Whether due to a layoff, a firing, or a voluntary separation exit interviews tend not to be very enjoyable. Generally speaking people don't line up to be the company punching bag when an employee sounds off about what upset him/her enough to leave, or how he/she feels about being released. That said, I think as recruiters we need to be the ones making ourselves available for these sessions.
In many cases it was us who brought the employee on in the first place, so it is appropriate that we close the loop and exit them as well. If we did well enough to form a good relationship during the recruitment process we may be able to leverage this into a productive exit meeting. More importantly, though, there is much valuable information that can be gathered that is helpful for recruiting a replacement, especially in the case of a resignation. For better or worse, this is often the only time we get a truly honest picture of how employees feel about their employer. Many larger companies currently use employee satisfaction surveys, but these only do so much. They tend to be rather general and only give a high-level overview of what is going on.
Ideally each and every employee would be met with one-on-one a couple times per year to see what issues he or she is facing, thus allowing the company to implement solutions when and where possible. Unfortunately for many organizations this is just too large a task, so an exit interview is often the best source of this information. This is when we discover what some of the underlying and less obvious group dynamics are like, what our competition is offering, and often get suggestions on what personality we should target as a backfill.
Although they aren't something to look forward to, exit interviews can be a great learning tool and the valuable information gathered should not go to waste. What do you do to make the best of an exit interview?
Erma Bombeck wrote The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank and it is an apt reasoning why you need to wait. They're moving to a place where they believe the grass really is greener; so be it.
But at the follow-up exit interviews, in addition to asking them again what they liked best, ask them what they believe are opportunities for improvement as they now have something to compare their former experience with. Ask them what they felt on the day they left. Drill down but still reinforce the desire to keep them as ambassadors.
It is a tough situation for the employee because there is the risk of bridge-burning if what they have to say is too negative, so I try to make the conversation as non-threatening as possible. So far those that have given the best feedback are the people I've gotten to know well enough that they feel comfortable talking to me without fear of the comments potentially biting them later. The information I get most regularly is in the form of a suggested personality type to work best in the group, with the manager, or with the current workload. I usually have a good feel based on what I'm able to see and what the manager tells me, but sometimes the only way to get the full story is to actually work the job. Unfortunately I'm no engineer so I've got to count on some of folks in the building to give me the real scoop.
It's really a win in a lot of respects. The company wins because they get real feedback (albeit in some cases emotionally-driven). The individual appreciates the opportunity to voice his/her feelings, in addition to (in our case), meeting a recruitment firm that may be able to provide future options. Finally, from a business standpoint, we open a new talent pipeline by conducting Exit Interviews.
We refer to our Exit Interview Service as our "Lost Dog" Program. You can see what we're doing at http://www.yellowdogrecruiting.com/lost_dog_exit_interview_svc_.html. I'd welcome your feedback.
Why is an outsourced strategy a better solution? Or is it only in specific circumstances?
[ talk about a meatball pitch - you owe me ;) ]
Timing of exit interviews is a really intriguing thing. It's reasonable to expect a more emotional response the shorter the timeline between receipt of pink slip and the exit interview. Timing of the exit interviews we conduct varies from client to client.
Our model is quite flexible. Some clients use our standardized format, while others prefer a specific line of questioning. When we approach individuals for their feedback, we explain the company's desire to learn and address any concerns that have been expressed by departing employees. We are very respectful, which goes a very long way today.
We also get a greater response to our requests for exit interviews because these individuals are likely looking for new options and want to connect with a company that help make a match.