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The 3 Stages of a successful Exit Interview

Posted on 11/01/2013 by Jo Hodge

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An exit interview is an interview conducted by an employer with a departing employee.
They can be conducted via face-to-face or telephone interviews, or through paper or online surveys.

Exit interviews are a useful tool for:

  • Enabling the transfer of knowledge and experience from the departing employee to a replacement or team

  • Providing an early warning about sexual harassment, workplace violence and discrimination issues and measuring the success of diversity initiatives

  • Finding out employees' perceptions on everything from your organistaion's culture to the office facilities and making improvements

It is important to put a positive spin on your findings from exit interviews and ensure they are used to generate suggestions for improvement, as this will help attract and retain talent in your organisation.

Exit interviews are particularly useful as they provide more objective feedback than attitude surveys among existing staff, as departing employees tend to feel free to be more forthcoming, constructive and impartial than staff still in their jobs.

Despite this usefulness, past research from TPP has established that although most employers say their organisations hold interviews with leavers, only 42% of employees have ever had an exit interview.

To ensure you get the maximum benefit from your exit interviews, there are three key stages to follow:

1.    Be prepared

The key to a successful exit interview lies in the preparation. Nothing is more frustrating than an interviewer who isn't ready, willing or able to conduct a productive exit session.

Draw up an assessment or a list of questions and areas for discussion on the basis of the individual's achievements and performance, eg:

  • Was their performance consistent?

  • Did they frequently demonstrate initiative?

  • How was their relationship with other members of staff?

Common questions include reasons for leaving, job satisfaction, frustrations and feedback concerning company policies or procedures. Questions may relate to the work environment, supervisors, compensation, the work itself and the company culture.

  • Preparation is just as important for the employee; both sides will gain a great deal from the exercise if the employee is pre-warned and has time to formulate their thoughts in advance.

  • There is a chance that some employees will use the interview as an opportunity to rail against their managers, colleagues or the organisation. Providing a mechanism to focus their thoughts may help avoid this, such as following a set list of questions.

  • Find a comfortable and quiet room and reduce the possibility of interruptions.

2.    Be Objective

It can sometimes be difficult to hear criticism of your employer, particularly for not for profit staff, who often have a strong emotional attachment to their organisation.  It is therefore vital to remember that the goal of an exit interview is to extract information that can be used for positive change and it is in your interest to be objective.  Exit interviews are only of use if you can look beyond your immediate emotional response and make practical and rational plans for the future.

Try to remain impartial, rather than emotional, and to ask open questions that encourage honest and considered responses, while avoiding leading and limiting questions.

Don’t just listen to what an employee has to say.  Like a normal interview, an employee’s body language can give you valuable insights into their true feelings, which can then be explored in more depth using specific work situations to put them into context.

Exit interview can be conducted by a relatively neutral party, such as a human resources staff member rather than a line manager, so that the employee will be more inclined to be candid, as opposed to worrying about burning bridges.  Some companies even opt to employ a third party to conduct the interviews and provide feedback.

3.    Be appreciative

Whatever the employee’s reasons for leaving and however critical they are in the exit interview, endeavour to ensure that they leave the interview in a positive frame of mind.  Don’t forget to thank the employee for their work for your organisation and their co-operation in the interview, and be positive about the feedback they provide.  If your organisation has benefited from the skills and dedication of the employee, the exit interview is the right time to express your appreciation for their contribution to your business.

If the person leaving is a loss to the company, it is likely you will want to leave the door open for them to return.  But even if they are not likely to return, a disgruntled ex-employee with contacts in your sector can undo months of positive brand-building.  The exit interview is a final chance to ensure they leave with a positive view of your organisation.


A successful exit interview will extract information that will assist the organisation in recruiting a replacement. It can also facilitate improvement to achieve greater employee job satisfaction and to become an employer of choice.

If you decide to use a recruitment consultancy such as TPP Not for Profit to find a successor for your ex-employee, don’t forget to feed back the knowledge gained from your exit interview, as this will assist us to find a successful and long-term replacement candidate.