In today's war for talent among AEC companies, many business leaders wish they knew what they could have done to keep a departing employee. Effective exit interviews can give you that insight. They can teach you how to replicate good experiences, and help to avoid bad ones.
Exit interviews are the one of the last meaningful conversations employees have with their company. It represents a chance for employees to provide a review of their experience; an opportunity to affirm the contributions they've made to your company.
Although it may be tempting to vent, when both parties focus on understanding and knowledge sharing, exit interviews can help professional relationships end on a high note. Many times the feedback employees provide is positive, and when it's not, it gives insight on how to course-correct for existing employees.
Planning the Meeting
Whenever possible it is best to meet face-to-face for an exit interview. Employees appreciate the gesture, and it is conducive to more productive conversations.
You can also issue a written exit survey, and then follow up with an in-person meeting. Some employees may want to reflect and gather their thoughts in advance, but responses tend to be less candid when written.
Schedule the exit interview at the very end of the employment; ideally during the final days.
You may want to explain why you are conducting the exit interview, and have your questions planned ahead of time.
Questions to Ask
While you never want the conversation to appear scripted, there are a few key topics to hone in on while conducting an exit interview. You may want to also consider asking some of the same questions for every exit interview. Doing so helps to compare answers and identify common themes.
Open the interview by telling the employee that he/she doesn't have to answer any or all of the questions. Also ask permission to share responses with other internal management.
Here are some questions that are beneficial to ask:
- Why did you decide to leave?
- What is the company doing well, and what is the company doing poorly?
- How could conditions be improved?
- What would you do to improve the situation that is causing you to leave?
- How do other employee's feel about that same situation, and the company overall?
- What can the company start doing that would improve things?
- Please describe your overall experience working here? If possible, please help me understand why you are leaving.
- What are three things you enjoyed most about working here?
- What are the top 3 things you would change?
- Are there any ideas that you would have liked to implement while working here?
- Please describe the pros and cons of working with your supervisor
- Who are the three people who have made the most positive impact on your time here?
- What advice would you give to the next person in your position?
What to Avoid
Try to keep the focus of the exit interview on the company. The information gathered should be helpful, constructive feedback that can be used to improve the company.
It's important to be wary of discrimination, harassment complaints or bad management that is pointed out, but you don't want to fuel the fire. These conversations give employees an opportunity to share their opinions, however be careful not to engage in negative discussion.
- Don't feed into office gossip. The reliability is questionable, and won't be constructive.
- Don't ask targeted questions about specific issues or people. You should not interject your own opinions, but it is okay to ask for general feedback on a supervisor.
- Don't lay the groundwork that may indicate someone will be terminated. An employee's status and performance within the company should not be shared.
- Don't say anything that could be mistaken for slander. You should listen without agreeing or disagreeing with the point being made.
- Don't get into personal issues. Keep the conversation work-related and professional.
- Don't use this as an opportunity to present a counter offer or stay with your company.
Processing the Feedback
Every exit interview should help identify areas for improvement within the company. Share key takeaways from the meeting with the employee's supervisor or the next level up.
Look for patterns in feedback from departing employees to identify potential organization issues. It may be helpful to input meeting notes into a spreadsheet in order to scan the information and find similar comments. If you do notice a trend, take it to leadership with recommendations for actions that can be taken to avoid losing additional employees.