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?

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