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?

Views: 142

Comment by Steve Levy on April 17, 2009 at 3:21pm
Gino, have conducted last-day exit interview only once in my recruiting life; very few people will want to burn a bridge by being completely honest on their last day. Give them a cursory last-day, return-the-keys-and-your-ID talk but follow up with them 30 and 90 days after their departure. At the most, ask them what they liked best about their time with the company; forget about what they disliked - for now. Make sure they agree to calls at 30 and 90 days.

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.
Comment by Gino Conti on April 17, 2009 at 3:31pm
I love the 30 and 90 day follow up idea and I think I'll start using that myself. Thankfully our turnover isn't too high, but I've been doing all of our exit interviewing for the last year now. I agree that many people want to just show up, hand in their badge, and go home a few hours early on their last day. There have been a good number that have taken the time to give me some honest feedback about why they are decided to leave, though.

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.
Comment by Steve Levy on April 17, 2009 at 3:40pm
The additional benefit of post exit exit interviews is that someone from HR stays in contact with those who left. Hopefully, this will continue at 6 months, 1 years, etc. You never know when you'll need an outback.
Comment by Gino Conti on April 17, 2009 at 3:49pm
The thing is it actually doesn't take all that much work to stay in contact, just good organizational skills and a little effort. I'm certainly not perfect and this is one area in which I can improve. I try to keep in touch with key folks (either from my previous employment or those who have left my current company), but there are some other that I have let fall off. We forfeit a lot when we don't put in the effort to keep those contacts engaged.
Comment by David Rose on April 17, 2009 at 4:55pm
As you have suggested, most individuals are less than forthcoming on an exit interview. We, as a 3rd Party, have offered this service to our clients for some time. Individuals are more like to open up and provide real information to someone seen as separate from the company they just left.

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.
Comment by Steve Levy on April 17, 2009 at 5:38pm
Ok David, I'll bite...here are my thoughts given 20 or so years in HR and recruiting. When folks are pink slipped out of a company, their trust level is not terribly high. So how does your methodology differ as an extension of the HR team? Do you find the not knowing the inner workings of the company helps/hurts your ability to drill down? Do you conduct these exit interviews right away or do you allow time to pass and emotions to level? Do you use a client-driven model or do you use your own exit interviewing template?

Why is an outsourced strategy a better solution? Or is it only in specific circumstances?

[ talk about a meatball pitch - you owe me ;) ]
Comment by David Rose on April 17, 2009 at 6:25pm
Wow, the spotlight is shining. Having worked on both sides, corporate and third party, it's clear that individuals (candidates) will more likely open up to someone other than the company directly. It's easier to do so. They don't feel the need to edit, since there is no perceived threat.

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.

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