Exit interview: not compulsory, but smart

When an employee leaves your company, there are two essentials you should never forget: farewell drinks and an exit interview. With feedback from the departing employee, you can improve your operations. In this article, find out what an exit interview is, what you can ask for.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview, or final interview, is a conversation you have with a departing employee. This can be either an employee who is resigning on their own accord, or an employee you have dismissed. In an exit interview, you ask the employee about his or her experiences in your business. For instance, experiences with company culture, personnel rules or certain managers.

Exit interview not compulsory

An exit interview is not compulsary, but it is very valuable. After all, when an employee leaves, there is a greater chance of getting honest feedback than if you ask employees for their opinion while they are still employed. Departing employees no longer have a business interest and are therefore more likely to tell you what areas of improvement they see in your business.

What do you ask in an exit interview?

Ask as many neutral, open-ended questions as possible. In other words, ask questions that start with 'how', 'what' or 'why', rather than questions to which someone can only answer 'yes' or 'no'. HR expert Esther Mallant recommends asking the following questions:

Job content

  • What was your experience of your work?
  • Did the content of the work match the responsibilities and skills?
  • What did you like? What would you change?

Working conditions

  • What did you think of the office and/or your workplace?
  • What conditions made your work more difficult?
  • Which conditions made your work more pleasant?
  • How did you experience the psychological or physical strain of your work?
  • What tools and equipment did you miss?
  • How was your relationship with your colleagues?
  • How was your relationship with your supervisor?
  • How did you experience guidance and support?

Employment conditions

  • What did you think of your salary?
  • What did you think of your fringe benefits?
  • What did you think of your development opportunities?
  • What terms of employment were you missing?

Address these issues structurally at every exit interview and investigate whether a particular answer recurs in multiple conversations. For example, do you hear that many employees are leaving because they criticise a particular manager? If so, you can use this criticism to discuss this with that manager.

Preparing an exit interview

Prepare your exit interview with these tips.

  • Plan the exit interview in your employee's last working week. Criticism of your business can then no longer affect the atmosphere. Do you and your employee still need something from each other, such as a transfer, login details or a reference? Then arrange that first and have the conversation afterwards.
  • Have the conversation conducted by a neutral mediator, such as a colleague who has not worked directly with the departing employee. That way, an employee is less likely to be afraid to give an honest answer. The answer to the question "How was the relationship with your supervisor?" is easier for employees to give to a colleague than to the manager director.
  • Conduct the conversation in pairs. A third person, such as an HR person, can create distrust. An HR manager is often seen as a representative of management. As a result, the employee may think the conversation has consequences.  
  • At the beginning of the conversation, tell what you will do with the feedback and indicate that you will keep the information confidential.
  • Make sure the exit interview is nice and friendly. Avoid discussions about things you do not agree on. Listen to what your employee has to say. After all, the goal is to retrieve valuable information for your business.
  • Is your employee leaving because of a labour dispute or another difficult situation? Recognise that this is a disappointment for both parties and name it accordingly. Emphasise that you once chose for each other and tell why in concrete terms during the conversation. This way, you emphasise the added value the employee has had for your business, rather than the negative outcome.
  • Give your employee the last word. At the end of the exit interview, ask: 'What else would you like to share with us?' Your employee will then leave feeling that they really have had the chance to say everything.
  • Keep in touch with former employees. If someone does not like it somewhere else, he or she can always come back to you if you both agree.
  • A strict manager, difficult cooperation between departments, missing working conditions: see the reasons why employees leave as feedback for your business. Turn the feedback into concrete improvement actions so that your current staff stay with you.

Hold regular exit interviews and use the feedback to improve your business. So, make the exit interview a permanent part of your human resources policy and employee handbook.