How To Conduct an Effective Exit Interview


If you’re just doing exit interviews because you think you have to, skip them.” – Cissy Pau, Clear HR Consulting

Canadian Business recently contacted us for a feature on the pros and cons of exit interviews. We thought we’d go more in depth in this topic, by discussing the purpose and key steps of how to conduct an effective exit interview.


An exit interview is a means of gathering feedback from an employee who has chosen to voluntarily leave the company. The exit interview is your opportunity to determine their reasons for leaving and to find out what your company is doing well and what it needs to do to improve.

Gathering feedback from exit interviews is a great way to identify trends, patterns and themes of departing employees. Also, using the results effectively can lead to improvements such as increased employee retention, higher levels of employee satisfaction, and reduced turnover costs.

Key Steps

1. Determine the information you want collected through exit interviews

Common information that exit interviews collect include:

  • Reasons for leaving
  • New employer & details of compensation package
  • Satisfaction with company pay and benefits and with the employee’s job
  • Confidence in skills and talent of direct manager and management team
  • Feelings about work environment, company culture
  • Views on career advancement, training and development opportunities
  • Areas of company strengths and weaknesses

2. Decide on the best format to use to conduct the exit interview

The key is to create a safe, non-judgmental environment in which the exiting employee is comfortable to provide honest feedback. Two common options for exit interviews include:

  • Face-to-face discussion
    • The interviewer has an opportunity to probe for information, to ask follow-up questions, and to get to the root of sensitive or reluctant feelings.
    • Employees may not be comfortable discussing sensitive or difficult topics face-to-face for fear of reprisal or creating ill-feelings or conflict.
  • Written questionnaire
    • They provide employees with a greater sense of confidentiality as it is the employees’ choice what, if any, information they include about themselves.
    • Results of questionnaires are easier to summarize, especially if they use ratings or rankings, rather than open-ended questions.
    • Interpretation of the questionnaire results is subjective as you cannot probe the employee for more information. The employer may end up making incorrect inferences, jump to conclusions or make incorrect subjective judgments.

3. Determine the questions to ask

  • For face-to-face exit interviews, prepare your list of questions in advance. Ask open questions that start with “what”, “how” or “why”, rather than closed questions which elicit yes/no answers. Use the same questions for all exit interviews to ensure consistency.
  • For a written questionnaire, develop a consistent one to be used for all departing employees. Questions requiring a rating or score are good so that information can be aggregated and comparisons can be made from one year to the next. Balance rating questions with open-ended questions so that employees can also include some narrative feedback to the company.

4. Decide who will conduct the exit interview

  • Many employees worry about burning bridges if they provide honest feedback at an exit interview. They need assurance that their feedback will be used solely to improve the company and will not be used against them.
  • The best interviewer would be the person or mechanism best able to make the employee feel comfortable to provide open, uncensored feedback. Some options include:
    • The employee’s direct manager
    • Another member of the management team
    • Human Resources employee
    • External 3rd party
    • Automated or written questionnaire

5. Conduct the exit interview

  • If you choose to conduct the exit interview face-to-face, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
    • Listen more than talk. Give the employee time to answer questions and don’t pressure an answer.
    • Be empathetic. You can understand what the employee is saying without needing to agree.
    • End the exit interview meeting graciously and on a positive note. Thank the employee for their honesty and feedback and commit to using the information provided to improve your workplace. Wish your employee success in his/her new endeavour.
  • If you are providing a written questionnaire:
    • Give the employee the questionnaire for them to complete. If your questionnaire is internet-based, give the employee the access information.
    • Advise employees to whom the written questionnaire should be returned, or provide a stamped, pre-addressed envelope for them to mail the questionnaire back.
    • Completion of the questionnaire should be voluntary.

6. Review all feedback provided and take any necessary actions

  • It is recommended that information gathered in an exit interview be aggregated on a regular basis (e.g. annually) so that the company can review and analyze trends and patterns.
  • If the exit interview is based on ratings and scoring, metrics can be determined at each annual review to see if the improvements being made are having the desired results.

Be pro-active in gathering employee feedback. By the time you learn about your employees’ concerns and ideas for improvement at an exit interview, it is usually too late to make changes so that the employee will stay. The best time to have an employee discuss concerns, challenges, dissatisfactions and suggestions is while they are still employed and committed to the company.

For assistance on creating an effective exit interview process for your small business, please visit Clear HR Consulting.


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