the meeting whenever possible, but ask a third colleague, such as an HR representative, to keep it open and less stressful. If an individual’s reason for leaving is their manager, they will likely say something other than that directly to their manager. Remember to ask the same questions of all employees in every interview.

Keep it personal

It’s important to avoid being defensive and accusatory during an exit interview and remember not to take responses personally. Ask clarifying and follow-up questions to better understand the employee’s point of view and to confirm that you are actively engaged in the conversation. Thank them for their service and acknowledge their contributions to the company.


If you are the interviewer, be prepared to listen more than talk and occasionally ask some open-ended questions. This reaffirms your intentions of creating a safe space free of judgment for an open and honest discussion. Remember to keep it friendly and without judgment. Allow the employee to vent and resist the urge to argue, correct, or offer solutions to problems. The best exit interview questions should be framed positively and not embarrassing for the interviewee.

Don’t lead

Active listening is one of the most critical aspects of conducting an effective exit interview. As the interviewer, it is your job to comprehend, absorb, and retain the information you are entrusted with. Make a conscious effort to fully absorb what the employee is sharing. You would be amazed by how much information you can obtain during an exit interview when you actively listen and keep the conversation positive.