Exit Interview Tips

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Exit Interview Tips

Posted on August 3, 2018 by Jonathan Mills

The exit interview process is easy to forego. It costs time, creates stress, and obligates a response by leadership, so shortchanging this process is appealing; but the exit interview is your final interaction with an employee. It can reveal things about coworkers, supervisors, clients, the work environment, or that hint at wide-reaching problems. It may also lead to the revelation that your employee will stay if an unresolved issue can be addressed. This is also an opportunity to foster a healthy reputation, encourage referrals, and improve relations with future business partners. This former employee is going to be your brand ambassadors for a long time, so don’t lose the opportunity to shape their outlook. It is far too valuable an exercise to ignore.

I used to work at a place where my employer didn’t see the value of exit interviews. That says a lot about an organization. Now in an organization that does see the value, it’s great. Exit interviews are viewed as more than a check-box. The company is able to learn and improve based on this valuable feedback. Further, our terminating employees are still brand ambassadors and the exit interview is our last opportunity to show that we are 100% listening.
– Korrin, HR professional at Appian, a software company with offices worldwide.

Below are guidelines and ideas to help foster positive exit interviews. Use them to frame your strategy around relationships and culture, priorities that better utilize exit interviews, and have long-term benefits for your overall corporate environment.

Why Prioritize the Exit Interview?

Reputation: Former employees shape your employment brand. Wrap the exit interview and the entire offboarding process into your strategy for a good employment reputation.
Referrals: A positive experience for terminating employees can lead to future referrals. It can also implant a positive impression on their future employers, whom you might one day partner with. If they have a negative experience, they are just as likely to discourage others from working with you.
Revelations: Terminating employees are more likely to have candor about concerns, managers, and working conditions. This can reveal patterns from broader problems or identify issues that, if resolved, would allow the employee to stay. There are also stories worth remembering (both victories and failures). Take the time to listen.

Millennials are some of the most avid users of online networks, and they will very quickly spread the word about how much they love or hate your organization. These employees are not monolithic, however. Millennials are actually a diverse group. Click here to learn more about the 6 different types of Millennial.

Relationship Building

The most productive exit interview starts with a positive corporate culture. Paying attention to your relationships with leaders and employees helps foster that culture and prepare terminating employees for a candid, “upward and onward” discussion. It also helps your leaders take advantage of employee feedback to make substantive changes that improve culture and employee confidence. Here are a few ways to improve your relationships.

Relationship with Leadership

Improving relationships through time-management and preparation.

  • Efficient and effective. When you conduct feedback review meetings, stay focused on the agenda. This seems like a given, but many organizations struggle to maintain focus. Make a plan and set ground rules for how the meeting will be conducted. Assign a capable facilitator to maintain order, interrupt side-bars, and run the meeting. Set an expectation that your facilitator is allowed to interrupt anyone (even the CEO).
  • Preparation. As an HR team, review the interview feedback in advance of the broader leadership meeting. Identify key trends, issues, and stories, especially where they relate to the organization’s larger strategies, values, and mission.
  • Share responsibility. Encourage your leadership to empower the HR team and other subordinates to effect change. These additional team members can share the responsibility of reviewing feedback as-well-as make important decisions. Remember that your CEO or President is still the cultural leader, so you will need their full buy-in.

Relationship with Employees

Improving relationships through service and communication.

  • Bring HR to the employee. Time, travel, and willpower are barriers to employee participation. You can help the average employee use your programs by traveling to where they are. Go on tour with a conflict resolution training, a wellness focus group, or career counseling. The visibility and interpersonal contact will strengthen your relationship with employees and improve your reputation.
  • Remove barriers. “Open door” thinking is inadequate because the average employee is fearful and unlikely to walk through that door. If you focus on using a more proactive approach to HR management it will help timid employees participate. Remove fear by traveling to them. Make training easy by providing a list of applicable programs. Reduce time costs by ensuring HR activities are part of project level planning.
  • Two-way communication. Great communication is dual faceted. It requires both useful information and a positive relationship. Try to strengthen the relational aspect of communication, because it helps employees will give you cues as to what information is useful. Follow-up by including what you have learned in future communications.

Exit Interview Guidelines

Below are a few notes on how to prepare for an exit interview. These ideas will help reframe the way you think about this process, in turn preparing you for a more productive interview.

  1. Begin your preparation with the intent that this is meant to be a positive, relationship building experience. The offboarding process is an opportunity to give your employee a positive story to tell about your organization. Once they leave, they will continue to shape your employment brand, so never discount an exiting employee.
  2. The power of authentic sincerity is underestimated. Take some time for self-reflection and decide that your exiting employee is worth the time and effort. Decide that their future can be bright and a relationship with them is worthwhile.
  3. If employees are unwilling to attend an exit interview, there may be a confidence, trust, or grievance problem. This cannot be solved overnight, but take it as a cue to investigate.
  4. It would be tempting to complete the exit interview via phone or email. That makes the least impact on your already busy schedule; but this would also be a missed opportunity. In most cases, face-to-face interaction goes a long way toward creating a positive experience.
  5. In preparation, try to learn something about what your employee is doing next. Remember that you are each a part of the other’s story, so celebrate positive changes and perform the interview with sincere interest.
  6. When selecting your interviewer, look for someone with these three characteristics: talent and skill for interpersonal relationships, comfort with the interview process, and a pre-existing relationship with the employee. If no one with those characteristics is available, consider how to find and position such a person for future exits.

Additional Interview Questions

I recommend including these questions in your exit interview.

  1. During your time here, was your experience aligned with our corporate values and mission? If so, in what ways?
  2. Where did we fall short in aligning your work-life with our mission and values?
  3. What can you tell me about the mission and values of your future employer? Or, what mission and values would you like your future employer to have?
  4. Where do you see your career trajectory taking you in the coming years? What would you like to accomplish?
  5. Now that you are leaving [company name], can we stay in touch? Are there any specific ways that we can support you in the future?


The above guidelines will help you maximize the productivity of your exit interviews. The relationships you build are also a stepping stone toward fostering a healthy corporate culture. If you would like additional insights or assistance, reach out to Corporate Culture Specialist. We are a firm dedicated to helping organizations realize their full potential through inspired corporate culture. You can contact us here, or find additional insights on our blog page.

Recommended Reading: 6 Types of Millennials

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