Exit interviews



At a recent Society for Human Resource Management conference, presenter Dick Finnegan talked about using "stay interviews" to gather insights. He asserted that exit interviews are "autopsies that seldom lead to improvements."

Exit Interview is final formal meeting between the management and an employee leaving the firm. It is used as a learning opportunity for the executive concerned who seeks candid views on work related problems.

An exit interview is an interview conducted by an employer of a departing employee. They are generally conducted by a relatively neutral party, such as a human resources staff member, so that the employee will be more inclined to be candid, as opposed to worrying about "burning bridges". Exit interviews are conducted by paper-and-pencil forms, telephone interviews, in-person meetings, or online through exit interview management systems. Some companies opt to employ a third party to conduct the interviews and provide feedback.

What exactly Exit Interview mean?
  • It is a meeting between an employee who has voluntarily resigned from the organization and at least one representative from the human resources management (HRM or HR) department or any other executive of the organization from any department, particularly designated for the purpose of exit interview.
  • The interviewer from the organization's side should be an un-biased person with maturity and objectivity.
  • The representative of HR department or any other department assigned for exit interview and the departing employee get into a dialogue based on the experiences and impressions of the employee about various aspects of the organization.
  • The organizational representative normally facilitates this discussion.
  • Lots of listening during the exit interview is expected from the organization's representative for achieving the objectives of the exit interview.
  • Exit interview is normally conducted after the employee's resignation has been accepted.
  • It is normally conducted while the employee is still serving his last days in the organization. At times, the ex-employee is invited for the exit interview within a short time after he has physically departed from the organization.


Staffing solutions company TeamLease Services's countrywide study found that almost 92 per cent of employees and managements across industries took exit policies very seriously, with 99 per cent doing so in Bangalore and Chennai, and 85 per cent in Mumbai.

The ‘relieving letter' from the current employer was becoming an important requirement for formalising employment in a new organisation. Only about eight per cent disregarded it. Relieving certificates becoming a deal breaker for new employers until the skill crisis eases,” says Ms Surabhi Mathur Gandhi, Senior Vice-President, IT Sourcing, TeamLease Services.

About 76 per cent of the employees preferred a personal exit interview rather than an online one, attributing ‘reliance' to face-to-face interviews.
The study found that Bangalore (India), the Silicon Valley of India, lagged in online exit interviews, with only four per cent of companies adopting them, compared to Mumbai (29 per cent) and Kolkota (26 per cent).

Titled ‘Impactful Exits', the survey found that better prospects and salary hikes motivated employees to change jobs.


Exit interviews influence on employee retention

WASHINGTON POST: As the economy recovers, majority of employees will most likely look for better opportunities outside their firms, experts have warned. This critical situation demands employers to hold on to their top performers.

According to Joyce E. A. Russell, director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, most firms have depended on exit interviews to learn why their employees decide to leave as they seek acquiring honest information about the company that can be used to tackle the reasons why some leave.

But to do this, employers need to ask the right questions, the Washington Post reported. Mostly, exit interviews are poorly conducted by ill-trained individuals who are not really aware about why or how should they use the information they collect. Or, employees do not divulge the real reasons they are leaving the firm, as they are scared of burning bridges.

However, Russell has suggested that all firms including the smaller ones should make it a point to meet with employees before they give voluntary resignation. Russell suggested that while conducting an exit interview, the interviewer must ensure that the information is treated confidentially (i.e., using the date in aggregate form only and not revealing who made what comments).


Interviewers are required to be well trained in active listening and be sure not to go over the top to any venting done by the employee. Using structured questions, interviewers can enquire about topics like the work itself, pay and benefits, training and mentoring, performance reviews, career growth opportunities, management issues and the culture and environment.

Or they can make the employees complete a survey and mail it in after they have left.

Using an outside person can also be efficient in providing a neutral party that an employee may feel more comfortable openly talking with. Although exit interviews can give way to valuable information, they only offer a partial picture of how employees feel.

At a recent Society for Human Resource Management conference, presenter Dick Finnegan talked about using "stay interviews" to gather insights. He asserted that exit interviews are "autopsies that seldom lead to improvements."

Instead with stay interviews, managers allow employees to know they want them to stick around, and ask them what they can do to keep them at the firm. This sends a powerful signal to current employees that the employer values them and wants to meet their needs.

