Exit Interviews – Are they a Waste of Time?

Many of us have completed an exit interview at some point in our career.  Some of us have wished we were given the opportunity to provide feedback, while some just opt out of completing them.  Do exit interviews bring value to an organization or are they just a waste of time?

Many organizations decide to roll-out an exit interview program after experiencing a period of higher turnover or losing a few of their top performers.  For organizations with fewer than 20 employees, losing even one or two performers within a certain time period, could have devastating effects.  It is at that time that organizations want to know why their people are leaving.

Although exit interviews are reactive to an employee’s resignation, they can provide valuable information to an organization’s planning of future people practices.  An exit interview is an opportunity for an organization to hear not only what they can improve on, but also on what they are doing well.

Whether organizations find value in the exit interview process is dependent on many factors.  See my list from #1 – #7 below:

  1. Timeliness of the exit interview. Exit interviews should be completed as soon as possible after a notice of a resignation and prior to the employee’s last day.  In my experience, organizations that mail out an exit interview questionnaire or try to connect with previous employees after they have already left, experience a low completion rate.
  1. Exit interviews should be completed in person where possible.  If this is not possible, a video conference is the next best thing.  Body language is significant in active listening.  When the interviewer can respond to the employee’s facial expressions and gestures, the employee will feel listened to and at ease, therefore resulting in more honest and detailed feedback.
  1. Choose the interviewer wisely. Human Resources professionals in an organization are best suited for this role if they do not have a direct working relationship with the employee and can provide an unbiased ear.   The interviewer should not be the employee’s direct supervisor or one of his/her staff.  In some cases, it may make sense for the interviewer to be another member of the management team or an outside professional such as an HR Consultant.
  1. Explain the process and the organization’s objective in conducting exit interviews. The employee should hear the Who, What, Where, When, and How.  Who will read the responses; What will be done with the feedback; Where will the exit interview be kept; etc.
  1. Preparation of questions should be done in advance.  The exit interview is not an opportunity for an unhappy or disgruntled employee to have a venting session.  Prepared questions will guide the interview and help both parties to stay on track.

Questions should cover the entire employment relationship beginning with the employee’s experience with the interview and orientation process.

Incorporate open-ended questions as well as those with a rating scale (but ask for explanations with the rating).  Questions should address the employee’s expectations at the start of employment; his/her introduction to the company and job; working conditions; organizational effectiveness; opportunity for career growth and advancement; and causes which prompted the resignation.

Avoid questions or discussions about specific individuals.  This is not the time or place to dig deep into a personality conflict with a supervisor or co-worker.  Dissatisfaction with supervision or team collaboration may come through in other areas of the exit interview.

Face-to-face interviews allows the interviewer to probe specific responses further – take advantage of the opportunity.

  1. Make it an anonymous process where possible. Employees don’t want to “burn any bridges” and therefore some will not be honest in their feedback if the process is not confidential.  Where there is anonymity, more employees will feel they can be direct and truthful in their responses.

Larger organizations, or those with multiple resignations, can prepare aggregate reports to share with management.  The report should present themes and commonalities that have come out of the exit interviews without naming specific individuals.

  1. Now do something with the information! First, analyze the results.  Do certain themes emerge?  Are there commonalities tied to position, department, and/or location?  Do commonalities emerge from a certain demographic?

List all of the positive feedback so you can ensure that your organization keeps doing all those great things.  Next, list areas for improvement based on themes that have emerged, then brainstorm some solutions.

Overall, this exercise may prompt you to dig a little deeper with the roll-out of an employee opinion or engagement survey.


The Human Resources Consultants of LINK HR assist organizations attain their goals by implementing people solutions that link to their business strategy.  Please visit our website at www.linkhr.ca for more information on our consulting firm, and to subscribe to our mailing list for valuable Human Resources Tips and Information.  Contact us by phone at (416) 565-9876 or by email at adriana@linkhr.ca.

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