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Conducting an Exit Interview


By Stephen Northcutt

A final exit interview is typically a meeting between at least one representative from a company's human resources (HR) department and a departing employee. Additionally, if the employee is senior a corporate officer may be involved.It should be done in person if at all possible, though I have had to condut exit interviews by phone.This is a unique opportunity for an organization to receive frank information about how an employee views them. An exit interview typically has general questions such as:

  • Is there something you didn't like about your boss?
  • How would you rate our work environment?
  • What improvements would you suggest about your job/working conditions/management support?
  • What do you think it takes to succeed at this company?
  • What has been good/enjoyable/satisfying for you in your time with us?
  • What has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in your time with us?
  • Did your job duties turn out to be as you expected?
  • Did you receive enough training to do your job effectively?
  • What would you tell your replacement (or the next person hired) about the company?
There are four major considerations when conducting an exit interview.

First, and most important, is to let the employee vent. As Traci Elllis says in her excellent web site, "If the employee wants to vent, let him talk for a few short minutes, acknowledge that you've heard what was said (but not that you agree with it) and then wrap it up!" She is actually talking about the termination itself, but the "be brief" principle applies to the exit interview as well.6 People want to be listened to: in fact, that may be one of the reasons the employee is lost to the organization. Consider the words of Dori Maynard, "People want to be listened to, they want to be challenged and they want to see room for advancement," she states. "Without that room for advancement, why would you stay in a career that you view as a dead end?"7

Second, to look for process improvements, opportunities to improve retention. Employee turnover is expensive and finding ways to keep employees happy and motivated is a good idea. Sometimes it is a management issue; you know the famous statement,"people don't leave companies they leave bosses". And there is supporting information for that, "According to a survey in Flex execs, the main reason people leave their jobs is because of their supervisor."9 The exit interview can help capture that information and use it to improve the performance of the management team.

Third, litigation. There are a number of issues here; the employee may bring suit or the organization may later find out they have to sue the employee. The employee is leaving with access to information. In terms of risk to intellectual property, there is a questionnaire on the web site of Smith-Robertson that is useful.During the exit interview the HR representative takes notes and is sensitive to statements by the employee that might lead to litigation. Litigation is expensive and distracting. Consider using a termination agreement, where you pay the employee a sum of money and they agree to waive any right to sue you or create an age discrimination if they are 40 years or older of age.

Fourth, knowledge transfer. It should never be the job of HR at the last interview with the employee to have to identify knowledge that is about to be lost. However, it never hurts to ask the specific question, "is there any knowledge that only you know that is not written down anywhere?" Depending on the answer to that question, your organization may want to offer a termination agreement to the employee where you make regular payments in return for getting timely accurate answers to questions for 30 - 90 days. In some sense the amount of the payment is dependent on the value of the information; many organizations offer what they paid in salary, but it doesn't have to be that much, just enough to be interesting will usually work.

A final thought: it is better to work from a form than to shoot from the hip. A sample form can be found here.

Exit Interview Links:

http://jobsearchtech.about.com/od/laborlaws/l/aa081202.htm
http://humanresources.about.com/od/whenemploymentends/a/exit_interview.htm
http://jobsearchtech.about.com/cs/interviewtips/a/exit_interview.htm
http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/haexit.htm
http://www.businessballs.com/exitinterviews.htm
http://jobsearchtech.about.com/cs/interviewtips/a/exit_interview_2.htm
http://www.mftrou.com/exit-interview-questions.html
http://www.traciellis.com/blog/?m=200610
http://www.blackpressusa.com/news/Article.asp?SID=3&Title=National+News&NewsID=4301
http://www.wolfmotivation.com/speaker/leave-bosses.htm
http://www.recruitireland.com/careercentre/news/rinews.asp?articleid=1237&zoneid=19&subcat
http://www.smith-robertson.com/Litigation/Trade%20Secrets%20Questionnaire%20Austin%20Attorney.htm
http://www.hrvillage.com/hrforms/ExitInterview.htm