the questions you should and shouldn't ask in an exit interview

There are two main reasons why people leave their jobs: they are either ‘pulled’ – by a better job, or ‘pushed’ by dissatisfaction with their current position. Either way, if employers want to improve their retention rates and hold on to quality talent, they need to get to the bottom of what’s causing staff to leave. The best way to do this is to conduct exit interviews with outgoing staff. But it’s not just a case of booking the interview in and seeing what comes of it, employers need to be tactical in the approach they take and the questions they pose. To get a true sense of why your employees are leaving, here’s what you should and shouldn’t ask in an exit interview. 

What not to do in an exit interview
Most importantly, as an interviewer you should never use ‘leading questions’ that will cause the interviewee to answer in a specific way or that will send their thoughts in a particular direction. Examples of leading questions are:

  • Are you leaving because of a particular manager?
  • Is there something you don’t like about the organisational culture?
  • Were you unhappy with the lack of career advancement opportunities?

Best practice exit interviews
Instead, a great interview is about asking open-ended questions and then listening intently. Allow the interviewee to speak their mind before probing into the specific points they have made. Examples of open-ended questions are:

  • What first made you consider leaving the business?
  • What could the business do to improve?
  • How might you describe this business to your friends?

It's important to standardise particular questions so that you can begin to track trends in why employees are leaving. Essentially identifying what’s at the core of your retention problem. Once identified, you will then be able to measure whether the business is improving in these areas. 

Acting on the information
The worst type of exit interview is the one that is conducted and never acted on. Instead, there should be a reporting capability around the process that creates actionable items that will lead to real change. To ensure this happens:

  • File information, with all personal identifiers removed, through to senior management and line managers of relevant departments. Follow up on whether any actions have been taken.
  • Add action points to be discussed at HR and other relevant meetings. 
  • Discuss with senior management the idea of creating whole-of-business annual performance measurements based on the outcomes of exit interviews.

Rather than keeping the findings from exit interviews confined to the management team, it's beneficial for current staff to see that exit interview information is being acted upon. Likewise, if leavers know that their thoughts and feelings have been valued by the business, they are more likely to speak positively about your organisation in public circles. As well as acting on the feedback from exit interviews, it’s important to have a strategy that allows you to proactively target retention and reduce staff turnover. 

The Randstad Human Resource Guide
At Randstad, we understand the people issues managers and HR professionals face every day, which includes attracting and holding on to quality talent. To help you overcome these challenges, we’ve created The Human Resource Guide, an always-evolving online HR resource that delivers the answers to your day-to-day concerns. It’s like having your own personal HR advisor by your side, 24/7.

Learn more about the best-practice approach to people management with The Randstad Human Resource Guide.

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