One of the advantages I have as an employee retention expert and an employee retention trainer is that I am also a “headhunter.” I learned many of my employee retention skills from my days in the trenches as a human resource professional but I refined those skills and learned additional lessons by stealing talent from other organizations for my clients that I am doing work for as a headhunter. But you don’t have to be a headhunter to get correct information out of an exit interview.
I learned that candidates can be very forthcoming in an exit interview if done properly. You simply can’t just go through the motions. People are reluctant to badmouth a boss who is a jackass because it may get back to that boss and then they can never use that boss as a reference. People have heard the horror stories about how being honest in an exit interview could hurt their career so they will tell HR everything is wonderful and that they simply got an “opportunity they couldn’t pass up.”
With this background, I have to ask, “Is the exit interview worthless?” Even if you get good information, the manager will have some reason why the person said why they were a jackass. The people that are poor managers may be poor managers but they are usually pretty good at covering their tracks and have great excuses why the departing employee responded the way they did. So, if this is the case, what’s the best course of action with exit interviews?
My method of conducting exit interviews as an HR professional was to do them 2-3 months after a person left. That’s correct; 2-3 months after they leave you get on the phone and talk to the person. For some reason, by that time, the departed employee will tend to be more forthcoming and open up to you. You have your questions ready, you ask them and then you shut up and listen. Because you are not asking them to put it in writing like most organizations that conduct exit interviews, people tend to tell you more.
The other thing that I did was that I often used an outside consultant to do them. People were more willing to talk to an outsider for some reason. I used the headhunters who recruited for me because they knew how to interview. This was not a job for the HR Assistant to do. The data you are after is too important to leave the work to a novice.
After I collected the data, it was then combined with information I received in my engagement studies and information I picked up in the grapevine to put the pieces of the puzzle together to determine if there was an issue we had to work on. When done this way, exit interviews were a piece in my employee retention strategies. Exit interviews have limitations, but they are still valuable if conducted correctly and if the data is used properly.