Exit Interviews: How to Say “See You Later” on Best Terms

Exit interviews are the part of offboarding that will determine the relationship you have with former employees. Here's the best practices for using them.

In today’s ever-evolving workforce it is more important than ever to say goodbye to employees on the best of terms. The employer and employee relationship has changed, and expectations are now very different from what they used to be only a matter of years ago. Exit interviews are the employers last interaction with employees before they start their next adventure, which is why it is most important to understand exit interview best practices.   

People are now leaving jobs for any number of reasons, including personal growth, well-being, or just to try something new. This means that an employee leaving isn’t necessarily negative, and the one thing an employer can do to combat the change in the employee lifecycle is to invest in lifelong relationships.   

From the rise in boomerang employees which “can save an employer up to two thirds on traditional recruitment costs” to an enhanced focus on employee engagement, employer branding and the fact that company reputations can be destroyed effortlessly online, prioritizing a smooth offboarding strategy is sure to pay off in the long run.

Here are our top tips for conducting exit interviews that will help your employees to feel valued, appreciated and ultimately part ways on good terms.  

Table of Contents  

What is an Exit Interview?  

Why Do We Need to Plan for an Exit Interview?  

What Are the Right Questions to Ask?  

What Are the Wrong Questions to Ask?  

What Should be the Goals for an Exit Interview?  

Exit Interview Best Practices and Strategies  

What is an Exit Interview? 

An exit interview should play a huge role in every offboarding process. It is the final stop of the journey before you and your employee part ways.  

The exit interview can be an online survey but if you have the capacity, we recommend doing it face to face (in person or virtually). It is typically held by someone in the HR department, but it can be with anyone at the organization who is a “neutral” figure for the employee (not their direct boss for example).  

An employee leaving your organization is a great source for understanding any potential problems or concerns within your work environment or company culture. The exit interview should find out the reason the person is leaving, gather feedback from the employee's time at the organization and offer them support in their future journey. 

By allowing employees to just walk out the door without having a chat with them to confirm their reason for leaving, you could be missing out on something bigger happening in your company that requires your attention. You also want employees to leave on a good note, and exit interviews are the perfect place to tell your employees how much you value their contributions to the company, to keep the door open should your employee want to return, or keep your former employees satisfied should future opportunities arise.  

Why Do We Need to Plan for an Exit Interview?  

Checklist for exit interview questions

Your exit interviews, when conducted correctly, can give you a whole new outlook on what's happening within your organization. If there is anything causing people to quit which you can fix internally, you don’t want a stream of top employees to leave before you catch on to the trend. That’s why you want to make sure your exit interviews are carried out in the most informative and fair way possible, so you can have honest and open conversations with your departing employees.   

Planning for exit interviews is crucial. You want to make sure they are carried out by the appropriate person, someone neutral and not someone the employee could find intimidating. Then you want to make sure all the right exit interview questions are being asked. And lastly, you want your employees to leave on a good note, either so they can return as boomerang hires, or so they speak highly of your organization after they have left, improving your employer brand.  

What Are the Right Questions to Ask?  

Best practice is asking for feedback in an exit interview

Planning out the right questions will have the biggest impact on the output of your exit interview process. You don't want to be too pushy or inquisitive and you want your employee to speak openly so you can understand the real reason your employee is leaving. We suggest asking three types of questions: 

  1. Feedback. Asking employees what feedback they have for you can give you a general idea about their time spent in the organization, and the things that your organization are well or not so well. Don't shy away from negative feedback as it can only help your organization improve.  

  1. Personal experiences. Asking employees what the highlight of their time spent with you is allows them to leave with good memories in mind. You can also ask who made the biggest impact on them during their time with you. 

  2. Reason for leaving. You want to know if there's something you could have done better, whether its connected to company culture, growth opportunities, compensation or something else.  

What Are the Wrong Questions to Ask?  

As you don't want to be too pushy or inquisitive during an exit interview, there are definitely questions to avoid. Remember this is not an office gossip session, its constructive feedback for the organization to take onboard to improve employee experience. We suggest avoiding the following: 

  1. Asking for names. If the employee feels comfortable to disclose names of other employees they will. Don't use this time to get stories of current employees and focus on the employee in front of you. 

