Exit Interviews – how to make it a valuable Talent process?

I was recently interviewed by Human Resources Magazine for a feature they are running on exit interviews for their July issue and how I consult in that area. They were looking for advice for readers on what to do during an exit interview and what they can do to make it a better experience for all parties involved. Below is the Q&A. with my intro:

Exit interviews are a fundamental part of a wider policy of Talent engagement and retention so should never be looked at alone. The best time to communicate with your employees is on a regular basis while they are still that – your employees.  However, people always move on and it is a great opportunity to get two primary outcomes – a temperature gauge on the coal face of the organisation and knowledge transfer.

Could you list down three dos and don’ts when it comes to conducting an exit interview?

Prepare your exit interview questions (ideally through a pre-designed form) and the topics and information that you’d like to cover off.

Listen, concentrate and take notes rather than talk. This is vital. The interviewees will often need time and space to answer the question with any meaningful depth, or gather the courage to speak freely. This is where the value lies.

Ask open ‘what/how/why’ questions, not closed ‘yes/no’ questions, unless you are looking to find the answer on a specific point. Remember your aim is to elicit honest feedback, useful information and glean answers, not to give an opinion or to judge.


Do not see the interview as an opportunity for “revenge” or to leverage a “higher” positioning by being judgmental about the company they are going to; reasons for leaving; or indispensability to yourselves – this can be particularly rife in  organizations that allow the managers to conduct the exit interviews.

Avoid getting pulled into a “who” or “s/he said, you said, I said” style discussion (or argument) that will leave you saying anything in the meeting the exiting employee might construe as improper discrimination. Also this is NOT a Witch hunt but a cooperative and constructive value based meeting for all involved.

A bad vibe in a final meeting leaves a bad impression not only on the departing employee, but the company’s employer brand. By using any negative or dismissive tone with an exiting employee you are putting all the hard work and high costs of attracting and retaining Talent at risk and doing more damage than you’ll ever get back in that moment of base level ‘satisfaction’.

Are there any questions HR/managers should and should not ask employees?
Some high level advice is make sure you use open questions such as what/how/why/when (but not the who!) and then a funneling process and a sweeper at the end to clarify you have understood properly. Your main aim is to “understand” so always keep this at the core of your questions. Your main enemy is “blame and pressure” so make sure that these are absent. If an exiting employee thinks you are going down an unpleasant path they will clam up and or walk out which is pointless exercise. At the end of the day this is an interview situation so there are many Questions not to ask and my overall advice is to make sure that a skilled and trained interviewer is the person that conducts the interview. It will most likely do more harm than good otherwise.

What do you think the management can do to make the exit interview process painless and productive?
The best thing Management can do is to just agree on a process that is supportive, inclusive, productive and positive.  Obviously some departures fractious by default but in an ideal world the exiting employee should be encouraged and rewarded (if necessary) to attend a face to face briefing. Particularly in the divisions run by A-type directors and managers there is often an attitude of ‘chew em up and spit em out’ which needs to be overcome as it does no-one, least of all the rest of the department/team, any good. If all people involved have a pleasant experience it will gain a credible and valuable reputation and improve your employment brand.

Management need to remain objective, calm and positive to support HR and/or the process to make it worth everyone’s time. This cannot be a half-baked attempt at a policy with no real implementation or follow through, as it is far too emotive at its core for people to not (want) to see through it.


What advice would you give HR professionals to help them improve on their exit interview processes?

All policy change/improvement is difficult, especially those around emotive subjects such as employee exits, whoever the instigator. The business and management insecurities that manifest themselves in aggressive or defensive attitudes can be a big obstacle to overcome so you need to a) operate a change/educational piece around this b) a step process of opt in and b)  undertake exit interviews with your own staff first and build a case study to use in future pitches to the management/business.

A lot of organisations opt for the easier questionnaire form based process. Don’t. This is missing the crux of the value to all involved. I advocate questionnaire forms only as a backup. This is a voluntary process and a form filled in by the “shy” or those lacking “confidence” is better than nothing. However, exit interviews are best conducted face-to-face as it gives a final chance to build a reputation for your brand, understand the exiting employee in a fluid and connected way and react appropriately and promptly with any necessary actions

Take action! If you have followed the advice above you should have a lot of information both in terms of knowledge to transfer and useful information about your employer organisation whether it is processes, culture, or management. You need to assess this in an objective way, understand contextual meaning and create action items that are trackable to see how the environment improves as a result..


About Rob Fanshawe

Currently MD, Asia for Xpand Group, living in Singapore with his wife and dog (golden retriever), his passion in life is simple, “people”. He loves everything to do with meeting and understanding them to helping them and businesses realise their potential through the resulting positive connections.


  1. Don’t just say goodbye! | EMPLOYER BRANDING - November 18, 2011

    […] – a temperature gauge on the coal face of the organisation and knowledge transfer” (Talent Tattler). Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Dette indlæg blev […]

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