Another idea for keeping hold of top talent is for the company to reward its managers for holding onto their stars. This would persuade them to be more proactive about gathering feedback to find out how their employees feel about working at the firm.
6 Feb, 2012, The Economic Times, News paper


Objectives of Exit Interviews

  • Presence of exit interview system in an organization confirms the open culture of an organization to the existing employees as well as to outsiders. They can then believe that the organization is open to ideas and criticism; that the organization tries to care and understand.
  • Exit interview system enriches the organization's HR culture, policies and practices.
  • Very useful data and information are collected from the exit interviews on may aspects about which organization is concerned e.g. company's culture; its policies; it's relationship with employees, customers, suppliers, community; its systems and processes, HR policies and practices, health and safety issues, their own good and bad experiences with the organization and its various managers etc. Based on their analysis, organization can bring about many improvements.
  • It enables transfer of knowledge and experience from the departing employee to his successor.
  • It can also be used to brief a team on various aspects of current projects handled by the departing employee.
  • Exit interviews provide a good development process for the organization's managers who participate in the exit interviews and also for those managers with whom the data and information collected from the exit interviews are shared and discussed.
  • Exit interviews can provide lots of useful tips and information for improving the employees retention level in the organization.
  • In some special situations, an exit interview can even provide a chance to the organization to retain a valuable employee whom the organization would love to retain, even after he has resigned.
  • At times exit interview may be used to pacify a disgruntled employee or to make peace with him, who might otherwise leave the organization with intentions of taking revenge or with a bad taste in mouth about the organization.
  • Cynics may believe the exit interview may be used to solely capture the information particularly from a disgruntled vengeful employee in case of future litigation from him. In few cases, it may be true.

Some Sample Questions for Use by Organization's Interviewer

(Caution: The questions suggested here are only a broad guide and not a prescription. So, use them appropriately applying your own discretion within the framework of your exit interview objectives and process)

  • What triggered your decision to leave? 
  • What is your primary reason for leaving?
  • Why is this so important for you?
  • Any other reasons?
  • Before deciding to leave, did you explore the possibility of a transfer to any other department or to the other units of the company?
  • What could have been done to prevent the situation?
  • What are your suggestions for managing such situation better in future?
  • Now, can you suggest what should we do to stop your going?
  • Can you be persuaded to renegotiate the possibility of staying? And how?
  • Would you consider working again for this company in the future?
  • Would you recommend this company to your family and friends as a good employer? Why?
  • What does your new organization offer that this organization doesn't?
  • Would you like to tell us about your new organization?
  • What can the company do to retain its best people and not lose any more like you?
  • Did your job turn out to be as you expected?
  • During your stay with the organization what were your most satisfying moments?
  • What were your least satisfying moments?
  • Given freedom, what would you change about your job?
  • What could you have done better or more for the organization if you were given an opportunity?
  • What is your opinion on the kind of organizational and departmental support and guidance you got?
  • What additional responsibilities you would have liked?
  • How could have been done to use your capabilities and potential fully?
  • What about the training you got? Your comments on our recruitment, induction and training systems.
  • What kind of training was most useful and enjoyable for you?
  • What would you say about the departmental and inter-departmental communication and relationships in the organization?
  • Did anyone in this company discriminate against you, harass you or cause hostile working conditions for you?
  • How well organization’s performance appraisal and reward system worked for you?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve the performance appraisal and reward system?
  • Were you happy with your pay, perquisites, other benefits and incentives? Any suggestions?
  • What are your opinions about the organization as a whole? Say, company culture, its major policies, products, customer relations, working conditions etc.
  • What are the most important four or five areas that come to your mind where improvements are required the most in the company? And what kind of improvements?
  • Do you have any suggestions to help us find your successor? Any particular person in mind?
  • What can we do to enable you to pass on your knowledge and experience to your successor and your team prior to your departure?
  • How and when would you prefer to pass on your knowledge and experience to your successor and the team?
  • May we request you to introduce your successor to your key business contacts before leaving? We will be highly thankful for this.
  • We will be grateful if you agree to give us your phone number and address on which we can contact you in future. Is that OK with you?

Who should conduct the exit interviews. 

Genuine interest is a must
It is immaterial who conducts the exit interview as long as there is a genuine intent to act on the feedback received. An adept interviewer could provide the necessary warmth and help the interviewee articulate freely and unambiguously.

Exit interviews are often conducted as a compliance measure. Feedback is either interpreted to the convenience of the immediate supervisor or stashed away never to be reviewed again. Facilitating separate interviews with the immediate supervisor, a senior manager and a peer could bring objectivity to the outcome.

Best done by an independent agency
Exit interviews yield results if they are conducted by an independent agency appointed by the company. Employees would speak freely to someone they perceive to be unbiased and willing to give them a fair hearing.

Far from a formality
Exit interviews at the junior level should be conducted by the immediate boss or line manager to gather information about HR policies and working conditions. But at the senior level, it should be by way of a face-to-face meeting with a senior HR executive and should yield information about his/her perception of the working environment and organisational policies. This personal session could further be supplemented with a session by an external consultant. Efforts should be made to understand problems and retain the individual if he/she is worth it.