Exit Interviews: Why You Should Care + free template

Exit Interviews: Why You Should Care + free template

When an employee decides to leave your business, you need to try and find out why – if you can understand their reasons for resigning, you’re much better placed to encourage others to stay and improve employee retention. Your opportunity to find those answers comes during the exit interview. In this article, we’ll cover exactly how to conduct an exit interview as an employer – including some great exit interview question examples.

What is an exit interview process?

An exit interview is a conversation that happens between a company and an employee who has decided to leave the business. It’s helpful to imagine them as the opposite of a job interview - instead of asking why they want to join your company, you’re asking them why they’ve decided to leave. The objective is to better understand why that employee has decided to resign, in the hope that the company can improve how it works and prevent other employees from following suit.

Why are exit interviews important?

A great many people within HR say that exit interviews are among the most important conversations you’ll ever have at work (although Charlie's CEO actually disagrees). It will be one of the most honest conversations you have with your employees; your one opportunity to find out what your team is really thinking.

And in a very basic sense - if someone is leaving your company, it’s important to know why. People rarely decide to leave jobs for trivial reasons. If they’ve gone down this path, some substantial aspect of their role was likely leaving them dissatisfied in some respect.

If you want to keep your best employees and attract even more, then you must find out why they would leave, and also what might make them stay. A properly run exit interview gives you the perfect opportunity to find out several things:

  • a chance to offer honest feedback and suggestions before they take the next steps in their careers
  • whether people are happy with their work
  • if management is effectively leading people
  • what your team members think about your organisation, overall.

It’s a learning opportunity for you both.

The Role of Exit Interviews in Employee Offboarding

Exit interviews are the foundation of your offboarding process (and an item you should tick off your offboarding checklist)- so much so that they can be the key to your organisation’s future growth.

At Charlie, we make an effort to make exit interviews meaningful and mutually constructive. It should be thorough, but empathetic. It’s an opportunity for both us and for the employees leaving to learn and grow.

Key Areas to Cover in Exit Interviews

There’s a lot of ground to cover during an exit interview, and there’s a lot you can glean from asking the right questions. Here are a few things you may want to cover during the exit interview.

  1. Job Satisfaction: What made the role fulfilling? What made it challenging? Questions in this line should explore workload, job responsibilities, and how well the role aligned with the employee’s skills and qualifications
  2. Company Culture: Does the role have a good work-life balance? Get a bead on what employees perceive to be your core values and how they interact with both leadership and each other on a day-to-day basis
  3. Management Feedback: How did the employee engage with managers and the leadership team? Did they feel as though they were treated fairly, and given adequate support?

What happens during an exit interview?

It really depends on the way it's run. It can be very formal or very casual depending on the employer, but generally speaking, here's how it goes.

The employer asks a set of questions among which:

  • Why are they leaving?
  • What do they think of a company as a whole?
  • Is there a specific reason why they're leaving due to management or progression?
  • Do they want to leave any comments on suggestions or improvements?

The employee then gets to respond with their own impression and are usually encouraged to be as candid as possible, which means they get to share:

  • Any management problems they might have encountered
  • Any injustice they might have witnessed
  • Where the company falls short of expectation
  • Whether an element made them leave for good
  • What they liked the most about working there

These are the basic questions you can expect to have, but we'll come back to it later.

How to conduct an effective exit interview?

Now that we know what they are for and what happens, we’re going to talk about the best way to conduct exit interviews. The following are some key best practices it pays to keep in mind while conducting an exit interview, as well as some example exit interview questions.

First off - every departing employee gets an interview

Every person who leaves your company deserves an exit interview. There are a few practitioners out there who will tell you to only conduct them with your star performers (the ones you really want to keep) and not to worry about ‘trouble-makers’.

Marking out exit interviews as valuable only for certain parts of the business sends out a really damaging message. It tells the rest of the company that only some people’s views are worth listening to. The reason exit interviews exist is to give you a clear oversight of everything that goes on at your company - not just the impressions of a few.

If you’re discarding the experiences of so-called ‘trouble-makers’ then you’re creating a massive structural blindspot. You’re going to miss out on the crucial information that could tell you why that hire turned into a ‘troublemaker’ in the first place - perhaps there is something wrong with the way that role is managed that makes it harder for people to succeed. Unless you ask, you’ll never know.

Be timely

The best time to hold an exit interview is on the leaver’s last day, at the end of the offboarding process, or in the days immediately following their departure. Before this, they aren’t going to be as free with their thoughts.

A few day'saround worth of ‘mental distance’ from the role is especially valuable. It gives the leaver something of a vantage point, from which they can make a more critical assessment of their experiences rather than one based on emotions.

Try not to leave it too long though - longer than a week and they’ll start to feel disengaged from the business, particularly if they’ve already started in a new role. You might find their feedback becomes quite general or less direct if they’re already thinking about their new job.

Keep it transparent

Always share the topics that you’d like to cover in advance. Make a list of the questions you want to ask or areas you’d like to tackle, then drop it around to the leaver in an email ahead of time.

Not only does this help to put them at ease, but it also makes it more likely that they’ll come back with some thoughtful, well-developed answers. It gives them a few days to mull over their experiences and come back with some honest feedback, rather than have to come up with something on the spot.

Keep it casual

It pays to make exit interviews as relaxed as possible. At Charlie, we try to make sure they aren’t held in the office but somewhere more informal, such as a nearby cafe, face-to-face if possible. This helps to reinforce the idea that this is an amicable, two-way conversation between ex-colleagues, rather than some form of disciplinary.

If you’re going to run the interview at work, it’s inevitably going to feel like they’re at work.

Keep it personal

One interviewer is always enough. You don’t want them to feel like the company is ganging up on them - and as much as you can, let the leaver decide who they’d like to conduct the interview. You’ll receive much more honest much more honest feedback and valuable information if the two get on well together.

That being said, it’s well worth trying to make sure that the interviewer is at least ‘one-remove’ higher than the leaver, rather than their direct line manager. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, it helps the leaver to be a bit more honest with their feedback. There’s an old saying in HR circles that says: people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. This is your chance to see if that’s true of your business.

Secondly, it automatically shifts that feedback one step further up the hierarchy of the business, making it more likely that action is taken on it.

Listen more than you talk

As the interviewer, don’t feel that you have to respond to feedback - that’s not what this process is for. You’re not there to defend the business or justify your own decisions, but to learn as much as you can about your company.

This could be a really tough experience - particularly if you’re a founder. But take heart in the fact that even the most damning feedback can be acted upon to make your company better.

"Exit interviews can be really difficult, especially if the company is your own. It’s a conversation where someone basically has free reign to have a go at you and your company... It can feel like you’re being kicked whilst you're down. But the trick is to just swallow your pride, and let them have their say.” Ben Gateley, CEO at CharlieHR.

Don’t lead the conversation, guide it

As the interviewer, you might feel a temptation to lead the conversation to the topics you badly want to talk about. This is especially true of founders, who often feel passionately about the business they have built and have strong ideas about how they think it should be run.

However, it’s a mistake to seize control of this conversation. By all means, guide it to the topics you think might be relevant, but the goal is to hear what the leaver has to say - so let them take the interview where they want to take it.

You may find that it yields unexpected and surprising answers.

Share the results…

At Charlie, we make sure that the notes from exit interviews are shared across the whole company leadership, not just amongst the leaver’s immediate team. This helps to ensure that company leaders have a clear understanding of how every side of the business is performing and can take any constructive feedback into account.

...then act on them.

Everything up until this point has been the easy part. Now you need to actually follow up and act on what you’ve learnt.

If you’ve run the exit interview properly, you may well have heard a few things that made you feel uncomfortable - tales of team members not pulling their weight or managers who aren’t supporting their staff.

It might make for difficult listening, but if you’re serious about improving the way your business is run then you need to commit to making the changes that are needed.

Comprehensive List of Exit Interview Questions + free downloadable template

Next, I’ll offer a list of exit interview questions you can use to guide the conversation. Many of these questions are the same ones we use at Charlie for our offboarding process. The questions are sorted by category and come with an explanation of the purpose of the type of question.

Click here to download our exit interview questions

General Experience

Get a general sense of what the employee’s experience was like working with you. Understand what factors were most rewarding, and what led to their decision to leave.

  1. What aspects of your job did you find most satisfying?
  2. What were your primary reasons for leaving?
  3. Can you describe a typical day at work for you here?
  4. What improvements, if any, would you suggest for the workplace?

Role-Specific Feedback

These questions focus specifically on the employee’s role within the company, and how well it aligned with their expectations. They also explore whether their day-to-day matched their job responsibilities.

  1. How well did the job match your initial expectations?
  2. Were there any unanticipated changes in your role that affected your decision to leave?
  3. How do you feel about the way your responsibilities were structured?

Learning & Development (L&D)

Did the employee feel like they had a future in their role, and have access to training and resources? These questions can help you learn about how you can support your career advancement.

  1. Did you feel supported in your professional development here?
  2. Were there sufficient opportunities for learning and growth in your role?
  3. How effective were the training and development resources provided to you?

Company Culture

Company culture is what separates a job people want to stay in, and a job in which people check out mentally until payday. Get the employee’s perspective on aspects of company culture like inclusivity, respect, and work-life balance.

  1. How would you describe the company culture?
  2. What aspects of the company culture would you like to see changed?
  3. Did you feel included and respected in the workplace?
  4. How well did the company support work-life balance?

Decision to Leave

Why did the employee choose to leave? Was it to pursue other opportunities, or was it something specific that happened in the company? Knowing the factors that influenced their decision to leave could be beneficial in preventing further turnover.

  1. What prompted your decision to leave?
  2. Were there specific events or circumstances that influenced your decision?
  3. How do you feel about the way your departure was handled?
  4. What could we have done differently to keep you with us?

Final thoughts

As far as you can, treat the leaver with respect and gratitude for the work they have done with you. Stay on good terms. They'll go on to work at many other places, with many other people, and you want them to leave your company as an advocate and ambassador for you and the way you work.

There is an instinct to be defensive about exit interviews - after all, someone that you hired has decided to quit and is about to tell you every single reason for that decision. Yes, staff exits mean that your company is changing, but as long as you are in control of the direction of travel that is a good thing.

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Another aspect we want you to remember is this: don't forget to have a handover leaving template at the ready so your team member doesn't leave the rest of the team hanging.

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