Three people sit around a conference room table. The man on the side of the table nearer the viewer wears a peach-colored shirt; he speaks and gestures at the other two people. The man and woman sitting on the far side of the table (angled toward the viewer) are looking at the other man thoughtfully. On the table in front of them are an electronic tablet on a stand, two glasses of water, and some papers. The scene is taking place on the other side of a floor-to-ceiling window; light from behind the viewer reflects off of the glass.
Your interviewer for an exit interview should be a neutral party with whom your departing employee feels comfortable sharing their honest opinions. — Getty Images/Morsa Images

Employee exit interviews are underutilized, but they can be a powerful tool. Understanding why employees quit provides valuable feedback you can use to improve your business. Here are seven steps to conducting effective employee exit interviews.

[Read more: What to Do When an Employee Leaves]

Know what your goals are

If you want to conduct an effective exit interview, you need to know what your goals are. What kind of information are you trying to uncover, and how will you use this data to improve retention rates among your current employees?

[Read more: What to Do When a Competitor Is Poaching Employees]

Choose an interviewer

Finding the right person to lead the exit interview is important so the employee will feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions. This person should be unbiased and someone the employee didn’t interact with regularly at their job.

Someone from HR is a good option, but you also may consider bringing in an outside company to handle the exit interviews. If you choose a manager or someone the employee worked with regularly, it will be hard for them to answer honestly.

Plan the format

You should spend some time thinking about the format for your exit interviews. For instance, will they be strictly face-to-face, or will you have the employee complete a written survey first? There are advantages to both strategies, but sending a survey first gives the employee time to think about what they’ll say.

Get the timing and location right

Most employees give notice when they quit, so it’s a good idea to conduct the exit interview on their last day or right after they leave. If you conduct the interview too soon, they may not be as forthcoming.

Are there any themes you’re noticing among the different exit interviews you’ve conducted?

However, you don’t want to wait until they’ve been gone for more than a week. At that point, they’ll be engaged in their new role and won’t be as interested in providing feedback.

It’s also a good idea to choose a neutral location to meet, like a nearby coffee shop. If you meet at the office, they might feel like another employee could overhear what they’re saying.

[Read more: How to Create an Employee Handbook]

Come up with your questions ahead of time

You should come up with your questions ahead of time, and ideally, you’ll use the same questions at every exit interview. Asking the same questions will help you gather relevant insights and notice trends you might have missed otherwise.

Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • How long have you worked for us?
  • How long have you been considering leaving?
  • What was attractive to you about your new role?
  • What is your primary reason for leaving?
  • What did you like most about your job?
  • What did you like least about your job?
  • What could the company do to provide a better workplace?

However, let the employee know they don’t have to answer any questions that make them uncomfortable.

Listen and ask questions

When you meet with the employee, make sure you thank them for their time. You can ask follow-up questions based on their feedback, but you should spend the majority of the time listening.

In some cases, the feedback may get negative, or the employee may resort to gossiping about co-workers. Listen to what they say, and don’t try to defend the business or justify another person’s actions.

You want to avoid offering your opinions on anything they share. Your only objective is to understand why this person is leaving the company.

Look for themes

Finally, look for a way to distill this information into insights that can help the company. Are there any themes you’re noticing among the different exit interviews you’ve conducted?

Ask the employee if you have permission to share their feedback with management, but let them know you’ll keep it confidential if they prefer.

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