Exit Interviews

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

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A landscaper from Indiana called me the other day to talk about staffing issues, employee turnover, and employee retention metrics.  Recruitment, staffing, and retention have been high priorities for landscapers for quite some time.   With that thought in mind, it’s always advantageous to address employee retention first; preventing employee exodus from the company is the best method to maintain staffing levels.  To cite the often-used aphorism:  Before inviting employees into the company through the front door, make sure the back door of the company is closed.

Our conversation on employee staffing levels led to various industry-wide initiatives (e.g., 30-day developmental review, individual development plan, one-on-one meetings, training plans, career ladder, retention bonus, quarterly team meetings, annual performance appraisals, open-door policy, and a coaching culture) aimed at improving organizational communication quality.  While acknowledging those tactics, the discussion evolved into taking a proactive approach for those former employees by considering an exit interview strategy.

Exit interviews are normally conducted with former employees approximately 30 days after leaving the organization, or during the current employee’s final two or three days of employment with the company.  Both options have problematic issues regarding confidentiality, veracity, and utility.  Ideally, conducting exit interviews with lame-duck employees would provide direct timely, direct, and hopefully candid insight regarding their decision to leave the company.  

I know.  I know.  But I did say “Ideally.”

Here are some common exit interview questions for your review and consideration.

  • Why did you begin looking for another job?
  • Did your manager provide you with what you needed to succeed?
  • What did you like most and least about your time with the company?
  • Were your achievements recognized and appreciated within the company?
  • What suggestions do you have for us to improve the company?
  • Is there anything we could have done to change your mind about leaving the company?
  • Would you recommend this company to a friend?  Why or why not?
  • Did you share your concerns with the company before deciding to leave?
  • Did you receive enough timely, quality communication from your manager during your time with us?
  • Were your work goals and performance responsibilities made clear to you?
  • What skills and qualifications do you think we need to look for in your replacement?
  • How would you summarize the company work culture in one word?

Keep in mind, in order to be successful, exit interviews must always be conducted with: a tone of sincere respect, the desire to seek valuable, not personal information, the orientation to gather a broad understanding of those reasons that led to the employee’s departure decision, an unwavering focus on specific recommendations for improving the company, and always, the intention to frame the interview in such a way to always make positive use of the information shared by the soon-to-be-former employee.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.