The power of an exit interview

Exit interviews can be the key to retaining successful employees

In case the best employees leave the organization, you need to find out for what reasons. In this way, your organization can adapt and successfully retain key personnel.

What is an exit interview? An exit interview is a conversation between a company and an employee who has decided to leave the company. In a way, it is the opposite of a job interview, because instead of asking employees why they want to join your company, you are asking why they have decided to leave it. The goal of exit interviews is to understand the key reasons why employees want to leave the company.

Many companies conduct exit interviews unproductively

According to Harvard University study, which included 188 executives and 32 senior executives, 75% of the companies included in the study had already conducted some sort of exit interview for at least some employees that had decided to leave their ranks. The exit interview procedure was mostly led by HR departments (70.9%), while in a small number of companies (19%) the procedure was led by direct supervisors of exit employees. Of these, only 8.9% of companies forwarded the data to the manager and 1% of companies turned to external consultants. 4.4% of those surveyed used questionnaires for exit interviews; 1.9% used a questionnaire accompanied by a face-to-face or telephone interview and only 1% of the participating companies collected data, analyzed it, shared it with the management and followed the measures.

Less than a third of respondents cited that a measure was taken as a result of an exit interview, indicating that the majority (two-thirds) of exit interviews are unproductive. According to the researchers, the problem was that the companies did not share the data with the management. In other words, most companies ignore the importance of exit interviews.

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How do we ensure a productive exit interview?

As noted in the aforementioned Harvard study, it is a worrying fact that in most companies, exit interviews are taken over by the HR department, which does not provide the information obtained to the management. Therefore, they recommend you to include key decision-makers in the interviews. The Executive Board should thus oversee the design and implementation of the program. Based on the obtained results, they are able to make decisions and suggest adjustments.

Exit employees are less honest when they are leaving the company for various reasons. Some find it uncomfortable to talk about their problems, while others are just not motivated to discuss possible improvements. A common reason for insincerity is also the desire to obtain references. Therefore, the immediate supervisors of the exit employee usually receive more honest feedback, as they have not been in such frequent contact with the employee. In case you opt for two exit interviews, you can consider hiring an external consultant for the other. It is important to make sure that you lead the conversation without bias. After the two exit interviews are over, compare the information obtained from both of them.

Experts advocate conducting two exit interviews. The first when the departing person announces the intention to leave and the second one month after departure. Study from universities Baruch and BFS Psychological Associates states that 59% of former employees provided different data in the first interview, compared to the second. As they state, the exit is more relaxed and honest after departure. In their opinion, three to six months should elapse between both interviews. In case you opt for two interviews, use a telephone interview and an online survey to complement the live interview.

Moreover, we recommend you to conduct exit interviews at least for those employees to whom you attribute high potential. Since these employees are more difficult to replace, their feedback can lead to more relevant and essential measures.

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An unstructured exit interview delivers unexpected and useful answers, but makes it difficult to process the information. On the other hand, pre-prepared questions make it easier to observe trends and compare information, but unfortunately rarely bring surprising insights. Therefore, the best way is to combine both approaches. This will give you information, easier to compare, while also leaving room for more open conversation and unexpected responses.

It is also important that you listen more than you speak when conducting an interview. At the same time, avoid showing authority. Therefore, be patient and kind. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the other person to direct the discussion. Moreover, avoid embarrassing questions and delving into the other person’s personal life.

Use the quantifly analysis and make sure your employees stay in the company for a long time.

The quantifly analysis allows you to identify key employee issues. In this way, you are able to take measures in a timely manner that can have a decisive impact on the retention of key employees in the company.

Lefkowitz, J. and  Katz., L. M (1969). Validity of exit interviews. Personnel Psychology, 22(4), 445 - 455.
Spain, E. and Groysberg, B. (2016). Making Exit Interviews Count - This underused practice can be a powerful tool for retention. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:
Hannon, K. (4.6.2015). Exit Interview Do’s And Don’ts. Forbes. Retrieved from:
Enright, J. (n.d.). How to conduct an exit interview - including example exit interview questions. The Workspace by Charlie. Retrieved from: