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?