How to handle an exit interview

Judith Brown

A person who resigns from your organization is probably leaving for one of these three reasons: a new career opportunity, an unsolicited job offer, or a grievance that has not been handled correctly. When a person resigns for voluntary reasons, it’s often a surprise, and it can be expensive to replace a valuable team member.

An exit interview process will help you and your organization understand why people leave and indicate where you need to make improvements. One that also offers closure is both healthy and productive prior to an employee’s departure.

Some employees move on for very legitimate reasons unrelated to their tenure with the company. They may have changes in career interests, or they or their spouse might be moving out of the area, or a commuting problem that did not exist when they joined the organization may have become unmanageable.

However, the primary purpose of the exit interview (sometimes just done in questionnaire form) has always been to resolve outstanding concerns of both the employer and employee, basically to determine the actual reasons for the individual’s resignation. However, the interview can also address such routine employment matters as the continuation of insurance benefits, vesting in retirement plans, and getting back a company vehicle, pager, cellphone, and other property of the organization.

The exit interview offers the opportunity for willing employees to point out deficiencies in the organization, such as poor management or supervision, complete lack of supervision and support, and poor communications. If your organization is honest with itself, it will use these responses to look into the claims and make any corrections.

Sometimes, the employee reveals that they have had a problem for several months, which they could not resolve, remained quiet, and decided that it was better to switch than to fight. If the employee is worth keeping, this is an ideal opportunity to relate the organization’s dispute resolution procedures, which may give the individual a way to express grievances that can indeed be resolved. It is less expensive to retain a potentially or proven good employee than to find a replacement.

This may be a good time for the organization finding itself remiss in addressing the problem to offer a new procedure or better communication that can resolve the conflict and possibly even retain the employee. The action your organization takes to improve deficiencies can certainly make it a better place to work for present and future employees. However, do not promise a resolution that will not take place. Such promises may become contractual, and if the individual is giving up an opportunity with another organization, your organization may well be liable if a resolution is not reached or a necessary and “warranted” procedure implemented.

And you must ensure that no matter what the employee says, there is no retaliatory action for their perceptions of the truth.

Rules of the interviewThe exit interview should be voluntary. The information collected must be disseminated only to those who need to know. The employee should be allowed to request another person be present. If the interview is normally conducted by the HR manager, and the employee wants the department head or even the head of the organization, and it is possible, do it. Also, maintain the exit interview in a separate file from the employee’s personnel folder.

Preparing for the exit interviewAs you begin to review your exit interview process, look for trends that might point to deeper problems that might help you see new opportunities.

  • The average length of employment
  • The top three reasons why people leave
  • The top three positions with the most turnover
  • The turnover patterns within a specific department or group

Also, examine what you are doing on a personal level to prevent future resignations.

Conducting exit interviewsDetermine how your organization will do the exit interview. You can create a form for the employee to fill out before the interview or mail back after they leave; or conduct a verbal exit interview, either in person or on the telephone.

Once you have created a custom exit interview form for your company and conducted exit interviews, summarize the findings. From this, begin to address the internal areas that will reduce employee turnover or make for a more productive and profitable organization.

Creating exit interview questionsCreating custom exit interview forms is the best approach. These are some sample questions.

  • What did you enjoy the most about working in your department?
  • What did you enjoy the least, and why?
  • Do you think your skills were well used?
  • Was your career path and future within our company made clear to you?
  • Did you have sufficient development and growth opportunities?
  • What suggestions or feedback can you share that would make our company stronger and more successful?
  • Did we handle your complaint/grievance in an appropriate and timely way?
  • What suggestions do you have for improving the work experience with our company?
  • Is there anything you wish you had known before you took the job?
  • Would you recommend our company to others as a good place to work?
  • What would it take for you to stay, if that were possible?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven’t discussed?

If you handle exit interviews respectfully, your organization will gain a wealth of knowledge. In addition, a departing employee will more likely offer honest commentary about what is and is not working in your organization. Are you ready to take the action steps to resolve and improve whatever is necessary?

Getting the most out of the interview

  • Inform the exiting employee of your desire to collect information that could help improve working conditions.
  • Ask if the employee prefers talking with you (if you are the supervisor) or someone else, such as another human resources person or a line manager.
  • Ask the employee to discuss any issues that would be useful to you or the company. Tell them the information will be kept confidential.
  • Schedule the meeting during the last week of the person’s employment.

During the interviewHold face-to-face interviews in a neutral place, as your office may be intimidating. Consider having an exit luncheon for someone who has been a valued employee. Arrange the physical layout to promote a problem-solving discussion rather than a boss-subordinate interview. Sit next to rather than opposite the employee. Listen without being defensive. Record the details. Get as much information as possible from your exit interview questions, including job difficulties you were not aware of, corporate policies and procedures that prevented the person from doing the job effectively or caused annoyance, and anything else the person feels you should know. If the person is vague, prod with specific open-ended questions. For example, “Could you give me an example of that?”

Find out about the employee’s new job. This information could give you ideas about what is wrong now. You might ask:

  • What attracted you to the job?
  • How does the new work environment differ?
  • How do salary and benefits compare?


Turnover is costly, and to stop it, you need to know what is causing it. Carefully prepared and executed exit interviews will help you manage your staff turnover in advance.

Excerpt of an article “Conducting exit interviews — How organizations can benefit!” by Judith Brown, Georgia,USA.Exit interviews facilitated by an expert third party provider like Drake give you deeper and more accurate insight and information than interviews conducted in-house. Drake’s Exit Interview solution provides you with honest insight into why good employees leave, and opens the door for employees to give candid comments on opportunities for the company to improve.


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