Exit interviews: what should they cover?


Exit interviews: what should they cover?

An exit interview should not be conducted like a recruitment or performance review interview. Follow these tips to ensure you nail the process and get the answers you need.


Get unlimited access to all of our content.

An exit interview requires different techniques to a recruitment or performance review interview. For one thing, the interviewer is not there to judge the employee, but to collect information about his/her employment experience. And unlike a recruitment interview, the employee is not competing with other employees, he/she is merely stating his/her views.

This, the final article in a series on exit interviews, discusses the structure and scope that an exit interview should adopt.

How structured should it be?

Many interviewers use a standard checklist or form to guide them. This can be useful to ensure relevant issues are at least mentioned, but less essential than for other types of interviews. There is no need for an exit interview to be highly structured; indeed if it is there is a risk it will deteriorate into just a box-ticking exercise.

The aim is to gain information and insights that may lead to improvements in the organisation and its HR practices plus, as far as possible, to enable the employee to leave on good terms.

The interviewer needs to be neutral. He/she should neither defend the employer against criticism, nor agree with and support the employee.

The interviewer should start by explaining the purpose of interview, ie to obtain feedback about working for the employer in order to identify any issues and make improvements where possible. He/she should then explain how the information provided will be handled, eg whether it will be kept strictly confidential, or whether it will be discussed with other parties, such as line managers.

What issuers should be covered?

The following list indicates the scope of issues an exit interview can cover:
  • main reason for leaving
  • other reasons for leaving
  • employee’s plans for immediate future, eg another job, travel, study, relocation, taking a break from work, etc
  • if taking a new job, ask what it offers that the previous job did not
  • employee’s description of work done, how closely it related to job description and expectations when starting the job, and changes that have occurred
  • whether the employee found the work interesting/rewarding
  • aspects of the job the employee liked most and least
  • whether the employee received clear expectations about the job and work output
  • whether adequate resources and other support were provided to do the job
  • remuneration and benefits
  • physical working conditions, plus related issues such as travel and amenities
  • working hours and working arrangements
  • workload, deadlines and work pressure
  • work/life balance
  • suitability of training and development provided
  • career development opportunities
  • relations with immediate manager/supervisor
  • comments on management style and suggestions for improvement
  • role of immediate manager as a mentor/coach
  • performance of other mentors/coaches
  • relations with work group colleagues
  • how feedback was provided, and comments about its quality
  • relations with other stakeholders, eg other managers, customers, suppliers
  • workplace morale
  • list organisation’s core values and seek feedback on extent to which each one was practised
  • organisation policies and practices, eg commitment to EEO, OHS and corporate social responsibility
  • what the organisation has done well, and badly
  • problems that occurred
  • suggested improvements
  • what would have to change in order to prevent a resignation
  • whether the employee would recommend the organisation as an employer (why/why not) and
  • a general “anything else” question
Given that there are more than 30 items on the above list, and a very long interview may become stressful for an employee at a time of general upheaval, interviewers should select judiciously from the list. Preparing a prompt-list of questions that must be asked is recommended, but also be prepared to deviate from the script if particular employee comments are worth exploring further.

A last chance to change the employee’s mind?

It is generally inadvisable to use the interview to persuade the employee to withdraw his/her resignation. The time for that was when the employee first gave notice; by now it will be usually be too late.

If the employer does consider it is worth one last try, however, the interviewer should ask whether the employee would be prepared to remain in the job if changes were made, and if so what changes the employee requires. The interviewer then has to assess whether the employer could accommodate these changes and follow up on them very quickly.

After the interview

When the interview concludes, the interviewer should again thank the employee for taking part, and summarise the actions that will follow the interview.

After the interview, the interviewer should try to assess the employee’s real reason(s) for leaving, and prepare recommendations for any remedial actions, such as changes to HR policies that might prevent other employees from leaving for similar reasons.

There may be advantages in sending a summary of the interview for the employee to check the accuracy of contents before they are distributed to anyone else.

Further information

To read Mike's earlier articles: 
Should exit interviews be shown the door?
How to conduct an exit interview

Post details