What to say in an exit interview

What to say in an exit interview

What to say in an exit interview will obviously depend on the particular circumstances, but it is an opportunity for the employer to find out why an employee chose to leave. That information should be used to bring about improvement and therefore increase the likelihood of employees remaining with the organisation in future. This blog will explore the purpose of an exit interview, what to say in an exit interview as an interviewee and what to say in an exit interview as the interviewer.

The purpose of an exit interview


It is common for the employee (or former employee) to be frustrated or distressed during the discussion. Perhaps these feelings are triggered by the questions being asked or maybe the person came to the exit interview to get various things off their chest such as poor treatment by the organisation or to express criticism of those within it.

Those feelings are entirely normal. After all, the person is leaving for a reason, and it may well be the case that if the situation had been handled differently the person having the exit interview would have been happy to stay. As referred to above, the purpose of an exit interview is to find out why the person decided to leave and to use this information to improve the organisation.

Despite the potential value of exit interviews, it is common for employers to be sceptical of the process. Perhaps this is due to disappointment that the person chose to leave, or a sense that there is no point in bringing it up now as the decision has been made. This approach misses the point. It is not about persuading people to change their mind at the last minute: it is about exploring how things could be done better in future.

What to say and do in an exit interview – as an interviewee:


1. Be open


It may be tempting to provide only short and vague answers, but that information is unlikely to be helpful. For example, when asked ‘what was the reason for leaving?’ The reply could be ‘a new job’. The problem with that basic example is that it does not explain why the person started job searching in the first place. Perhaps it was simply a matter of the new company offering better pay, but it is just as likely that there are other reasons for seeking a change of scene. Was there a disagreement involving colleagues or managers? Did the workload become unrealistic? Was the departure soon after a grievance or being turned down for a promotion. There are many reasons why a person may choose to leave, and it is important to be open about what they are otherwise it is unlikely that the exercise will be useful.


2. Be reasonable


It is common for those leaving to have extremely strong views about what or who was responsible for their departure. This is potentially extremely useful information as it answers the question at the centre of it all. However, exit interviews are sometimes seen as an opportunity to settle scores. In such circumstances, it would be easy for the interviewer to dismiss the comments. Whereas, if points were made in a more balanced way they are likely to carry more weight.


3. Be focused


It may be the case that there were lots of reasons for the decision to leave, or that there are a substantial number of issues that are relevant to the exit interview. In such a situation, it is all too easy to ‘not see the wood for the trees’. Similarly, when faced with a large amount of information, it is possible that the interviewer may not capture the situation in the way the person had intended. By being clear and concise the interviewer is far more likely to absorb the information regardless of how complex the situation may be.


4. Be calm


Depending on the situation, reliving past events may well be distressing. That response is understandable, but it is important that the distress does not cause the message to become lost.


What to say and do in an exit interview – as an interviewer:


1. Ensure any preparation work has been done


Preparation is important. For example, does the organisation have a procedure regarding exit interviews and, if so, is everything in place? Has the interviewee already provided any information that may be relevant to the exit interview? Two examples would be written responses to feedback forms, or the contents of the resignation letter.

As well as reviewing relevant material, it is also important to consider any steps that need to be taken to ensure the interview runs smoothly. Will the information be anonymised? What will be done to ensure that process is objective? Have steps been taken to avoid a situation where, for example, the line manager responsible for the person’s departure is the individual given the responsibility of undertaking the exit interview?  

Some employers choose to send questionnaires out rather than having an exit interview, but will this approach get the desired information? If information was provided in the questionnaire, was it followed up?


2. Keep an open mind


It is easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what did or did not happen, or who was responsible for what. This instinct should be avoided. The purpose is to obtain information and that is not possible if the interviewer has already decided why things happened the way they did.


3. Do not limit questions


This may seem obvious, but it is common for those conducting exit interviews to only ask particular questions and not to deviate from those questions that are on the list. This would be a mistake as insights may be missed if questions are not asked based on what is said during the interview.


4. Consider what will be done with the information once it has been provided


There is little point in gathering information if nothing is done with it. If the information does point to there being a consistent reason why employees leave, and that is something that the organisation can influence, how will the information be used?


5. Remember the purpose of the exercise


It is important to remember that the purpose of the exercise is not to defend the actions of the employer, or particular colleagues: the point is to listen, understand and work towards improvement.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law. We offer HR consultancy whereby we undertake tasks on behalf of clients such as preparing for, or conducting exit interviews. We also provide HR training on a range of topics including exit interviews. For a free consultation, to discuss your needs and the ways in which we can help, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com







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