When I left my last job, I had an exit interview where my employer asked me all kinds of questions about my satisfaction and why I was leaving, but I didn’t answer honestly because I was already leaving. Do they actually use that information or was the exit interview a waste of time?
The Value of Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are the process by which employers talk with exiting employees anywhere from a day to a week before they depart the company, asking questions about their satisfaction, issues, or areas to improve.
As an employer, I very much appreciated exit interviews. They gave me insights that were tough to get from the day-to-day interactions with people. While I did hate having to have conversations with people who were leaving, I tracked each answer they gave and created a system that categorized the information to make it as meaningful and actionable as possible.
Sample Exit Interview Questions
- Why did you begin looking for a new job?
- What appealed to you about the new job, company, and/or culture?
- What could have been done for you to remain here?
- Did you share your concerns with anyone here prior to leaving?
- If you could change anything about your job or the company, what would it be?
- Would you consider coming back to work here in the future? In what capacity? What would need to change?
The Issues with the Exit Interview Process
The biggest problem with exit interviews is that people are not often honest in how they respond to questions (which can make the data useless). For instance, asking someone why they were looking for a new job will often net the response of “I’m just looking for a new challenge” or “I needed career growth.” Those can sometimes be code for “My manager is a terrible person and I can’t stand it anymore.”
So, why are people sometimes less than truthful, since they are leaving anyway? The biggest reason is a fear of burning a bridge in case the new job doesn’t work out like they hope. If it turns out to be even worse, the person might want to come back, and answering the questions truthfully may seem like they are slamming the door, locking it, and throwing away the key forever.
Potential Solutions for Fixing Exit Interviews
That said, there are a few techniques I’ve learned over the years to improve exit interview data collection and the experience for the person on the receiving end as well. If you want to have a great exit interview, here are a few of my go-to requirements these days:
- Send a survey form via Google Docs (it’s free!) at least two weeks AFTER the person takes their new job. They are already rooted in their new role and will usually give you more honest answers, especially if they don’t have to do it face to face or via voice.
- Do a follow up phone call a month later asking deeper questions and reinforcing the responses they already gave with any additional detail. By now they are six weeks into their new job and they know if they are going to stay and be happy, for the most part. This means they can be more open and honest about the conditions and experiences at your company, offering more helpful data points to support decision making.
The other important piece is to try and use the data you get. If a manager is consistently losing people but nobody will say the manager is the problem, you need to dig deeper, because statistically managers are responsible for 70% of an employee’s satisfaction on the job. It may be pay or it may be benefits, but the majority of the time it’s actually their direct supervisor that is the issue.