All About Exit Interviews

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Group of panel judges holding score signsExit interviews. They are not what we tend to think of when it comes to the nerve wrecking interviews that we will all face at one point or other during our lives. But they are increasingly common. All good companies should conduct exit interviews. Both employees and employers can gain a lot- if they understand how to make the most of them.

An exit interview is a face-to-face discussion or survey that a company carries out with a person who is leaving an organisation. The individual parting from the firm is able to share frank feedback about their experiences working for the organisation, and explain their decision to leave in further detail.

It is perhaps a shame that employees tend to take an extreme view on exit interviews. They either see them as pointless or even dangerous, or they think they are an ideal opportunity to let rip about all their grievances.

It is best not to indulge in the latter, however tempting that might be. As this article in The Guardian discusses, if there are emotions involved then it is best to see your exit interview like the ideal a parting conversation with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. It is time to let go and move on. Settling scores, calling out office bullies or making a big point of presenting a laundry list of the company’s faults is actually going to make what could be a very positive method of closure quite unpleasant for everyone.

That said, it is important to be honest about your experience working at a firm. This is good for you as well as the company, and not just because we love to feel like we are being listened to. Being able to give incisive feedback about a company’s triumphs and failures in a way that is diplomatic and backed up by examples is a good skill to have. An exit interview is one of the best opportunities to practice this skill.

If you are inclined to go down this route, then it is crucial that you prep for your exit interview properly. If you want to give feedback about when things have gone wrong in the company’s operations or when things have failed to meet your expectations as an employee then make a list of these specific occasions and jot down a few details in bullet form to refresh your memory. This way, you can back up any statements you make cogently and effectively in the interview room. You are going to look really unprofessional if you call your line manager incompetent or aggressive but can’t recall a specific incident. More common, perhaps is the tendency of the unprepared start on a garbled, lengthy stream-of-thought rant when pressed by your interviewer during your exit survey. Going back to the final-conversation-with-the-ex comparison, you do not want to be kicking yourself about what you could have articulated better when it is over and too late.

If you are clear on what you want to get out of the exit interview before you go in that it can be extremely rewarding for departing employees. You might want to give glowing feedback on a great manager or team member. You may want to highlight a recurring issue that you fear could limit the growth of the firm. If you go in with a useful goal and stick to this goal throughout the survey then it should be very fruitful.

An exit interview can also ensure you leave the company on a positive note, and make sure there are no lingering tensions that might affect the content of your reference. This is the final impression that your bosses will have of you. So the exit interview is the last opportunity to make an excellent impression and part your company with, yes, honesty but also dignity, diplomacy and respect for others.

Exit interviews are a fantastic opportunity for companies to get a better insight into where they are succeeding and what areas they need to work at too. As this human resources article discusses, you will rarely hear employees being as frank as they are likely to be during an exit interview. What they have to say may be a revelation. It might confirm a suspicion you have about where things could be improved with the firm.

Alternatively, a departing employees’ comments might highlight why this individual was not suited for a long term career with your company. Understanding why a person is leaving might give you the information you need to hire a person with more longevity next time.

Clearing up any tensions and making sure bridges are not completely burned is also just as useful for companies as employees. Deeply dissatisfied former staff can be dangerous, and severely damage your reputation in terms of word of mouth, especially when it comes to hiring premier candidates to fill new posts. A well handled exit interview that ends on a positive note can help avoid this scenario, even when a person is leaving because they were fundamentally unhappy in their role.

If a truly talented individual is leaving and you would like them to consider returning one day then the exit interview is also the perfect opportunity to make this clear in a more formal setting than leaving drinks down the pub.

Whether employee engagement surveys could deliver better or supplementary feedback to the exit interview is an interesting question. Exit interviews can be emotional. An employee may feel more at ease being honest in an online survey than face-to-face with their bosses. Feedback is also easier to digest and process if it is in writing rather than embedded in the nervous (or perhaps irate) ramblings of an employee in an interview situation. These surveys are fully customisable so you can create your own questions too.

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