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Do exit interviews work?

Exit interviews are nobody’s favourite topic. We would rather they did not have to happen at all. But if you want lower employee turnover – and the competitive advantage it brings – it pays to be attentive to them.

Attracting and retaining skilled employees is key to success. Yet many companies do not even bother with exit interviews. And of those that do, many do not analyse the data. Or they analyse it but do not show it to decision-makers who can act on it.

Many senior HR people say an exit interview can be amongst the most important conversations you will have; it is one of a limited number of opportunities to find out what an employee is thinking and feeling. 

While an exit interview probably will not stop your leaver from leaving, it will boost your employer brand by letting them leave with a good last impression and may offer information to stop others from resigning. It will provide their manager with valuable insights and their erstwhile colleagues with evidence that their views matter. 

People rarely leave a role for a trivial reason so an exit interview hopefully provides some substantial information on what may have made them dissatisfied and assist the business to make potential changes and ensure other employees are not attracted to leave. It is crucial to find out why they would leave, and what might make them stay. A properly run exit interview gives you the perfect opportunity to find out and develop a roadmap on how to improve retention and enhance employee job satisfaction.

How to get exit interviews right?

There are three reasons exit interviews fail to produce useful insights. First, if you want to know why people leave your business, do not wait until they have resigned before you ask them.

The second is data quality – in other words, how honest your leaver is willing to be. With a potential reference on the line, many ex-employees may not feel free to tell you if they dislike their line manager. 

The third reason is a lack of clear consensus on how exit interviews should be undertaken. To gain real insights into what your people are thinking and what needs to change, focus on these goals:

Ask the employee to participate

Even if an exit interview is part of a company policy, make sure it is voluntary and the individual has been offered alternative methods of feedback: in writing, a phone/video call, face-to-face, etc.

Listen more than you talk

Prepare your interview questions in advance. Try and avoid it sounding scripted, make sure you cover key topics. Do not forget to promise confidentiality and try to keep a casual and friendly tone to let the conversation flow.

Uncover HR issues

That does not just mean salary and benefits. Most people do not leave a job because their salary package is not competitive. Ask your employee about other benefits, working practices, and the environment too. 

Ask about the work itself

What do they think of the job design, company culture, working conditions, and relationship with peers? You can use these answers to improve employee morale and effectiveness.

Is there anything that would have changed their mind about leaving?

Often a leaving employee would mention something that would have persuaded them to stay which may act as a catalyst for further investigation.

Ask about their manager/director

For this to work, you should not let their immediate line manager do the exit interview. Someone one or two steps removed from the individual. Reassure your leaver that any reference will not be affected if they talk freely and note down positives as well as negatives. This data can help you identify training needs for managers and even inform succession planning.

Ask about your competitors

Find out who’s poaching your people. Where are they going and why? How do they pay, benefits, and flexibility you offer stack up against what your competition offers?

Ask for ideas

Beyond their role, what does your leaver think the company could do better? This could include marketing, systems, organisational structure, or anything that crosses their mind. Try asking them to finish the sentence ‘I don’t know why the company doesn’t just ____.’” You might discover some surprising trends.

Would they recommend the company to a friend? Why or why not?

Former employees can still act as referral sources. Many leave as they are not happy with the work experience and they are unlikely to refer a contact but some may be a helpful source of future employees. Or become a returning “boomerang” employee. 

Create brand ambassadors.

Show your leavers gratitude and respect, and they may reward you by recommending you as an employer, as well as recommending your products and services.

The best time to hold an exit interview is on or near the leaver’s last day, or in the days immediately following their departure. Before this, they are less likely to be as free with their thoughts. Try not to leave it too long though - longer than a week and they will feel disengaged from the business, particularly if they have already started in a new role. 

Exit interviews can offer a unique opportunity for a business to receive feedback that could help improve the overall employee experience for both current and future hires. Though the best time is to ask people why they would leave, is long before they resign.

This could be in a one-to-one meeting, progress meeting, team forums, and employee surveys. Within these meetings and forums create an environment where you can explore, what is on an individual's mind, both good and bad. That may save you ever having to undertake an exit interview.

Other methods to improve employee success and ensure top talent joins and stays is to enhance the  “OnBoarding” process and understand “Why Candidates decline offers”

If you would like more advice, tips, inspiration or to discuss a knowledge-led recruitment approach, contact Natalie Tyler on 01582 878808 or email


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