  1. Sharing your opinion. This is your employee's time to speak honestly about how he felt at the organization. Don't try to tell them their experiences are invalid .  

  1. Persuading employees to stay. The exit interview is not the time to try and reverse someone's decision. It is purely to listen to employee feedback and learn how to improve. 

What Should be the Goals for an Exit Interview?  

Checklist for exit interview questions

Make sure you know what you want to get out of exit interviews before you go into them. You want this chat to be beneficial for both you and your employees.  

Some ideas for goals could be:  

To Explain the Offboarding Process Clearly 

This is important so your employee knows the steps they're expected to take before leaving the organization completely. They should also be told who to get in touch with if they need anything in the future.  

To Assist the Employee Throughout the Transition 

Assisting departing employees in the transition to their next role is important for maintaining future relationships with them. It proves you value the employee and see yourself as a part of the employee's life, not just their employer for a certain amount of time.  

To Understand How Employees See the Work Culture 

This is your chance to understand why the employee has chosen to leave, their experiences in your company (both good and bad) and get constructive feedback so you can improve.  

To Prioritize Protecting the Company's Reputation  

You don't want former employees leaving dissatisfied. The exit interview is the last chance to chat to your employee, find out their reason for leaving, congratulate them on their contributions to your organization and settle any ill feelings or bad will.  

To Part on Good Terms  

Parting on good terms is essential for many reasons. Firstly, your employee knows your organization better than most and could be a source of new business or partnerships. Secondly, they would be more likely to encourage friends or family to take a job with you, and thirdly, they might even end up rejoining your company after gaining more skills and expertise elsewhere.  

To Gather Employee Feedback  

An employee is never going to be more honest with you than when they’re about to leave. Use this opportunity to gather constructive criticism and learn how to improve.  

Create Advocates from Former Employees 

They know your company better than anyone and if they believe in your product, they’re likely to pass on a recommendation.  

To Onboard Employees to your alumni network. 

Your exit interview is the perfect place to onboard employees to your alumni platform. Make sure they know exactly how to stay in touch, and what you can help them with in the future. You can read more about creating a smooth alumni onboarding experience here.  

Offboarding is so crucial to your organization, most organizations have now introduced a part of their offboarding process at onboarding!

After an exit interview shaking hands with employer

Exit Interview Best Practices and Strategies 

Follow these tips and tricks when you conduct an exit interview strategy. Similar to a job interview, you want to show up on good form so you and your employee can make the most out of the exit interview.  

Take Notes During the Exit Interview 

Not only does it show your departing employee you are taking what they say seriously, you also don’t have to worry about memorizing everything they say, and the feedback is easier to pass on to relevant parties.  

A Neutral Party Must Be Present 

For the exit interview to be successful you need your departing employee to feel comfortable to have an open and honest conversation, which means a neutral party should be conducting the interview.  

Set Expectations of the Interview’s Confidentiality 

Tell your employee what the feedback they tell you will be used for and make sure they know any complaints or allegations are told in complete confidence.  

Communicate the Interview Purpose Right Away 

By telling employees that the interview is standard procedure for people leaving the company they are more likely to relax and speak openly. They’ll also appreciate the effort and leave the company on a good note.  

Ask the Right Questions  

Make sure you have the goals set out for why you want to conduct an exit interview, so you can prepare the right questions that will help you reach your goal and gain valuable insight.  

Get Feedback  

Not just about your employee's time at your organization, but also on how the exit interview has been conducted to see if there is anything you could have done to make your employee feel more comfortable.  

Reevaluate Exit Interviews from the Feedback 

We can't express it enough. Don’t think you know better than what people who are experiencing it are telling you. If there are ways you can improve you definitely should do so.  

Final Thoughts 

Building lifelong relationships with your employees should start a long time before offboarding, but when you conduct exit interviews they play a huge part in how your employees will think about your company in the future. Make sure you utilize it, so it helps your organization grow as well as develop and strengthen relationships.  

For more ways to improve your offboarding strategy and create lifelong employee relationships read this article.  

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