Staff Exit Interviews: Top Tips

As summer nears its end, the time is coming for transitions and interviews.  Those of you running camps are seeing your summer staff leave.  Those of you in other small businesses are preparing to transition to a smaller staff size, or maybe hiring new people.  No matter what your specific case, as staff leave your business, it is important that you take the time to find out what their experience was.

Even, or especially, if they are leaving on bad terms.

Too often managers skip or minimize this incredibly important step in the human resource process, and have to deal with the consequences.  I personally only recall having 1 exit interview. EVER. And I’ve held about 30 jobs in my life. This reality fails to give the rightful importance to acquiring data that can benefit your company.

Just a reminder of why having staff exit interviews is important:

Your staff are the face of your business.  They see and know more about your customers than you often do.

Your staff has to deal with the rules, regulations, expectations, or lack of any of those.  They are the ones who have the best idea of what is working and what isn’t.

Your staff see what you don’t because they’re on the front lines.  They know what expectations are realistic, and what ones aren’t.  They know why customers are unhappy because they see it.  You don’t always.

More knowledge!  The more data points you can collect, the better your understanding of the business will be.  Your knowledge is one data point.  Each staff member provides one more.  The more debriefing you do, the better you will know whether one person’s opinion is reflective of the whole.

Okay.  Now that we have at least a basic understanding of why staff exit interviews shouldn’t be pushed aside or neglected, let’s get down to some tips on having those necessary interviews.  They can be a challenge, and receiving helpful information can be even more of a difficult task.  Not only do you have to figure out how to encourage staff to open up–about both the good and bad–but you have to find ways to ensure the information they give can be utilized in the future to improve your business.  That’s no simple task.  But there are a few essentials to consistently having positive interviews and collecting those data points.


Set the expectation that every staff member has an exit interview.

No exceptions.  Whether that is a summer staff member, a manager leaving after 22 years, or even someone who was hired as wait staff and is leaving after 2 weeks of failed training, the expectation should be that every staff member has an interview.  And you should plan that time on your end as well.  This way, you are never in the awkward position of trying to set up an staff exit interview with one or two people who you think have had a difficult experience.  Everyone is on the same page with the same expectations.


For seasonal staff, set aside a day for interviews.  

This tip is for your sake and your schedule.  Fitting 10, 20, or 30 interviews into your schedule at the end of an exhausting season can be daunting.  And if you’re trying to schedule them into 2 weeks, you’ll feel like those 2 weeks have been taken away from you.  Take a day or two, or maybe an afternoon, and have seasonal staff sign up for the time slot that works for them.  Then have them come to you.  This simplifies the process and makes it manageable.


Prepare a standard set of questions.

You don’t want to realize after the exit interview that you missed a very important question you had wanted to ask.  Put together a standard set to use for everyone, asking about positives and negatives, room for growth, etc.  Make sure they are open-ended and phrased in a way that encourages conversation.  This will also prevent any employee from feeling “targeted” in their staff exit interview.


Know your time constraints.  

If you have time for an hour-long interview, that’s fabulous!  You can learn a lot of valuable information in that amount of time.  But, if you have a large number of people to interview, that might not be practical.  Know the time you have, and limit your questions to that time frame.  You might only have time to ask what the best part of working for the business was and what the most needed area of improvement is.  That might be all; that’s fine.  Just make sure that the most important data is collected, even if you have limited time.


Be as casual as possible.  

Staff often have difficulty sharing their negative opinions or experiences with management.  Not only do people often struggle with what they perceive as confrontation, but we are all incredibly aware of our need for good references.  No one wants to jeopardize a relationship.  Therefore, it is vital that any exit interview be conducted in a way that feels “safe”.  You want people to feel comfortable.  Strive to make the interview just feel like a conversation.  Can you have them over coffee?  Can you wait to write anything down until after the interview is over?  Is your body language open?  What about the physical space you have interviews in?  Does it feel casual and comfy, or is it industrial and stale?  Be aware of all of these factors that can affect the way staff feel as they are being interviewed.

What other tips for staff exit interviews can you think of?

Salmon Run | Ecological Game

The salmon run is a game that teaches students the basics of salmon migration, as well as introduces basic ideas of conservation. The set up of the game is a bit confusing the first time, but once you understand how it functions, it becomes very easy to replicate and lead.


Salmon Run Diagram

  1. Put cones around your field of play. You’ll see from the diagram that a U-shape is often used to conserve cones, but a long rectangle would do the job as well (it would actually be easier and much less confusing for the students). You want about half as much space as used in capture the flag or about as much as a typical soccer game.
  2. Set out your supplies in the area they belong. In order of the game, they go:
    1. Jump rope
    2. Space with nothing
    3. 5-10 Hula hoops with a noodle for each
    4. A long row of discs, about a third as many as you have students. Anything can be used that is about the right size to stand on.


Several people, usually adults or staff, have roles within the game. You need: 2 people to run the jump rope, 3-5  birds, 5-10 fishermen, and 1-2 bear. Explain to them their function within the game.

Jump Rope: Play jump rope normally. Students have to jump through without hitting the rope. If they get hit by the rope, they go to the discs.

Birds: Tag kids. Don’t tag so many none make it through, you’re just weeding out a few.

Fishermen: Hit kids with noodles, but stay inside your “boat”. Don’t tag all of them!

Bear: Move fairly slowly, and walk along the outside of the river, reaching in-between kids to try to tag others. Help kids make a bridge as they get out and join the group. You may run out of discs, that’s okay. Have them extend the river anyway.

Explanation of Salmon Run:

Don’t collect the campers until you’re ready to go! They’ll get bored waiting for you to set up and be ready to go!

Ask: Who knows how salmon migrate? (They travel up-river)

Ask: What are some problems they may run into along the way? (Dams, animals, fishermen)

Say: We are going to pretend we are salmon for our game today. You all are going to start on this (point to the area right before the jump rope) side of the cones and go all the way through each area, trying to get to the end (point to the end) without dying. If at any point you die, you will go stand on one of those discs (point again) and put your hands up in the air, connect them to someone on the other side, and form a bridge for people to go through (show what you mean with another adult).

Say: First, you will go through the dam. If you touch the jump rope, you must go to a disc. Next, you will run through an area filled with birds that want to eat you. If you get tagged, you must go to a disc. Then, you will run through an area filled with fishermen in their boats. If you get hit by a fishing pole, you must go to a disc. Last, you will walk under the bridge to the end of the cones. If you are tagged by a bear, you must go to a disc. If you make it to the end of the cones without touching the dam, being eaten by a bird, being caught by a fishermen, or being eaten by a bear, you get to lie on the ground and flop around like a salmon!

Play one round.

Gather the students together at the beginning of the course and ask: What was difficult? What are some things that we could do to make it easier for the salmon to make it up the river?

Students will give various answers, including killing birds and bear. Talk to them about why we shouldn’t kill these animals, but we have other options. Fishing licenses are one way we help the salmon make it. After you explain why fishing licenses help, take out a few of the “boats” so it’s easier for the students. Dams also have ways to help salmon survive. Some dams have spaces on the sides for fish to go around the dam, and some dams turn off for a little while to let them through. After explaining this, instruct your jump rope people to either make space for students to go around, or to occasionally stop the jump rope for a little bit and let kids just run over it.

Play one round with the easier rules.

Gather the students together and talk about how the changes helped more salmon to survive, and how we can make changes in the way we interact with nature that makes it easier for animals to live. Ask about ways they can help nature survive, even as kids. (They can call out answers, talk with a friend, etc.)

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