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The Exit Interview - Approaching it from both sides of the table

Posted: 13 May 2015

On-boarding has grabbed more than its fair share of the recruitment spotlight. And quite rightly so, ushering new talent into the new company fold is pretty darn important. But wait a sec, what about what happens at the other end? Why is the process of off-boarding often so royally shunned? Yep, it's time the exit interview basked in some of that recruitment sunshine.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the exit interview isn’t as widely adopted as it should be is that it can be a bit of a minefield. Employers can get lazy about investing time into what should be a consistent practice, while also finding it tough to face the employee feedback music. And many employees don’t exactly revel in the idea of possibly facing a negative signing off interview. In amongst the awkwardness and testing truths sits a much underused, invaluable practice that can benefit both employer and employee.

Maybe the confusion and mutual uncomfortability of the exit interview is down to the fact that both parties can have very different experiences. Let’s put best practice, attitude and approach under the microscope for each camp and sing a united praise for this integral process.

In the red corner - The Employer.

A key employer reason for failing to adopt the exit interview is that they simply don’t know how to conduct one correctly. Not to mention not knowing what to do with the derived data or having a fear of facing their failings as an employer head on. So, what does a truly insightful exit interview look like? Well, it starts with taking its importance seriously.

If you ain’t interested in exit interviews, you ain’t interested in improving or retaining. There’s so much you as an employer can discover during this interview so go into it with your eyes and ears open. Let’s get clued up in what really matters when it comes to the exit interview.

  • Always do it face-to-face.

There’s a time and a place for embracing tech and digital wonders but an exit interview isn’t one of them. The very least you owe your soon to be absent employee is an in-person meeting to chat over their departure. All morals aside, this face-to-face approach is simply a more insightful technique. What people say and what they mean can be two different things so being right in front of your employee can help make that differentiation. The personal touch will always breed a better attitude to the send off for both sides. You don’t need to commit to a two hour marathon here, put aside 30-45 mins for a sit down affair. Make that time, it’ll be worth it. Oh and be sure to interview your employee a week or so into their notice period. We don’t want any bad or stressful situations to create animosity so get in there before the process and feedback is tainted by outside factors.

  • Encourage honesty.

What’s the point in conducting an exit interview if your employee is only offering sugarcoated feedback? Don’t shy away from the truth of their departure, encourage them to be honest and upfront about their reasons and opinions. There’s a difference between being honest and asking for a company/manager onslaught of abuse and venting. Manage the interview with compassion and objectivity, redirecting the tone and negativity if feedback gets too heavy to be useful.

  • Stay impartial.

This can be tough if the situations surrounding are personal or negative but it is key to tapping into truly valuable info. If, as a manager or employer, you might find this tricky, ask an HR official to step in and conduct the interview. Gaining talent and business-affirming data is the real aim so put any hard feelings or egos to the side.

  • Ask the right Qs via the right formats.

You’re looking for actionable info here so create a customised interview that touches on your culture and industry, as well as the standard staples. Yes, try to opt for a face-to-face interview but that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce other pre-interview ways of getting your mitts on their insight. Set up a digital suggestion box, email out a set of exit-centred Qs before the interview so they can really think about their answers.

  • Interview voluntary leavers & sack-ees.

It can be all too easy to only opt for the friendly leavers and steer clear of the sacked talent. Don’t do this. Create a consistent attitude to exit interviews and be committed to uncovering data that can have a real impact on your business and talent’s happiness.

  • Have a Talent Retention Team on standby.

Shame on you if you waste the crazy valuable info you’ve worked hard to discover. There’s no point starting off on this feedback journey if you don’t have the means, resources or passion to really use that insight. Have a Retention team ready to action and implement any feedback, put aside time and effort to study your interview findings and create a culture that values this insight.

  • Protect your Employer Brand.

We all know the value of the EB. It only takes one unhappy employee to ruin your employer brand so do damage control before you need it. Give every employee, regardless of the situations concerning their moving on, a great off-boarding experience. Don’t give past talent any ammo to slate you as an employer.

In the blue corner - The Employee.

And now for the employee viewpoint. The exit interview can be a tricky process to maneuver for employees. Perhaps you’ve got a lot of pent up frustration about your exit? Maybe you’re bursting at the seams with negative info you can’t wait to share? Or maybe you’re just nervous about the frosty atmosphere your employer could bring to the table? It’s not the easiest exercise to predict.

Your potentially biggest challenge as an employee is keeping an honest but careful approach in order. There’s not always animosity in these situations but if you’re being spurred to be honest, it can be too easy to let rip and do some long-term damage. So, how can you work your way around sticky Qs and what does the model exit interviewee look like?

  • Approach Qs with caution and foresight.

If an employer asks you what you disliked about your role/culture, take a deep breath. Yes, by all means be honest and useful but this interview is not a platform for you to destroy your boss. Remember, you’re still in their employment and you want to leave on a high note. Give some thought to the Qs you may be asked (What are your likes? What would we need to change to keep you? Did you get the support you needed? What are your bigger career goals?), and provide real examples. Don’t be shortsighted or overly smart, you still have future employers to impress so don’t dampen your chances with a nasty off-boarding hiccup.

  • Keep your reference goals in mind.

It might sound cold or calculated but you need that reference. Chances are your employers may still be working on it so play the game and give them something awesome to comment on. Who knows, you might end up back on their doorstep in the future. You can get a lot of answers from an exit interview if you play it right. This is a two-way conversation so don’t be afraid to ask your employer Qs too. This is your off-boarding process, own it.

  • Value your opportunity to make a real difference.

Being honest is not the same as being useful. You have a platform to help your fellow workers and company to grow and improve so be a positive impact on that process. Instead of opting for the usual “I’m leaving because I want more money” chat, go for real life examples and truly insightful details on what you’re time was like. It might sound soppy, and maybe not what you feel like doing the wake of a new job hunt, but remember why you worked there in the first place and do the folks that will follow you justice.

  • Set the scene for the next in line.

If you leave on a bad note, your role in the company could be tainted. Think about who will fill your role next and what you can do to make their ride a little less bumpy than yours. It’s a key characteristic of a professional and thought leader so set the standards a bit higher.

Breaking up is never easy. Whether you’ve had a great working relationship or awful career affair, a parting of ways can be a tough yet valuable process for both parties. Yes, you may be moving onto pastures new but don’t feel like you’d be making some huge point by going out blazing with negativity. Both as an employer and employee, you can make a greater statement by committing to making an impact on what happens next.

Do you like this stuff? Then join over 21,000 other awesome people who get tips on improving their employer brand, recruitment, marketing and the odd spot of career advice delivered directly to their inbox from me!

Twitter snippets.

  • (Click to tweet) In amongst the awkwardness and testing truths sits a much underused practice.
  • (Click to tweet) If you ain’t interested in exit interviews, you ain’t interested in improving or retaining.
  • (Click to tweet) Don’t shy away from the truth of their departure, encourage them to be honest.
  • (Click to tweet) Create a customised exit interview that touches on your culture and industry.
  • (Click to tweet) It only takes one unhappy employee to ruin your employer brand.